Storytelling slam makes appearance in Burlington


Karen Pike

From left, producer Susanne Schmidt and host Autumn Spencer on stage at October’s Moth event. The upcoming story slam, titled “Control,” will take place Nov. 14 at ArtsRiot.

Bridget Higdon, Assistant Arts Editor

Every good storyteller needs a good listener. The bond between the two is clear — the voice, mind and ear all have important roles to play.

The Moth, a non-profit organization devoted to making oral storytelling more accessible to the public, will host another of its live monthly story slams at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at ArtsRiot.

The Burlington slams began three years ago at the Skinny Pancake. The events have since outgrown the space and have been taking place at ArtsRiot since January 2017.

“The Moth chooses cities with a vibrant arts culture that are big enough to support the event and have a connection to a media sponsor,” said Susanne Schmidt, the producer of the Burlington slams.

Schmidt grew up in New York City but came to Vermont 25 years ago to attend UVM. She has been a Moth producer for three years, she said.

The Moth was founded in 1997 by novelist George Dawes Green, according the organization’s website.

Originally from Georgia, Dawes wished to create the atmosphere that was present in his hometown in New York. In Georgia, he and his friends would share captivating stories amidst the summer evening’s fluttering moths.

Since its inception, The Moth has expanded to 28 cities around the world. The slams at ArtsRiot are the only Moth events within more than 200 miles.

In 2009, The Moth added a radio show which is broadcast on 450 stations nationwide. The organization’s other venture, The Moth podcast, is downloaded over 44 million times a year, according to the Moth website.

“I love my job. I have heard stories that are funny, sad or a little odd. I have heard stories that make me cry days later.”

— Susanne Schmidt

The Moth at ArtsRiot is sponsored by Vermont Public Radio.

“VPR provides some media support to the Moth slams in Vermont but otherwise we’re not involved in production. The Moth is a finely tuned machine and they have their productions down pat,” said Ty Robertson, VPR’s community engagement coordinator.

Robertson has been at her position for over 20 years, she said.

The theme for this month’s story slam is Control. Ten lucky audience members will be called to the stage to share a personal five-to-six-minute story that follows the night’s theme.

The stories must be true, never heard before and told in the first person, Schmidt said.

“The Moth has a principle of inclusion,” she said. “We will stop stories that are racist, homophobic or misogynistic.”

Three teams of judges will be chosen from the audience. The judges will score each storyteller at the completion of his or her performance. A winner will be named at the end of the night, Schmidt said.

The winner from each monthly Moth event is invited to compete in the annual Burlington Grand Slam. The next Grand Slam will take place in spring 2018, she said.

“I love my job,” she said. “I have heard stories that are funny, sad, or a little odd. I have heard stories that make me cry days later.”

As well as taking care of the logistics behind the scenes, Schmidt is also active during the show, she said, She rings the bell at the five-to-six-minute mark, signaling speakers to wrap up their stories.

“I think the value of oral storytelling is that everyone can do it,” said junior Melody Riddle-Wilder, a former resident of the now defunct Moth House in L/L.

“It’s different from other arts like painting or drawing in that you can’t really be a bad storyteller.”

The Moth: Control will take place Nov. 14 at ArtsRiot. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Storytelling will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 and are sold only in advance online at Tickets go on sale at 3 p.m. Nov. 7, exactly one week before the event. October’s story slam sold out in one day.