What would it feel like to stand up in front of a group of people you do not know and talk about some of the most personal moments of your life? It is a special kind of terror that is usually reserved for professional comedians or actors, but in the past few decades, more and more everyday folk have been trying it out through live storytelling events popularized by organizations like The Moth.
In the past 12 years, the Triangle nonprofit The Monti has featured more than a thousand stories told by people from all walks of life about topics ranging from the death of a partner to standing up to a bully. For the Monti signature series, founder and executive director Jeff Polish works with storytellers to craft a story around a particular theme, which they then perform live in front of an audience. Storytelling aficionados can also make a go of it on their own at a Monti StorySLAM, a competitive event during which storytellers compete in front of judges and a live audience.
On Saturday, Feb. 15 the organization will host its annual Hippo Awards, an event honoring the best stories told in the previous year and giving those storytellers an opportunity to compete in the categories of comedy, drama and overall. Host Frank Stasio talks to Polish about the work that goes into crafting a strong story, and they share clips from this year’s finalists, including three centered on the theme of love. The Hippo Awards take place Saturday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. The theme is “________ Date Ever.”
What happens when someone tells a story at The Monti:
Somebody stands up. They're nervous. This is their life story in a sense, or at least a small piece of it. It's vulnerable. It's real. They're taking a risk by standing up there. And then they're speaking their truth. And they can't see the audience. They can feel them. They can hear them — maybe they can catch a glimpse of a head moving. But what happens every time that we produce a show is that we are creating community through the telling of these personal stories.
On what makes The Monti such a safe space:
Part of the safety is that the listeners don't necessarily have to respond in any certain way. … [In a] dark room full of strangers, people don't have that pressure. They can just feel and connect and show the love. Because honestly, all anybody really needs when when they're being vulnerable is to be heard, for somebody to bear witness to their own suffering and to make them feel like it's okay. And I think that's what we do.
How Polish keeps things fresh after 12 years:
It never gets old when people share their truth, when people are vulnerable. And for me — just in this job where people come to me and they let it out in front of me — that's never going to get old. To me, just the power of story is — it's inspiring and I'm humbled that people trust this program enough to share their deepest, most important story with us.