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Amy Paradysz

Amy Paradysz is a "Scene & Heard" columnist for the Portland Press Herald and a "Seen" photographer for She edits everything from proposal bids to blogs to cookbooks--and verbally edits everything she drives by.

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Posted: May 31, 2016

Storytellers – and story lovers – are drawn to The Moth

Written by: Amy Paradysz
"The stories I tell and the stories I'm used to hearing are stories about people's lives," said Samuel James of Portland. Jonathan Reece photo

“The stories I tell and the stories I’m used to hearing are stories about people’s lives,” said Samuel James of Portland. Jonathan Reece photo

The sure-to-be-a-sellout show at the State Theatre this weekend isn’t a rock band or a famous comedian. It’s a bunch of storytellers.

The Moth Mainstage returns for its fourth show at the State, with host Dameon Wilburn, musician Lauren Rioux, and storytellers Micaela Blei, Zach Giffith, Suzi Ronson, David Litt and Abeny Kucha.

“Every time we have sold out,” General Manager Lauren Wayne said. “The stories are so touching and usually very emotional, and it’s phenomenal to see one person on stage bring such reaction from 1,300 people in the audience.”

The Moth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to storytelling, has presented more than 3,000 personal stories at Moth Mainstage events around the world. Each Mainstage event features five storytellers who develop and shape their stories with The Moth’s directors.

“It’s a big deal in New York,” said Samuel James of Portland, a songwriter who lays claim to being the first Moth storyteller to spin a yarn in Canada.

The Wall Street Journal called Moth Mainstage “New York’s hottest and hippest literary ticket.” And it’s a big deal here in Maine, where local storytellers have been priming the pump for decades and the number of regular storytelling events is growing.

“Maine is just full of great storytelling,” said Vernon Cox, an electrician from Sanford who has been a fixture in the storytelling scene for three decades. “There are the Down East storytellers, folklore and legend, fictional storytellers, and the new storytelling inspired by personal narrative.”

“The stories I tell and the stories I’m used to hearing are stories about people’s lives,” James said. “But I went to this storytelling event, and it ended up being more about fables, like animals talking. It’s a pretty diverse field.”

Michael Sargent of Auburn, who leans toward first-person narrative in the vein of the Moth, organizes a monthly series called The Corner in Lewiston that “tends to fill up.” When he co-led a new series called Sound Bites in Brunswick, the first night sold out there as well. “There’s definitely ongoing interest,” he said.

“Years ago, whenever I would say I was going to do some storytelling, people would ask if I was going to read to children, or if I was going to do Down East humor,” Cox said. He did have a Down East character he called Willie Phinedit. But today, telling stories at The Corner, Cox tends to take a more authentic, emotional approach. After 30 years of family-friendly storytelling, he’s even sworn a few times “when it fits.”

Moth Mainstage

WHERE: State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $30 to $45 in advance
MORE INFO: (800) 745-3000,


The most Maine-centric name of a storytelling guild simply has to be MOOSE, or Maine Organization of Storytelling Enthusiasts.
“It’s oral telling of any kind of story, whether it be a personal story or an old folk tale,” said Debb Freeman, who founded MOOSE in 2001 and welcomes all types of storytellers.
The only criteria: The story must be told, not read.
Freeman specializes in turning difficult life stories into fairy tales of love and acceptance.
“Some things are just too hard to tell directly,” Freeman said. “But in fairy-tale format, we can go to the heart rather than the head.”
MOOSE meets the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Portland Public Library’s Rines Auditorium. An hour of open mic, with 10 minutes per storyteller, warms up the audience for the month’s featured raconteur. On June 8, Phyllis Blackstone of Farmington will entertain with stories of trading her condo for an RV and traveling the country.
Suggested donation: $5.

Seanachie Nights Courtesy photo

Seanachie Nights Courtesy photo

Storyteller Lynne Cullen loves old Irish tales in an old Irish pub, so in 2006 she asked publican Doug Fuss about hosting monthly storytelling nights in the Yeats Room at Bull Feeney’s in Portland. Ten years later, storytellers and listeners still grab a pint and order a bite to eat while settling for in an evening of old-fashioned entertainment.
The next Seanachie Night, on June 20, will feature folktales by professional storyteller Simon Brooks of New Hampshire.
Expect a night of fairy tales. “Not the cute Victorian fairies,” Cullen said, “but the ancient ones who were more mischievous or frightening or even dangerous, like a force of nature.”
Cullen named the event “Seanachie” (pronounced like the name “Sean” followed by “a key”) after the old Gaelic word for “storyteller” and added “Nights” in reference to the tale of “One Thousand and One Nights.”
“I thought that was a good merging of two different cultures in the storytelling tradition,” Cullen said. “The focus in the United States is more about personal stories, like The Moth. But I want to keep the old stories going. The old tales still have a lot to say to the human condition.”
Seanachie Nights meets the third Monday of every month at 7 p.m. It’s on hiatus in July.
Suggested donation: $9.

Rather than lament the lack of literary-type events in Lewiston-Auburn, Michael Sargent organized a monthly series of Moth-style storytelling at She Doesn’t Like Guthries (or Guthries, for short) in Lewiston. The Corner fills Guthries the second Thursday of the month, September through May, culminating with an end-of-season competition with cash prizes.
“Sometimes people tell really hard stories at The Corner,” Sargent said. “In the beginning, people started with humor, but since then the stories have gotten more gripping and raw.”
When The Corner opens up again in September, don’t be late because it’s first come, first served, and interest often exceeds capacity. To get your Corner fix before Season 4 starts in the fall, check out the YouTube channel:

Tara Clancy at Sound Bite Courtesy photo

Tara Clancy at Sound Bites Courtesy photo

The newest monthly storytelling happening in Maine is Sound Bites, a collaboration between Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at Maine College of Art along with The Corner and Frontier Café. The first Sound Bites event, a few weeks ago, sold out.
“Our mission here at Frontier is to connect people to the world. How do you do that? Through stories,” said Sean Morin, program director at Frontier. “We were looking for that type of programming in our schedule. And then Donna Galluzzo called us.”
“We love to collaborate,” said Galluzzo, executive director of Salt. “Our work is about the entire state of Maine, so it’s nice to get out of Portland as well.”
“I don’t coach or control the stories other than drawing a theme,” said Sargent, the representative from The Corner. “An emcee tells a story, along with three or four other storytellers, all first-person narratives, and then we play these clips from the Salt archives. It’s basically a reflective time to listen to radio with friends for five minutes.”
June’s Sound Bites will feature Maine bluesman Samuel James, comedian Karen Morgan, Moth Vermont StorySlam producer Susanne Schmidt and choice moments from the Salt Story Archive. With 43 years of work and thousands of stories recorded, Salt has some gems (
Monthly shows are planned at Frontier through October, followed by a Sound Bites at a larger venue in Portland. Tickets to the June 16 event are on sale online through Brown Paper Tickets for $6 plus service fee:


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