Behind the Scenes with Michelle Jalowski from The Moth Mainstage

A man faces his back to the camera, looking out to the crowd. He raises both hands up with two fists.

Sarah Garofalo spoke with Michelle Jalowski of The Moth Mainstage about her role, the show, storytelling and more! Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.


Sarah: Good morning. Thank you for joining us on Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre. This is Sarah Garofalo, and today I am joined by someone very special. We are talking to Michelle Jalowski from The Moth Mainstage. Welcome, Michelle.

Michelle: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me, Sarah.

Sarah: We’re very excited to have you today. The Moth Mainstage will be here at The Hanover Theatre in Worcester on Thursday, April 13 at 7:30 PM. Just to start us off here, for those who aren’t familiar with The Moth, can you give our audience a little bit of a rundown of what the show is about?

Michelle: Yeah! The Moth is a nonprofit dedicated to the art and the craft of true personal storytelling.

We put on shows all over the country and the world where people get up on stage and tell true, personal stories from their lives. No notes, no script, just good old-fashioned storytelling.

Michelle Jalowski

Michelle: Each mainstage show is a curated show where people have worked with directors at The Moth beforehand to put together their stories. We put five people together in each show from an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life all centered around a theme. The theme for our show in Worcester is “intrepid,” so all the stories will sort of relate to that in some way. We have a host and five storytellers, and that’s the show.

Sarah: That’s so exciting. I see here in the show description that Jon Goode is hosting.

Michelle: Yes, Jon Goode. He is amazing. He’s one of our most beloved hosts, he comes out of Atlanta. He’s also a poet and a storyteller. He’s very, very funny and charming and wonderful. I think everyone will love him. He’s going to be our hosts for the evening.

Sarah: Super fun. I see here that we have a few storytellers listed. I have Connie Shin, Deonna Marie and Richard Wescott. You said, there were five, right?

Michelle: Yes, there’s two people missing. We’ve got Ruby Cooper, who has a hilarious and heartwarming story. Also, a local poet named Adael Mejia. He is this wonderful local poet. I think he might have been like the youth Poet Laureate in Worcester recently.

Sarah: Oh, that’s awesome. I love that someone local is coming

Michelle: Yeah, we always try to include at least one person from the community that we’re going to because the sort of conceit of The Moth is true. We think everybody has a story that’s worth sharing, and anybody can be up on that stage. Our shows are usually a mix of some people who do some kind of performance or speak professionally in their in their lives and, and people who just have a great story and never get up on a stage.

People in the crowd look up to the stage in awe.
<strong>©<strong> Dare Kumolu Johnson

Sarah: Awesome. I think that it’s going to be a great time. I know that people in my family love coming whenever The Moth is here, so I’m super excited for our audiences to come and see what these stories have in store. The Moth has been around for quite a while. It was launched in 1997, so you’re celebrating 26 years this year.

Michelle: We’re in our 20s, yeah. Last year was our 25th anniversary, so big year for us. Time just passes so quickly and now we’re in our 26th year.

Sarah: Yeah, that’s awesome. I was reading about you guys a little bit earlier and it looks like you have eight programs. There’s The Moth Mainstage, The Moth StorySLAM, The Moth community program, The Moth education program, The Moth global community program, The Moth podcast, Moth Works and The Moth Radio Hour.  Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite?

Michelle: I’ll give you like a teensy little rundown. We’re a nonprofit, and some of our work is forward-facing, like the shows that we sell tickets to, and some of the work that we do is more inward-facing. We do storytelling workshops with teachers and students that have education program and different community groups. Those are more, you know, for the people who are involved in those workshops or private shows. Our front-facing things are some of my favorite shows. I’m a little biased because that’s mostly where I do my work, but the slams, I’m going to pitch the slams because we’re talking about the mainstage and the slams are so fun and we have one in Boston. They’re open mics where anyone can come in and put their submit their name to tell a story. There’s a theme every night and we have a host. 10 names get pulled out at random and those 10 people get up on stage and tell their five minute true stories related to whatever the theme is that night. It’s a mixed bag every time, you never know what you’re going to get. It’s so interesting and cool to see who gets up there. They’re really, really a good time.

Sarah: I absolutely love that. That sounds so fun. Like you said, there’s a slam in Boston. So, if people have a good time at the show here in Worcester, they can travel east and go see something similar.

A man performs on stage in front of a microphone. Behind him, a woman sits and plays the violin.
<strong>©<strong> Ben Godkin

Michelle: Yeah, so the show that we’re that’s happening in Worcester is one of the curated ones, so the stories are a bit longer, and they’ve been crafted and shaped along with Moth directors. The story slams are just open mics, so we have no idea who’s going to get up there. They’re a different vibe but I think both very, very fun in their own way and very much worth going to. Boston is, what, an hour outside Worcester?

