Inside L.A.'s Storytelling Boom
Finkelstein, an Emmy-nominated writer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show who is behind The Moth's presence here in town (it skipped the festival this year), points out that one divide in the storytelling scene is between the shows where you read a story, and shows -- like The Moth -- where you don't have notes.
Finkelstein explains that if the performer reads from notes, "you can get non-performer writers who write magazine articles and books, who feel comfortable to read, but don't feel comfortable getting on stage with a mike," says Finkelstein about essay shows, "It's a different pace." For instance, in the festival, RISK! and Quote Unquote didn't involve reading off of notes, while Don't Tell My Mother! and P.E.Z. did (Eat Your Words involved both).
Finkelstein, who started off in New York, also mentioned the distinction between the east coast and west coast storytellers. "While there's more professionals out here in any given show, in New York half of the performers are cops, steelmakers, secretaries or firemen, which brings another dynamic to a storytelling show versus one that has a lineup of comedians," he says.
Even at respected shows, there is such a thing as a bad storyteller, i.e. the gentleman at Eat Your Words who rambled his way through his set, trying to find the point as he described his father's physical ailments and his mother's tendency to overcook on Jewish holidays. The best stories are edited and polished. Finkelstein, who also teaches storytelling, says, "I teach storytellers to weed out their tangents and to get them to arc."
For Levy, great storytellers harness their vulnerability. Sincerity goes a long way in making the most outrageous and/or blue incident believable. "To be a great storyteller means you're gonna tell me something you wouldn't normally share with me at a cocktail party. If you share it [onstage], I see your own calamity and I get to feel my own connection," she says. "But it's not about shocking or embarrassing yourself. That's not cathartic."
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