Living in Hollywood is all about keeping up appearances. Everyone has a bevy of publicists, managers and agents around them at all times making sure they look picture perfect and say the right thing. This Wednesday night, they were allowed to let their guard down just a little bit. Through New York’s non-profit storytelling organization The Moth, the USA Network has been giving prominent figures throughout America the chance to tell a personal story on stage.
The result was a mostly improvised night of stories straight from the heart told directly to you from someone that you’ve seen through the lens of the media but never gotten the chance to know as a person. No notecards or aid of any kind were allowed.
Known as Characters Unite, the public service campaign was created to combat prejudice and discrimination. This was the last stop on a nine-city nationwide tour. Of course, the decision to do the show in West Hollywood (at the Pacific Design Center) was a safe one on the part of the organization. West Hollywood, or WeHo, is commonly known as a haven for the gay and lesbian community in Los Angeles. So while it is fitting to do the show there, it is also the easier choice. If the purpose is to combat prejudice it would make more sense to do the show in a place where people who are different wouldn’t be outright accepted. Their cause is noble but it is hard to educate those that already agree with you.
Regardless of that fact, the night was still fun and insightful. Hosted by the always-talented Nathan Lane the entire performance flowed smoothly and without a hitch. Lane, a natural comic, had the audience hysterical by the end of his introduction. It got to the point where, when he tried to actually be serious about halfway through the night, everyone assumed it was just another joke. Watching him let loose was a pleasure to see and is highly recommended if the chance ever arises again.
Aside from Lane, the rest of the night was filled with stories of courage and triumph over prejudices both big and small. Of the five stories told that night the one that stood out the most was that of Dustin Lance Black, academy award winning screenwriter of Milk. Black himself is relatively young, in his late 20s to early 30s and, despite being a writer, has a natural talent on stage. Clearly a bit nervous, Black told the story of how he came out to his mother, a Mormon living in rural Texas. You could tell that simply saying the story out loud was like a weight lifting off of his shoulders and by the end he could breathe a little bit better. It was a deep and personal story I’m not sure he would ordinarily tell even his closest of friends. The fact that he chose to tell it in front of a live audience made it all the more moving.
Five people told their stories that night and dismissing one over the other would not be right. After all these aren’t simply jokes or fictional accounts these are events that actually happened to the people on stage. For that reason, The Moth storytelling series is truly admirable. Every single person has a story to tell and the organization truly wants to listen. Since the organization first began in 1997 they have archived hundreds stories and brought them to public attention through live performances and podcasts. You don’t have to be a celebrity either, just go on to the organization’s site and record a one-minute pitch of the story you would like to tell. If they like it, the organization will ask you to tell it in full and keep it on record for future generations to enjoy.
“When somebody gets up in front of everybody and tells a story it reminds us of our humanity,” said actor Matt Bomer of the television show White Collar, who had officially come out of the closet the night before. “When somebody who might be outside your comfort zone, be it because of their religion, their race, their sexual preference [or] their handicap gets up and says their story and their experience in front of you, a little bit of ignorance melts away in all of us and we realize we are all basically the same.”