Once a month, 100-some people pack Cliff Bell’s, the downtown Detroit restaurant and jazz club, for the Moth Story-SLAM — an event that is by turns hilarious, tear-jerking, outrageous, and even spiritual. The chatter of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd drops to a hush as the names of 10 storytellers are plucked from a hat. Each takes the stage to tell a five-minute tale related to a broad theme. “I like the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen,” says StorySLAM host Alex Trajano. “People go from almost falling apart to wrapping it all up in a great, poignant ending.” The event (this month’s is June 2; [Cliff Bells Event Calendar]; also, Moth June 23 at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival) is an outgrowth of New York StorySLAMs, which have also branched out to Chicago and Los Angeles. “You get everybody from students to retirees,” Trajano says. “They range from really super-nervous to just crazy, manic energy.” Following are excerpts from tales told on a recent night when the theme was “animals.”
ROBERT CURTIS //
Before Robert Curtis stepped up to the microphone, most of his storytelling had been devoted to the entertainment of his five children. The story of the 38-year-old Warren court administrator? How a squirrel changed the fundamentalist Christian beliefs he learned as a child. While out for a walk one morning several years ago, he says, a squirrel repeatedly charged him. After Curtis made several unsuccessful attempts to fend off the aggressive rodent, a feral cat suddenly pounced and ate it. “My bondage to my fundamentalist beliefs ended, because my thought was, ‘Darwin was right!’ ” Curtis says. “And I swear to God the cat winked at me.”
BRIAN WECHT //
“No one cares about the facts as much as the feeling,” Brian Wecht says about storytelling. “I, as a character, need to evolve during the story.” Wecht, 36, participated in New York storytelling events for years. He’s now weaving plots about Detroit because he took a job as a particle physics researcher at the University of Michigan. Onstage, Wecht recalls his college days as a “chubby math enthusiast” who happened to be dating a “tall, curvaceous” girl named Binney.” As he tells it, on the evening of Wecht’s first dinner with her family, her younger siblings produced a dead mole from the freezer and began to play with it at the dinner table. The awkwardness of the situation grew as Binney’s father insisted that Wecht touch the mole. Wecht concludes his story with Binney’s words to him: “Don’t touch me, Brian, you’re covered with mole.” Absolutely true, he insists. Why does he engage in public sharing? “It has immediacy, and it’s not too actorly,” he says. “The audience is on your side.”
FRANCES HEWITT //
Frances Hewitt, a Farmington Hills family physician, approaches the microphone looking as though she might need the audience on her side. With her hair swept into a bun and her petite form wrapped in a shawl, the 37-year old smiles shyly. With the admission, “I’ve had two glasses of wine,” she ventures into the story of how a raccoon invaded the dream home she and her husband bought. The audience laughs uproariously as she scratches the microphone with a fingernail, imitating the sound of the raccoon in her walls. “I just didn’t expect the crowd to be so nice,” she says afterward, which is why so many participants return to tell yet another bar-time story.