As a history major who later, unexpectedly, obtained a masters in history on top of that, I love stories. It is the narratives of people and places throughout the ineffable expanse of time that really drew me into this field, more than the dates, and the names, the trappings. Stories that reflect on the human condition, what changes, what stays the same; how all of the stories of all of the people of the world are unique and how all of them reflect the unity of the human condition. This is probably why I am such a fan of This American Life, and of course, as I have no doubt already made clear, I am a big fan of themes. Also, the Twin Cities are one of the biggest markets for public radio.
Taking a look at the stories of place is another interest of mine, and the Twin Cities, Minnesota in general has, like many other places, a lot of stories. As I travel through the streets and sidewalks of Minnesota communities, I often find myself reflecting on what had happened there, what will happen in the future. How many other people stopped there? Stories of tragedies, stories of triumphs, and stories everywhere in between. There are stories everywhere and I always find myself riveted by them.
I mentioned This American Life, but there is another great public radio program focusing on “true stories told live” that I have come to follow over the last few years, the Moth Radio Hour. Catching it on NPR on Sundays or downloading the podcast, I find the variety and diversity of the voices offered by the Moth to be amazing. Started in New York more than a decade ago, the Moth has been expanding and over the last year or so, has been recording shows in the Twin Cities. Sadly, I never was able to make it to one of their weekday shows at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul.
Last Saturday night, though, my sister and I braved the chilly, empty streets of St. Paul to head to the Fitzgerald Theater where we attended the first Twin Cities Moth Grand Slam. Before the show began, we checked out some of the familiar landmarks of downtown St. Paul, the old Science Museum building which has recently been taken over, if you can believe it, by the Scientologists. Weird. The Fitzgerald Theater is one of my favorite places for live events in the Twin Cities, known of course for Minnesota’s own public radio show the Prairie Home Companion, and more recently, Wits, which is like Prairie Home Companion for the under 40 set. I’ve seen both, as well as Talking Volumes with such luminaries as Michael Chabon and Margaret Atwood. It was a pretty august location for the Moth Grand Slam.
At the Grand Slam, winners of previous Minnesota story slams slam off to be crowned the most awesome story teller in the state. The theme was “fish out of water,” so the storytellers were tasked with exploring a time in their lives in which they felt out of place, an outsider, out of their loop (I totally relate) Host Peter Aguero, a New Jersey native, quickly found himself feeling this as he became lost in the face of our Minnesotan inside jokes about muskies. Along with some fun audience participation, where members wrote down their own experiences to be shared with the theater by Aguero (one of my contributions was read, which is always icing on the cake for me), it was all in all a hilarious and heart rending show.
There were tales of deception in America Online, immigrants in Australia, venerable West Bank Minneapolis bars, and travels to France to be confronted by a naked intruder to a hotel room, among other great true tales of longing, worry, and humor. The audience, in turned, filled the theater with uproarious laughter and gasps of sympathy. The winner, Ward Rubrecht, told a very interesting story of his relationship to his sister after she converted to Orthodox Judaism.
In the meantime, I am totally inspired to brush up on my storytelling skills and try out some public speaking.
But, oh! I really cannot wait for this weekend’s events at Northern Spark, which is looking like it is going to be an awesome nocturnal adventure and will no doubt by out into the wee hours listening to music, participating in art and performances, and just people watching on the streets of Minneapolis. For those who have not been, I urge you to check out the beginner’s guide put together by MinnPost, which is a great place to start and hopefully I’ll see you there. Check it! I will be sharing some stories of my experiences at Northern Spark in an upcoming post.