I won a Moth StorySLAM at The Oberon Theater in Cambridge on Tuesday night. I managed to win from first position, which isn’t easy.
I’ve won 13 Moth StorySLAMs in the last three years, but I’ve never won after having to go first. Few storytellers do. I was excited. Thrilled, even, But winning was not the best part of the night for me.
Given my extreme competitive nature, this is really saying something.
Three of my friends joined me at The Oberon on Tuesday night, and two of them, Plato and Tom, put their names in the hat and were fortunate enough to take the stage and tell a story.
They performed brilliantly. They told great stories. Their stories were so good, in fact, that Plato finished in second place, just a few tenths of a point behind me, and Tom finished in third, a few tenths of a point behind Plato.
I was impressed with their performances. A little proud, even.
Both Plato and Tom began their storytelling careers at Speak Up after Elysha and I asked them to tell a story. Tom told a hilarious story about meeting his wife for the first time, and Plato has told a number of stories for us, including one at our very first show.
Last night was the first time they took the stage for The Moth. I suspect that it won’t be the last.
Plato and Tom are not my only friends who have taken the stage to tell a story. Since I began introducing my friends to storytelling (shortly after I began doing it myself), many of them have performed at Speak Up, and a handful have told stories at a Moth event.
I’ve also watched people who complete my storytelling workshop go on to tell stories at Speak Up and even compete in Moth StorySLAMs. Many of them assured me that they were taking my workshop for reasons other than performing and swore that they would never take the stage. Despite their initial protestations, a large number of them have gone on to tell stories for Speak Up, and a few have even ventured into New York and Boston and competed in Moth events as well.
People who never dreamed of standing on a stage and performing have become seasoned storytellers who can’t wait to tell their next story.
Introducing friends to something new, assisting them in honing their skills, and then watching them perform and compete is more rewarding than I would have ever expected. That’s how I felt on Tuesday night, watching Plato and Tom perform on stage.
In many ways, I was also returning favors.
Eight years ago, Tom bought a set of golf clubs for $10 at a garage sale, dropped them into my car on a snowy, December afternoon, and thereby launched my golfing career. Golf has become one of the greatest loves of my life. I’m still a terrible player, but I would play every day if I could. I’ve even written a memoir about the game. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Tom changed my life when he dropped those golf clubs into my car that day.
Back in 1999, Plato decided to take a chance on an inexperienced teacher, fresh out of college and rough around the edges, who many administrators viewed as a wild card. He hired me when others would not and thereby launched my teaching career. I have been teaching in that school ever since.
Our school was the place where my occasionally unorthodox teaching methods were embraced and my creativity was rewarded. I was permitted to become the teacher I am today thanks in large part to Plato’s leadership and guidance. It was also the place where I met my wife, Tom, and many of the closest friends.
My life would be very different had Plato not taken a chance on me that day.
Introducing them to storytelling and watching them compete for the first time was a small way of repaying them for all that they have done. It was a joy. It’s well documented that after the first person in a family graduated from college, others in the family, who never dreamed of attending college, will follow. Once the ice is broken and the impossible is made possible, people are willing to give it a try.
My success with storytelling has served a similar role for many of my friends. Once I started taking the stage, others have followed. It has been so much fun to watch.
Watching Tom and Plato perform so well on Tuesday night was truly reward enough. The fact that I won the slam was great, but honestly, it was icing on the cake.
Delicious icing. Satisfying icing. Well deserved icing. But still, not nearly as rewarding as watching Tom and Plato standing behind that microphone, under those bright lights, telling their story.