The annual Moth Gala is one of our favorite events in New York. In a world drawn impersonal by tweets and newsfeeds, it's refreshing to know that there are still people out there promoting the art of storytelling. There's nothing quite like having your five minutes on stage, connecting with a live audience with an original yarn. Garrison Keillor and Jonathan Ames co-hosted the 2009 Moth ball held Tuesday night at Capitale, and awarded Actor Anna Deavere Smith for her groundbreaking reinvention of theater. The theme of the night was the Black and White Ball, and indeed several Truman Capotes floated throughout the massive Beaux Arts ballroom, formerly home to the Bowery Savings Bank.
Keillor joked to the audience that the Moth was started by people not from here. New Yorkers never give each other the opportunity to talk, unlike the rest of the country where "people were brought up to yield." The Moth is an incredible privilege for writers everywhere who can claim those five uninterrupted minutes on stage. The "Prairie Home Companion" host told his own story of having recently suffered a mild stroke in Minnesota, prompted by a Jesus-preaching masseuse. He drove to the ER to where patients complained of neck moles, while the polite Midwesterner waited in line until his turn came, and calmly told the nurse, "I'm having a stroke." Keillor knew his audience well, and acknowledged that during this story, New Yorkers, unable to appreciate a dramatic pause, would have thought of three stories on their own: a major stroke, a NYC ER room trumping a St. Paul one, or even just reading a story in the NYT Magazine about strokes. So true.
Fortunately the Moth has found a way to make storytelling vivid and alive, even for impatient New Yorkers. The highlight of the night was the finale, a round of one minute stories from ten winners of recent Moth Grandslams contests.
We asked Mr. Keillor why he has supported the Moth for so many years. "It really appeals to me. It's a grassroots organization that sprang up." he told us. "Now I think it's on the verge of tremendous success. It makes me very, very happy."
And Keillor has a new reason to love the Moth, as they've recently ventured into his radio medium. "It's a grassroots show, operating under very, very simple rules," he said, "so it has a beautiful democratic ethos about it which I think is very, very appealing." Audiences nationwide have caught the Moth fever, as the show is now broadcast on a record-breaking 205 stations after only three months. Today the Moth reaches millions of people across the country.