June 8 2016 02:15 PM

‘The Moth Mainstage’ puts storytelling in the spotlight

WEDNESDAY, June 8 — For someone who deals in storytelling for a living, Jenifer Hixson doesn’t wax poetic about “The Moth Mainstage.”

“It’s five people telling true stories from their lives,” she said, “Some funny, some sad, some surprising.”

The sparse description fits the show's approach, which focuses on the simplicity of stories. "The Moth Mainstage," which comes to the Wharton Center tomorrow, is the Moth’s traveling live show. The group also produces a popular public radio show, “The Moth Radio Hour,” as well as local StorySLAM competitions around the world. Hixson, senior producer with the Moth and director of “The Moth Mainstage,” thinks the recent revival in storytelling is, at least in part, a reaction to the rise in digital media.

“I’m tired of looking at my screen all day,” she said. “I’m always looking at a screen, receiving lots of entertainment through a screen. So it’s pretty wonderful to hear a story.”

Part of the appeal of storytelling, Hixson said, lies in its connection to our collective past.

“Storytelling feels novel — which is peculiar, because stories have been around forever,” she said. “Storytelling is the main way we’ve communicated throughout history. There’s something about it that feels like going back to our roots when we sit and listen to someone tell a story.”

Hixson loves that storytelling demands an audience’s attention. Digital media tends to deliver information in short sound bites or snippets of text. Album sales have waned in popularity as the digital single has become the medium of choice for music.

“That’s something I like about storytelling. It’s rude to look away or do something else when someone is telling a story,” she said. “They have your attention for 10 or 12 minutes. It’s not sound bites or excerpts.”

Storytellers for “The Moth Mainstage” and “The Moth Radio Hour” are culled from the organization’s international live storytelling events. Producers listen to hours and hours of storytellers each week in search of interesting stories.

“I probably hear about 100 stories a week,” Hixson said. “There are 32 StorySLAM shows a month all over the world, and there’s ten stories per event, so that’s a lot of stories.”

While the stories presented by the Moth are incredibly diverse, they generally fall into one of two categories.

“There’s raconteurs — people who can make ordinary things pop — and there’s regular people who have had extraordinary things happen to them,” Hixson said.

The key to both the live show and the radio show, Hixson said, is balance.

“The show can’t be all funny stories, and it can’t be all heavy stories,” she said. “You try to not bum people out too much. If there’s too many heavy stories, the audience gets fatigued. You try to have a range of stories.”

“The Moth Mainstage”

7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 9

$32/$60 VIP

Wharton Center

750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing

(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com