SARANAC LAKE - The stories ranged from the intense to the hilarious, dealing with topics as wide-ranging as domestic abuse and skydiving, as national storytelling nonprofit group The Moth brought its show to the Harrietstown Town Hall Thursday night.
Six people, most of whom live in the New York City area, each told 10-minute stories on the town hall stage to a large and attentive crowd.
The storytellers had a range of experience. Some have been with The Moth for years, winning championships, while one performer told her story for the first time with The Moth Thursday night.
Dori Samadzai Bonner tells the story of her life growing up in Afghanistan and her journey to America at Thursday night’s performance of national storytelling program The Moth at the Harrietstown Town Hall.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
The master of ceremonies was Rudy Rush, who has appeared with comedians Dave Chapelle, Martin Lawrence and Jamie Foxx, and he told a portion of a story of his own as well.
Rush explained at the beginning of the show that The Moth strives to be "storytelling in its purest form," with no scripts, and stories that evolve over time so they're always fresh and new.
After the show, the audience was buzzing about the unique experience.
Saranac Laker Jen Kretser said she was surprised by some of the performances. When a storyteller would get up on stage, people would form assumptions about them quickly - "and then all of a sudden something totally unexpected comes out, and you're moved to tears," Kretser said.
Brett McLeod said he enjoyed how raw and gritty the performances were.
"The stories were good," McLeod said, "great insights into humanity."
Many audience members mentioned that their favorite story was the most raw one. Dori Samadzai Bonner told the story of how she grew up in war-torn Afghanistan, the trials she faced there as a young woman in a place where gender inequalities ruled, and her long journey to get to America with her brother, leaving their parents behind.
Bonner explained at the end of her story that on the day she arrived in the U.S., she vowed to spend her life reminding Americans that "what I and my family risked our lives for, you have been a part of since birth," and to thank Americans for the sanctuary they have given her.
Her story was the only one to receive a standing ovation at the end.
"That was awesome," Rush said after she was done. "You could tell she was a little afraid, but she did a fantastic job."
Most of the storytellers came to The Moth through its StorySLAM series held regularly in New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago, but Bonner got her start by submitting a one-minute pitch to The Moth, as anyone can do at themoth.org. She was brought in to mold her story with director Maggie Cino, and this tour is her first time telling it.
Thursday night's show at the Harrietstown Town Hall was one of about 14 Moth Mainstage touring shows each year.
The Moth got its start in New York City and since has grown into a storytelling organization that spans the nation.
The theme of Thursday night's show was "Great Escapes." Cino and producer Kirsty Bennett said the crew and storytellers really liked their escape to the Adirondacks.
"I think everyone is absolutely delighted to be out of New York City," Bennett told the Enterprise before the show.
They arrived in town Tuesday via the Amtrak train to Westport. They had one rehearsal Wednesday night in which they listened to one another's stories and gave feedback, workshopping them so they were prepared for the Thursday performance.
The group also spent time swimming in the lakes and enjoying the outdoors. They also went to the Paul Smith's VIC for a walk and canoed on Lake Colby. Cino said they were proud to make it all the way across the lake.
"The area is awesome," Cino said. "We're really thinking about not leaving."
During the performance, Rush thanked the people of Saranac Lake and the surrounding area.
"You guys have been very hospitable, and we really love being here," he said.
North Country Public Radio's June Peoples was the driving force behind bringing The Moth to the region. She said she's been following it for a long time and managed to get it to the Clayton Opera House last year. This year, she suggested Saranac Lake, and The Moth staff agreed.
The Moth's radio program produced by PRX, "The Moth Radio Hour," has been on and off the North Country Public Radio airwaves in the past, but at the end of Thursday's show, NCPR announced that it would be making a weekly appearance again starting in January.
NCPR staff also had a sign-up Thursday night for a storytelling series they are trying to start, which they are calling "Front Porch Stories."