Sarah Geraghty on ... sharing with strangers


Share stories? We do it without even knowing it. It’s how we get to know people, discover we could love them, hate them or might end up in witness protection if we don’t get out fast. All those stories about knowing you’d met The One when you realised you could have talked all night? That’s a story as old as time. I’ve been to some of the weddings.

So we know that sharing with strangers can be life-changing. (Yep, we all know there’s such a thing as “over-share” too which can be mortifying . . . but that’s an other story).

The Irish are famous story-tellers and we’re pretty sure it’s nothing to do with liking the sound of our own voices.

Fadó fadó around the turf fire and the seanchaí spinning tales of Fionn and the Fianna and brown bulls from Louth – the image looms large in many tourists’ travel plans.

But what if you think you have a story in you but can’t quite recall how Setanta came to be called Cú Chulainn and haven’t a cúpla focal to your name?

Worry not. This ancient art is having a rebirth, taking its lead from the mothership of contemporary storytelling The Moth in New York. With groups such as Belfast-based Tenx9, Galway’s the Moth and the Butterfly and Dublin’s Milk and Cookies Stories in Dublin, story-telling is coming to a pub or cosy floor-space near you.

Created in 1997 by poet George Dawes Green, The Moth – named for the winged insects flittering around the porch light – was inspired by storytelling nights in Green’s native Georgia where strangers gathered to share true experiences from their lives.

Thousands of seasoned and novice raconteurs followed suit in packed bars and cafes across New York and beyond, resulting in a weekly podcast, a radio station and a best-selling story collection.

There are rules for these gatherings. Stories must be true. This is about you, not Fionn Mac Cumhaill. This is not about hogging the mic for a meandering tale about when you got drunk in college. And it’s not about flowery writing.

“Your eloquent musings are beautiful and look pretty on the page but unless you can make them gripping and set up stakes, they won’t work on stage,” say the Moth people.

You must stick to a given theme, perform live and without notes. “Watching you panic to think of the next memorised line is harrowing for the audience,” say the ruthless Moth people.

Before you even see a stage, you must submit your story to be vetted – and worked on – by Moth directors.

Lastly, you won’t get away with “who shot JR” – style cliffhangers. They’re out.

“Go on! Tell us. Don’t leave us hanging, because we won’t call you back.”

Very New York.

This idea of getting people to open up through personal experiences is what inspired the not-so-scary Kate Feeney and Hannah Donovan’s Dublin-based Yarn: True Stories Spun Live.

When living in London, they got hooked on the unique energy of true storytelling nights. Think about it. Is there a better way to cut to the chase than by saying: “Tell me the interesting things that have happened to you in your life”?

At its inaugural night, there were about 50 would-be yarners upstairs in McDaid’s pub, where Brendan Behan and co once spun tales.

The given theme was firsts, (“Oooh, like first what?”) and notable was how people did not look nervous despite the conspicuous absence of Jaeger-bombed Dutch courage. A voodoo doll was thoughtfully propped up at the front for nervous, sweaty hands to clutch.

The average age was late-20s so stories were of the first kiss on the school-tour bus variety; of sidling up beside a teen crush feeling slick, out in the shiny black orange-lined bomber jackets beloved of the 1990s; and a riotous rendition of Joxer goes to Stuttgart. Ah, d’you remember?

Most were first-timers, such as John of the romantic bus encounter. Monaghan-born Liz McGuinness, who said at 50 she was the oldest there, had come along because “nobody does storytelling anymore”.

The room gets virtual whiplash following her wild, funny, irreverent gallop from Monaghan to Doolin to a hairy episode in London’s East End to an even hairier episode in Syria, on to New Zealand and back to Ireland – with a back story of being struck by lightning aged 8, heart failure at 27 and a stroke at 44.

A night out that depends on truth, a certain kind of courage and an interest in others, all without recourse to industrial quantities of alcohol, has to be good for the soul.

Go on. You might surprise yourself.

Yarn: True Stories Spun Live's next outing is on July 31st at Abner Browns in Rathmines - barber's by day, venue by night. The theme of the night is: It Takes Two.  

Róisín Ingle is on holiday

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