In January of 2011, Marc Moss found himself telling a story to some perfect strangers, which would not have been unusual except that he was on a stage in Missoula.
He was a little nervous starting out, but walked away from the experience a changed man.
“It was the first time in my life that I felt listened to—really listened to,” he said. “Your parents listen to you when you’re a kid, but it’s sort of their job.
But this was an audience of people who wanted to be there — they were there to listen.”
That happened at a storytelling event called MissoulaMoth, and Moss was transformed.
Not long afterward, he was invited to take over production of the event and changed the name to the much more fitting and inviting “Tell Us Something,” which is mostly Missoula-based, but is slowly turning into a kind of traveling storytelling showcase that sells out theaters and concert halls around Montana.
Moss records each one of the events and produces a Tell Us Something podcast, so all of the performances are archived. (The podcast is available wherever you access your podcasts, and many of the stories are also featured at the Tell Us Something website (tellussomething.org)
Moss describes his role in all this as something like a manager. Tell Us Something is really about the storytellers and the audiences and the connection that is forged between everyone involved.
“Tell Us Something is about cultivating empathy,” Moss said. “Everyone has a story.
Every story is important. And I’m trying to encourage people to tell stories, but also to encourage people to listen.”
Having been a participant in several Tell Us Something events myself, I can bear witness to that effect: these storytelling events build community in no more complicated a way than bringing together people telling stories with other people listening to them.
The results of that simple effort can be remarkable.
At a recent Tell Us Something event, I planned to tell a story about a local teacher I had had in Helena 30 years ago, a teacher I had always felt bad about treating badly by acting out in class.
To this teacher’s credit, she was persistently patient and ended up being a person who had a tremendous influence on my life.
I confessed I was a bit nervous about mentioning the teacher by name at the event, but Moss illustrated the mission of Tell Us Something by suggesting I ought to reach out to the teacher in question and invite her to the event.
“She needs to hear your story,” he said. As a result, the event buzzed with emotional connection as mutual friends listened to the story, and we all discussed it afterward.
A handful of people in a neighborhood in Helena went home that evening all feeling like we had learned a lot about each other’s lives.
As Moss states on the website, “Tell Us Something awakens imagination, empowers storytellers, and connects the community through the transformative power of personal storytelling.
It is a celebration of each other, our stories, and how we move through the world together.”
Though Tell Us Something started in and is based in Missoula, Moss quickly realized every community in Montana would benefit from a live storytelling event.
He’s consequently produced several events in Helena and has scheduled the first ever Butte event for November 8.
In addition to the live storytelling events, Moss conducts community workshops at Zootown Arts Community in Missoula and teaches storytelling in the Missoula County public schools as part of the Spark! Program.
Connecting Seniors to the Community
Moss is especially interested in connecting with those in the Senior Citizen community, to encourage them to come share a story. “One of my shortcomings as a facilitator has been that I have not done enough outreach among communities outside of my own,” Moss explained.
“I’ve realized that the key to maintaining the energy and relevance of live storytelling is to engage more diverse groups and get them to share stories.”
If you’re a senior with a story to tell, Tell Us Something would love to hear from you. You can visit the website for the latest Call for Pitches (the topics range from the purposefully intriguing, with themes such as “I Didn’t See That Coming,” to the openly general, such as “Work.”
Be prepared to “pitch” your story over the telephone to an answering machine. When you call, you’ll have three minutes to talk through the basics of your story.
What Is A Story?
But how do you know whether your ‘story’ is a story? What is a story, anyway?
“It’s pretty simple,” Moss explained. “A story needs to have some basic things. A beginning, a middle, and an end, for starters,” he said. “A story has to have characters and tension.
The characters have to have something to lose or gain in the story, and maybe most important — the story has to have hook. You know, some element that keeps the audience engaged and listening.”
Most important, the story has to be true. Each story is limited to ten minutes, and you are expected to tell the story from memory.
The event features eight storytellers, with a short intermission. The panel of storytellers is not announced until the event starts.
Getting Past the Nervousness
If you’re like most everyone else, the idea of getting up in front of an audience to tell a story can be petrifying. “Oh, I get nervous myself,” Moss admitted. “I think if you are not a little nervous when you tell a story, then you’re probably just phoning it in, and maybe you should give up.”
The nervousness is just a part of the process and actually helps cement the community connection. That little bit of anxiety reinforces the importance of sharing stories and being a serious listener.
In any case, participation in the event involves a workshop a few weeks prior to the actual event, which gives everyone an opportunity to “practice” in front of the other storytellers and to get feedback and reassurance.
The upcoming schedule features a couple events across Montana in the next couple of months. October 2 is a Missoula event with the theme, “It’s Complicated.”
Moss is especially excited for Tell Us Something’s first foray into the Mining City, as the November 8 event in Butte’s theme is “Work.” MSN