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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022

Cocoon Takes Wing with Moth Emcee

On the first Thursday of every month, students fill The Gamut Room in Gifford Hall to hear their peers tell a story as a part of The Middlebury MothUP. The live storytelling events are, indeed, as simple as they sound – each student storyteller takes the microphone, without notes, for about ten minutes to tell a true story that relates to a monthly one-word theme. The organic format prompts uniting stories of heartbreak and hilarity which have made the event popular not just at the College, but around the nation.

Founded as a not-for-profit organization in 1997, The Moth is the creation of poet and novelist George Dawes Green, a Georgia native who wanted to bring the intimate family storytelling of his childhood to New York City. Dawes held the first Moth in his living room, but word of mouth spread the event to cafés and clubs across the city, and seventeen years later the program is now available to listeners across the country through The Moth Radio Hour, which is broadcast by more than 200 radio stations.

Started at the College in 2010 by Will Bellaimey ’10.5 and Bianca Giaever ’12.5, The Middlebury MothUP immediately packed audiences into the intimate social space and café housed in The Gamut Room. Since then, the program has only grown, hosting a never-ending line-up of students and sparking a J-term workshop in narrative storytelling.

Middlebury MothUP producer Luke Greenway ’14.5 has been involved with the program since his first week on campus.

“I had heard of the Moth previously and listened to it on public radio, so when I heard that there was a Moth here at Middlebury, I got in touch with the people in charge and wondered if they wanted someone to tell a story,” Greenway said. “My very first month here I got up and told a story and then asked if I could get involved, so it’s been a passion project since then.”

Last year, the Middlebury MothUP traveled out of The Gamut Room and into the Concert Hall of the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts (MCA) for the first ever Cocoon live storytelling event, bringing the MothUP to an even larger audience.

Featuring six storytellers – including two students, one alumna, a faculty member and two active members of the community – spinning narratives of metamorphosis the sold-out event proved a smash success, and this year’s Cocoon has built on that momentum to bring the event to even bigger heights.

“We wanted Cocoon to be a bridge between the Middlebury campus and the community because the limitations of The Gamut Room space, which we love, mean that the event is usually not conducive to community members attending,” Greenway said. “We wanted something that would be in addition to the Moth, not instead of, but that would allow people from the whole community to participate. It’s like the Middlebury MothUP on steroids.”

Last year Greenway served as the lead producer of Cocoon, but this year his role is overseeing the mentorship of each storyteller as they develop their narratives.

“Recently, for example, I spent an hour on the phone with one of the storytellers, discussing his stories with him and helping him to formulate ideas and get ready for the performance,” Greenway said.

This year, Middlebury MothUp producer Veronica Rodriguez ’16.5 is leading the student coordination of Cocoon, selecting the storyteller line-up and emcee. Working directly with Director of the MCA Liza Sacheli, Rodriguez worked to develop a theme, advertising material and strategies for work shopping the stories to be told.

“I love live storytelling,” Rodriguez said. “It is one of the most basic forms of human connection. Sharing stories is a way to communicate and it is how we gain understanding of one another, and how we remind each other that we’re all human. A lot of times, a story paves a path towards catharsis and empathy.”

2014 Cocoon storytellers include climate activist and actress Kathryn Blume, sixth generation Vermonter and logger Bill Torrey, Chair of the Dance Department Christal Brown, NYU masters candidate Chris De La Cruz ’13.5 and native Vermonter and creator of the Stockbridge, Vermont Stable Space Otto Pierce ’13.5. The theme is blood, which can be taken literally, figuratively or simply as a point of inspiration.

Middlebury MothUP producer Rachel Liddell ’15 co-hosts the monthly student events with Greenway. The process of crafting a larger event like Cocoon, she explained, is largely one of collaboration.

“Typically we brainstorm which people we want to reach out to as a group,” Liddell said. “Veronica has been leading point on this, and Liza also gives us ideas of people we could contact. Usually people are interested and really care about the project when we reach out to them. We were able to be more proactive this year, so we were able to find some great storytellers from a diverse background that doesn’t include our immediate community.”

This year, in addition to the six diverse faculty, alumni and community storytellers taking the stage this year, the Middlebury MothUP is thrilled to present Jay Allison as the emcee of the event. Allison is an independent journalist who produces The Moth Radio Hour through Atlantic Public Media and has contributed to NPR news programs and This American Life. A six-time Peabody Award winner, he hosted and produced This I Believe on NPR and co-edited the bestselling companion books.

“Since last year, the Middlebury MothUP has developed a relationship with Vermont Public Radio’s version of the Moth, and has collaborated to bring the Moth events to Burlington,” Rodriguez said. “With Jay Allison as our host for the evening, we continue to see collaboration between Middlebury’s storytelling projects and figures from our main source of inspiration, the Moth Radio Hour.”

Cocoon is an opportunity for members across the College community to join together in the enjoyment of stories that represent many levels of collegiate and local life.

“I think sharing stories is a thing that a lot of people find very rewarding,” Liddell said. “For people who are sort of routine visitors of The Gamut Room Moth, this is essentially the same thing with a glossier, more professional feel. For people who haven’t yet had exposure to the Moth, this event is a great opportunity to listen to people who you don’t normally get to hear from and learn about people’s perspectives on the world.”

Cocoon will take place Friday, Oct 24 at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the MCA. Tickets are available through the Box Office at $10 for the public, $8 for college ID holders and $5 for students. The event is expected to sell out. A catered reception with the storytellers will take place after the show.