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Courtesy of Sarah Stacke

February 22, 2016

Drawn to the Light: The Moth Mainstage at The State Theatre

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New York-based nonprofit The Moth treated Ithacans to a Saturday evening of true stories told live, and I was lucky enough to be there, sitting in the orchestra section of The State Theater. As a long time listener to The Moth’s highly subscribed-to podcast and someone who has therefore been informed innumerable times during the podcast’s opening that “since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide,” it felt great to finally be seeing the spectacle in person.

Given the intimate nature of The Moth’s platform, it is not uncommon for stories to inspire tears at one moment and laughter in the next, from tellers and listeners alike. The Moth never fails to keep its audience engrossed from start to finish, and Saturday night’s event was no exception. Storytellers spoke of experiences ranging from the relatable (being a child and constructing something marvelous in your backyard) to the totally unexpected (being a punk-rocker, and having your heart melted while serving jury duty). Stories ranged, too, from the commonplace (trying to convince your despondent nine-year-old to go to school) to the unimaginably frightening (being kidnapped in wartime Baghdad).

The show was separated into two parts, each composed of two to three roughly ten-minute stories. Each part opened with an emotive, mood-setting cello piece from Ithaca College music professor Elizabeth Simkin. Along with Simkin’s music, the evening was enhanced by the host, former Moth GrandSLAM champion Peter Aguero, who emceed with skill and genuine hilarity, ribbing Ithacans for their commitment to IPAs, farm-to-plate meals and public radio.

During his introduction, Aguero reminded the audience that sitting around and telling each other stories is perhaps the oldest of human pastimes, calling to my mind the image of a group of hunter-gatherers shooting the breeze while cooking meat over an open fire. Replace the smell of the meat with the smell of very-buttery popcorn popping behind the State Theater’s concession stand and replace the flicker of the open fire with the shine of an ellipsoidal light glistening on Aguero’s tastefully selected purple-velvet blazer, and you’ve established, however crudely, the thread connecting Saturday evenings event with the dawn of humanity.

Later in the introduction, Aguero encouraged everyone present to stop worrying about all the issues and stresses of their lives lead outside the State Theater, and to instead simply focus on the stories being told on stage. As someone who generally has an extremely hard time letting go of anxiety, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I found it surprisingly easy to follow Aguero’s advice and slip right into the stories being told in front of me, taking on the perspectives of the story tellers as my own, however briefly. The overall experience was like that of reading great literature: cathartic and enriching.

It is unlikely that The Moth will be back in Ithaca any time in the near future, but if you regret missing Saturday night’s event, the internet and airwaves are rife with ways to tune in. The Moth Radio Hour airs weekly on hundreds of NPR stations — including the Ithaca area’s own WRVO (92.5 and 90.5 FM) — every Saturday night at 8 p.m. Additionally, The Moth podcast is free and frequently updated on themoth.org.

Matthew Pegan is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at mpegan@cornellsun.com. 

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