Drawn to Storytelling: ‘The Moth Mainstage’ gathers listeners in Las Vegas for tales as old as time

Storytelling is one of those rare art forms that pretty much anyone can pull off — unlike sculpting, for instance, or chainsaw juggling.

It’s also one of the oldest. You can practically picture an audience, each member desperately in need of a razor, crowding into a cave for “The Paleolithic Story Hour.” (Sample story: “Gor hunt. Gor kill. Gor finished.”)

That’s why it’s more than a little surprising that “The Moth Radio Hour,” in which everyday people share true experiences, airs on more than 480 stations nationwide and that “The Moth Podcast,” launched in 2008, remains one of the country’s most popular.

“It’s just great in a world where you’re constantly connected and you’re constantly distracted by screens or by tweets or by little blips and blurbs of information and little, tiny, lightning-fast flashes of lives,” says New York-based author Dan Kennedy, the podcast’s host. “I think it’s just really calming and really entertaining to just sit down for an evening of people actually just telling you a story from their lives.”

Fans of “The Moth Radio Hour,” which airs locally at 7 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays on KNPR-FM, along with podcast subscribers and the just plain curious can experience the phenomenon firsthand when “The Moth Mainstage” makes its Las Vegas debut Nov. 14 at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall.

Kennedy likens “The Moth Mainstage,” a curated celebration of five storytellers, to the waning bits of dinners with family or friends when no one really wants to part ways. “It’s that moment where you’re all still hanging out around the table, dinner’s done, dessert’s done, coffee’s pretty much done, and you’re still not leaving.”

From its humble beginnings in St. Simons Island, Georgia — where “The Moth” founder George Dawes Green grew up and swapped stories on a back porch that had a hole through the screen, where moths, drawn toward the light, would enter — then again in 1997 in Green’s living room in New York, “The Moth” was the furthest thing from popular.

“There wasn’t really anything cool about it. It was just very, very quaint and very just kind of all about a human connection,” says Kennedy, who’s been a part of “The Moth” for 18 years. “As time went by, storytelling became a thing. But, God, for the first decade that I did it, every time my friends or family asked where I was going and I said, ‘I’m doing a night of storytelling,’ it would be like, ‘What is that? You taking puppets to elementary schools? What are you exactly doing?’ I’d be, like, ‘Never mind. Just never mind. It’s a thing me and my friends love.’ ”

No longer limited to porches, living rooms and close-knit circles, “The Moth” has gone on to present more than 35,000 stories and 4,000-plus live events. In the first few months of “The Moth Podcast,” Kennedy recalls,“We thought, ‘My God, over a thousand people downloaded it! This is pretty giant.’ ” The podcast currently boasts 52 million downloads a year.

Kennedy also serves as host of “The Moth Mainstage.” It’s a position that requires him “to be of service, to take a moment and have some fun and maybe tell a story. And, aside from that, really just kind of get out of the way and let the stories be the star.”

He’s excited about the show’s — though certainly not his — first trip to Las Vegas. Of his typical preparation for a “Mainstage,” Kennedy says, “I’ll get into town usually a day or two early, and go to a rehearsal and sit in on the stories and watch how our producers and directors are working with the stories.”

Getting out and mingling with locals and acquiring a sense of each place is an important part of bringing “The Moth Mainstage” to a new city, he says. “I love walking around town. I love interacting with people, meeting people. To me, that’s a big part of doing it. I would never want ‘The Moth’ to feel like the cliche of just flying into town, going straight to the theater, not quite knowing where we are. This is all about community. Stories are all about people, and they’re all about people being together, and they’re all about the community that we’re in at the moment. So that connection is hugely important to me.”

As for the community inside each theater during “The Moth Mainstage,” Kennedy describes it as diverse — in age, ranging from children to seniors, as well as backgrounds and beliefs. “Really, it’s kind of everybody coming together for the evening.”



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