Disastrous night for the Moth in St. Paul

ROB CALLAHAN | Updated 1/31/2013

Review: Popular storytelling group bungled its way through a story slam at Amsterdam Bar & Hall on Wednesday.

Photo by Rob Callahan

The Moth Story Slam from New York brought its act to Saint Paul on Wednesday, but not without enough problems to make opening night at the Brick seem like a breeze.

The Amsterdam Bar & Hall event was oversold from the start. Attendees had to buy their tickets online at themoth.org in advance. In the days leading up to the event, the website changed ticket availability several times. On January 27, premium tickets were sold out and only general admission tickets were left. By January 29, the same site claimed that general admission was sold out, but there was still premium seating available. At other times, the show was completely sold out, then it wasn't, then it wasn't but only if you could pay extra.

The doors opened slightly late, and the Moth staff started letting people in without accounting for the type of tickets they held. General admission attendees got in first. Once they were in, they were invited to take any seat they wanted. So, by the time the first attendees who paid extra got in, their seats were all given away. As the premium ticket holders complained, the Moth's Robin Wachsberger sent someone to the stage to politely ask that those who didn't pay for premium seating kindly move from the premium seats. Those who didn't pay for premium seating responded by snearing, laughing and staying put. Also, notably, a handful of attendees without any tickets talked their way in. Some of them were spotted in the front row.

Although the Amsterdam staffed three servers in the show room, Moth staff told attendees that they could not order food or drinks inside. The resulting bottleneck of people trying to get in and fight for a seat and those trying to get out and order a drink further complicated any last hope of crowd control, and the servers assigned to the show struggled to assure the audience that they could, in fact, order inside.

The show started 45-minutes late when Dan Kennedy took the stage. He talked in his trademark lazy, self-indulgent style for the length of two full stories before the audience began alternately nodding off and heckling him to get on with the show. After he finished a 12-minute musing about candy, he obliged and brought out the first storyteller.

The storytellers themselves were generally well received by the audience, and generally scored harshly by the judges. Between each story, Kennedy retook the stage and spent nearly as much time recapping the stories as they originally took to tell. His improvised one-liners did little to appease the crowd, who continued to heckle him as he laughed at his own jokes and droned on. Twice, he told the assembled crowd that "The Moth is the only story slam in the Twin Cities," which was received poorly by the many organizers of and participants in "Story SlamMN!" who were in attendance. The show ended 90 minutes past its schedule and the crowd was visibly overtired as it disbursed, ignoring the house band, the Dirty Curls, who were setting up to try and salvage their own scheduled show.

Although the Amsterdam and local media sponsors MPR both made valiant efforts to put on a great show, the Moth's refusal to communicate and work with with them stopped all such efforts in their tracks. If the Moth had assigned people who knew what they were doing, this might have been understandable, but the primary show runner of the night didn't just fail spectacularly at her own job. She also adamantly refused the help of Amsterdam staff and others from the Moth when they tried to shoulder some of the burden.

As the dust settled and damage control began, Wachsberger was handing out her email address to people who paid for premium seating, and promising that she would refund their money once they contacted her. The Amsterdam staff and the representatives from MPR were discussing strategies to ensure greater involvement on their part next month, when the Moth returns and struggles to replace the many disenfranchised patrons who vowed never to attend this show again.