EVENT REVIEW: Coming Home: The Moth in Toronto

The Moth gently flitted in to a glowing reception at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Thursday night. This is not surprising as tickets to the event were sold out within minutes of it being announced. I recall hearing on CBC Radio quite a while back that the acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to live storytelling was coming to Toronto. I was one of the fast-fingered fortunates who immediately logged into their Bloor Hot Docs Cinema account and purchased a ticket to the event sponsored by The Globe and Mail

The excitement in the VIP cocktail lounge was palpable. As the hors d’ouevres were being served and the patrons enjoyed the open bar I chatted with others who like me had come knowing a little bit about the concept, curious and sensing that something very special was about to happen. There is a strong storytelling community in Toronto. One of the world’s top urban storytelling celebrations Toronto Storytelling Festival will run March 19 to 29  will welcome storytellers from around the world.

The excellent comedic host was Ophira Eisenberg, who according to her website is “smart, friendly, slightly self-deprecating, and one heck of a writer.”, to which I would have to agree on all counts.  A Canadian now living in New York she entertained the audience with her observations of coming back to Toronto where she once lived and noticing how much and how little things have changed in her old neighbourhood. It is this focus on the minutiae of daily existence, things which  might otherwise be overlooked, that is the foundation for oral storytelling. Ophira is a regular host and storyteller with The Moth.

The theme for this event was Coming Home. Ophira had asked each of the storytellers to talk about the most unusual place they’d felt like they were coming home.

Musical entertainment was provided by fiddle player Ali Raney who is part of the country duo The Lovelocks . Her fiddle told it’s own story as it settled and roused the audience in her expert hands.

Each of the storytellers brilliantly shone their lights and we in the audience were moths to their flames. Samuel James, a musician and the creator of a video series Kitty Critic, told a poignant story of his experiences as a young boy finding kindness from a gentle new friend and her family when the foster system and his own relatives were failing him. As Samuel expressed his thoughts and moved his arms his metal watch cast a tiny white reflection on the black backdrop and it oddly looked like a little moth circling behind him.  Falen Johnson talked about how as a woman with Native heritage she sometimes feels invisible due to the lightness of her skin. She regaled us with a fascinating and amusing tale of giving a walking tour in Toronto for a motley crew of pamphlet-holders as she tried to address the issue of the “invisible” people who populate the rough neighbourhood, only to find that two seemingly threatening interlopers were the ones who inadvertently provided the most insightful contributions. Comedy writer and storyteller Sam Mullins (who by the way has an awesome blog with tips for would-be storytellers) connected with many in the audience who related to some of his issues of social anxiety. He adeptly pulled us into his world from childhood to adulthood with all the dreams, disappointments, rebellions, and the letting go and showed how the last place he wanted to be was where he found his centre. I think I laughed the hardest at Steve Zimmer‘s deadpan delivery of his grade five fascination with the ancient city of Rome and his attempts to conscript his friend and his brother to help him recreate the Coliseum from snow and ice on his front yard only to find the fall of his own small mutinous civilization yet the smugly eloquent art that emerged from the melting ruins.
Bookending the evening was another serious story, after the humorous inbetweeners. The grand finale was by musician Martha Wainwright of the famous musical family, daughter of the late Kate McGarrigle. In her soft, measured voice she told the story of becoming a new mother with a premature infant just as her own mother was “growing wings” and dying of cancer many miles away and the excruciating challenges due to medical restrictions on travel that kept separating them when the last moments were so precious. She talked of love and sadness, the movement of the generations. She shared some dark humour by bringing us inside a private moment when she and her brother Rufus were readying their mother for her “final appearance”. As much as I had laughed out loud at Steve’s previous story I was bawling inside listening to Martha.
This is why we tell stories. They herd a dark room of 700 people onto a country porch under the stars to share life’s moments as they watch the moths circle the light.
Glenda MacDonald
Last updated: March 13, 2015