If you’ve held a job or have worked hard as a parent, teacher, miner, or anything else, then you might be a storyteller.
That’s because the Missoula-based storytelling series Tell Us Something is coming to the Mining City in November, and its organizers are looking for residents from Butte and the surrounding areas to tell personal stories based on the theme of work.
Missoula resident Marc Moss is the founder of Tell Us Something, and he says the concept of the series goes a bit like this:
Eight storytellers get up on stage in front of an audience and tell a 10-minute story based on a theme. To participate, prospective storytellers submit a story pitch via a 3-minute voicemail. The series organizers listen to the voicemails and then select their eight favorite storylines. The lucky eight participants go on to attend an hours-long peer workshop so that they can make their stories shine. And after that, they perform live on stage in front of an audience.
Moss said the people who end up performing on Tell Us Something are sometimes writers and actors, but many of them are everyday people who simply have a good story to tell. Their narratives range from absurd, humorous situations to poignant, deeply personal stories involving subjects like addiction, war, and love.
One memorable storyteller in the series has been Melissa Bangs, who tells of her brush with postpartum psychosis after the birth of her daughter and the insights that ensued. She has since turned that performance into a one-woman show called “Playing Monopoly with God & Other True Stories.”
A story by a veteran named Brian also comes to mind.
In his story, he returns home from war with his best friend’s body. He ends up having an affair with his friend's fiancé and eventually his own marriage — and his life — cracks.
And the list goes on.
What drew Moss to the storytelling business was a similar series called Missoula Moth.
Moss signed up to participate in the former series, and what he found was a transformative experience.
“It was the first time I felt listened to,” Moss said, adding that the experience left him feeling validated and empowered.
The organizer of Missoula Moth eventually moved on to other things. Moss came in his wake in 2011, transforming the storytelling series concept into a new format and giving it the Tell Us Something moniker.
Since 2011, Tell Us Something has grown into a popular, well-attended event. Moss brought his show on the road for the first time last year, putting on several events in Helena. He now plans to bring the show to Butte for a fall performance.
Moss said he’s long had Butte in mind as a performance location for Tell Us Something.
Moss grew up in Ohio, where his father and grandfather both worked in rubber shops. Meanwhile, his grandfather was active in union organizing.
Coming from this background, Moss said he has an affinity for Butte, which for him feels like a slice of home.
“There’s this collective consciousness of pride in hard work,” he said, reflecting on the upcoming show’s theme of work. “It just feels like a natural fit.”
Butte native, author, and professor Aaron Parrett has been a storyteller for three separate events for Tell Us Something.
One of the stories he told for the series was about running into an old friend who had recently come down from a bachelor weekend that went terribly wrong.
During another event, Parrett told a story about the time he hitchhiked to Alaska with a banjo in his hand and ate sushi for the first time.
The third story was about a teacher Parrett had relentlessly tortured in eighth grade, causing her to cry in class. Later in life, while Parrett was in college, he attended a dinner at a professor’s home only to discover that the professor’s wife was his eighth-grade teacher.
As it turns out, Parrett said, the teacher was incredibly gracious and didn’t even remember him as a bad student.
When Parrett told the story on stage, the teacher was in the audience and left him a warm note afterward.
“People want to hear stories,” said Parrett when asked about the popularity of Tell Us Something.
He added that a compelling quality exists in real stories told from real people — the kind of narratives that engender empathy and enable audience members to draw parallels to their own experiences.
“There’s something about watching people be vulnerable,” he said.