Sarah: Yeah, it’s about an hour away.

Michelle: Yeah, it’s worth the trip, I think.

Sarah: Awesome. So, I read that The Moth has published four critically-acclaimed books, including one just last year, “How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth.” Then, you guys also have a deck of cards that came out just about six or seven months ago, “A Game of Storytelling.” Can you tell us a little bit about the deck of cards?

Michelle: The deck of cards are really so fun. They’re a collection of some of our favorites story prompts. At every show, we have a little prompt for the main stage for the curated shows and only the storytellers answer it. In the slam, everyone has a little opportunity to fill out a little slip to answer the question of the night, which is related to the theme. So, the deck of cards is sort of a collection of our favorite prompts that you play with your family. It’s an opportunity to mine your life for stories and share them with people. It’s very fun. It’s like a storytelling game of cards.

Sarah: I love it. It just seems like there’s so many ways to interact with The Moth. You’ve got the podcast if that’s your thing, you can come hear the stories in real life, you can read the book, you can play with a deck of cards, so I just love that. There’s something for everyone with The Moth.

Michelle: Thanks, Sarah. Yeah, we try.

We’re really in the in the business of building community. We hope that there’s something for everyone.

Michelle Jalowski

Sarah: I love it. I want to talk about you and your history and how you got here. Can you tell me a little bit of just your, your background and how you ended up here?

Michelle: Yeah. I started working for The Moth part-time in 2010, when it was a much smaller organization. While I was in school, I went to law school, I did a whole bunch of other things. At some point in my life, I realized I wanted to be doing this work professionally. Luckily, a full-time job opened up at The Moth and I got it. So, I’ve been producing full-time since 2014 or 2015, and I’ve been directing for about five years.

Sarah: Cool. If I didn’t mention it, Michelle is the director of The Moth. That’s incredible, especially since you started part time. That’s so much growth.

Michelle: Yeah, The Moth is good at that. There’s a few directors, so I’m not the director of The Moth. I’m the director of the show for The Moth. We have maybe six or seven people who work on our shows as directors.

Sarah: When you were just starting out, you said you went to law school. That’s a big jump. What was your calling towards this field and storytelling in general?

Michelle: I’ve always loved stories. I’ve always been a big reader and I’ve always been a big fan of stories. I grew up in an immigrant family that was very much about math and science. I never really thought that that was something I could do as a job. When I graduated law school, I sort of realized, “If I didn’t do anything, this was going to be my life.” I was also turning 30 and I just had a crisis of faith and a reawakening. I realized I actually want to be doing more creative work. I always kind of thought in the back of my mind about working at The Moth full-time, but that just never seemed like an option.

Sarah: That’s so cool. I’m just so happy for you. It seems like so many things have happened for you. I started part-time here at the theatre. It feels close to my heart to see someone grow in an industry that they love.

Michelle: Thanks, Sarah. It’s good. I do really think The Moth is wonderful. It’s the first job I’ve ever really loved.

<strong>©<strong> Laura Partain

Sarah: That’s sweet. We have a conservatory here at The Hanover Theatre. There are dance classes, acting classes, singing classes and more. We do have a public speaking class, so do you have any tidbits of advice for students that are looking to make their future in something similar to The Moth or even be in The Moth someday?

Michelle: If you want to tell stories, come to the slams. Anyone can do that and we we listen to every story that happens on all of our stages. We’re a nonprofit with a small staff, so we’re not as up to date as we could be, but we listen to everything and that’s how we choose what we want to air. Everything that we air on the podcasts and the radio hour comes from one of our live shows. If you’re interested in getting more involved with that, I would definitely say come to a slam, just for storytelling in general. I think one of my favorite tips is to really lean into the vulnerability and don’t be afraid to look bad. No one really wants to hear a story that’s like, “I was great and then I stayed great, and now I’m still great.” No one really wants to hear that. But, maybe you got to being great over the course of a journey of hardship, and those are the things that resonate with people and that connect with people. We’re in the market of true stories, so just really digging into the truth of something and why it was important, why it mattered to you and helping us understand as an audience why helps us care as well.

Sarah: Yeah, I love it. From one nonprofit to another, it’s been very nice talking to you today. Before we wrap up, do you have any parting words you want to say?

Michelle: I’m so excited to be back. I think this is our second or third time at The Hanover Theatre and we just love it. We’re so thrilled and we hope you all come out.

Sarah: Yes, me too. Once again, The Moth Mainstage will be here at The Hanover Theatre in Worcester on Thursday, April 13. Tickets are $47 and they’re available at TheHanoverTheatre.org. Michelle, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been wonderful talking to you.

Michelle: Thank you, Sarah. You’re so sweet. I appreciate it so much.

Sarah: All right. We’ll be right back with more on Behind the Scenes.