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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023

Moth-Up storytellers tackle their “flukes”

April's Moth-Up storytellers transformed the Gamut Room into an intimate forum. (Courtesy of Elissa Asch)
April's Moth-Up storytellers transformed the Gamut Room into an intimate forum. (Courtesy of Elissa Asch)

Fifteen minutes before the Middlebury Moth-Up, a cacophony of sound filled The Gamut room as participants practiced in the back of the space while others casually talked. With voices coming from all directions, speakers practiced their stories one last time before the audience filled the small space. The room was filled with an air of palpable excitement, spunk and creativity. Four student storytellers, Nicky Coupe ’25, Seth Brown ’24, Luke Stovak ’23 and Zoe Greenwald ’24 filled the room with laughter as they told stories related to this event’s theme, “Fluke.” 

Moth-Up is a one-of-a-kind experience; the atmosphere is casual, audience members get a chance to participate and, despite having a theme, the content is unpredictable. For the entire night, the best kind of chaotic energy filled the space, and this reflected the night’s theme. With audience members sprawled-out over the entire space and the sound of laughter echoing all around, the room buzzed with energy. Stories ranged from heartwarming to outrageous and were all beautifully told. 

As explained by Moth-Up Co-President Elissa Asch ’22.5, Moth-Up is a student organization at the college that was inspired by the storytelling podcast “The Moth.” At the start of the event, Asch informed the audience of the three rules participants had to follow when crafting their stories: Stories must be true, told without notes and run no longer than 10 minutes. It appeared that all storytellers handled the constraints effortlessly. Stories did not sound over-rehearsed, and the rules ultimately allowed the storytellers to be engaged with the audience in a way not possible with a script.

Though the performers were cool, calm and collected the night of the event, preparation is quick and difficult. Asch went on to describe the many steps that led up to the finished show. Moth-Up first searches for participants, then producers help storytellers craft their stories — all in a mere two-and-a-half weeks. In this span of time, producers meet with the speakers, help them develop their stories and rehearse. According to Ache, participants may apply to speak with or without a story in mind; this means that the development stage of the process can be anything from helping a participant turn their existing idea into a story to brainstorming stories from scratch. This is no easy feat considering producers and participants are often complete strangers before their first planning session. The success of the event is a testament to the producers’ storytelling abilities.

Greenwald and Stovac told touching stories that left audience members with warmed hearts. Greenwald’s story was a compilation of childhood trips to the eye doctor and the trials and tribulations that she encountered dealing with astigmatism. She painted a vivid image for the audience of her childhood self, reluctantly attending eye appointments and hating every minute of them. Listeners could picture her elementary-school-self sitting in a waiting room, reading her book that she so dearly loved. Keeping the audience engaged with her jokes, anecdotes and imagery, Greenwald finished the performance with the optimistic declaration that her difficulties have since subsided. Greenwald also mentioned how she handled the no script rule and prepared for the event by repeatedly telling her story. “The hard part for me was that [the story] wasn’t scripted, and it wasn’t memorized,” Greenwald said. “Every time you perform it, it’s different, which is terrifying.”  

Stovac told the story of his search for a strong sense of community and how the twists and turns in this journey landed him at Middlebury. Listening to Stovac was like going on a long road trip. He told his story as if it were a map, taking the audience through each seemingly random coincidence that landed him at the college. He connected how a move to Reno, Nevada, spikeball with friends and his summer job as a camp counselor ultimately got him to the college. 

During Coupe and Brown’s stories, the audience could not stop laughing. Both cracked jokes throughout their ten minute performances, leaving the lingering sound of laughter in the space for the entirety of their sets. Coupe’s story was about her love for her Prius. She riddled her story with funny anecdotes about her driving test, adventures with her Prius and other car mishaps. She said that she did not practice the speech repeatedly but is comfortable improvising and appeared very natural on stage. 

Similarly, the audience chuckled throughout Brown’s tale about love on a Pennsylvania lake. Working as a boat captain, he described the ups and downs of managing a rowdy bachelorette party and a family’s outing gone horribly wrong. As well as cracking jokes, his story had a strong sense of setting. Most of it took place on the lake he spoke of, and he transformed The Gamut room into this setting as he described supporting characters like a “Budweiser Dale” and places such as “Party Cove.”  

The theme and the stories themselves contributed to the atmosphere of the space, allowing the fun, chaotic feeling that a fluke can evoke grow over the course of the night. When the event ended, audience members took that energy out the door with them, having spent the night making friends out of four strangers.

If you’d like to become a Moth-Up storyteller, submit your pitch at go/mothstory.