Episode #14 – Secrets from the MOTH!

Lea Thau
Lea Thau was creative director of TheMoth.org for a decade (2001-2010), developing the format and process that has become one of the most popular storytelling organizations in the world.  From the beginning, Lea favored the idea of sticking to true stories told in the first person – a critical decision that created what we know as “the Moth format.” If you haven’t subscribed to the Moth podcast do it now.  You will become a better storyteller simply by listening to the craft, detail and structure embedded in these wonderful stories.

Lea now has her own show called Strangers on KCRW – a podcast I also highly recommend.

The Moth finds stories from submissions but also hunts them down.  They may decide “we want a story from an astronaut” or work with a celebrity to find a story. One thing is sure, they work for a very long time with every storyteller to deepen the emotional themes and create an optimal structure and delivery. It sounds painful to me – but I can’t argue with the results.

“The biggest part of the process is not shaping or rehearsing the story – it is getting to that emotional core.”

– Lea Thau, Former Moth Creative Director

Lea points out that many people who tell stories of dark events are invested in demonstrating some kind of happy ending that simply isn’t true.  One sign is that “the narrative structure just won’t go there.”  There are unresolved truths that go deeper than a pretty ending and that’s what makes the story authentic and interesting

The first part of the Moth process is to dig deep.  When Lea uses the Moth format, she says in the beginning it is just a long conversation over several sessions. Like a  lengthy interview she searches for interesting elements, important events and looking for a story, asking questions like: “What else were you going thru at the time? “Why did you make that choice?” etc..

She often has the story in her mind often before the teller knows what it is.

The Moth coaching process is based on critique and direction. The teller must meet the standards of the director. Direction more than coaching, the process is more prescriptive  than the process  we “corporate storytellers” use.  Lea said, “You almost have to break them” pointing out that “nobody can see their own blind spots. No one really knows the darker sides of the own stories. “ it sounds like a bit of tough love to “get them to see this is not the story you thought it was” and see if they are ready to keep going.

At the Moth the Creative Director has an “enormous” amount of authority – more than the storyteller.  I find this fascinating since one of my primary objectives is to keep my thoughts and my ideas out of a story.

This podcast replaces a longer podcast that included my edited version of Lea’s interview.  Lea was horrified by the audio quality – as you know I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to making all the audio levels consistent, etc.  So this podcast is my recap of our conversation.  She was worried that crappy audio of her voice would harm her reputation as a radio personality.  This makes a lot more sense when you hear about the coaching process she uses for Moth Stories.

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Feed link: http://ia600803.us.archive.org/17/items/StoryFactorPodcast14_201401/StoryFactorPodcast14.mp3



3 thoughts on “Episode #14 – Secrets from the MOTH!”

  1. Patricia McMillan

    Annette, you asked for feedback about whether the quality of your podcasts is good enough or whether they need to be more carefully produced and edited. I think the quality is fine as it is. Your podcasts are like listening in to a live conversation, and I like that. They’ve introduced me to new resources and different perspectives in storytelling that have been very useful for my own work. Please keep doing them. Would I have a stronger emotional response to the interviews if there was more editing involved? Probably. Would your guests sound more polished? I’m sure they would. But in this case I don’t think those things are worth the extra time you’d need to put in, especially if it means it would discourage you from continuing the series. Sometimes the great is the enemy of the good.

    1. Thanks! I really appreciate that. I know I’ve gotten a lot out of these interviews. I’m glad to know you have, too. It makes it easier to carve out the time to produce them. I remember a quote (don’t know who) “Life is like learning how to play the violin…in public.”

      This all reminds me of when I worked for my mentor, Jim Farr teaching leadership. He would give assignments to some of the participants to complete when they got home. To a highly critical perfectionist a frequent assignment was that the next time they needed to mow the lawn, they were only to mow one half and leave it for three days.” He believed perfection can kill connections and realized the missing ingredient was tolerance for imperfection in ourselves.

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