Members of Toronto's storytelling community are looking ahead at the rebranded Raconteurs' future.
After a year and a half under the umbrella of New York–based The Moth organization, Toronto’s own branch of the wildly popular storytelling network—whose monthly events are known as MothUPs—has flown the parental coop to nurture its community of raconteurs on its own terms. Newly reborn as, appropriately, Raconteurs, the relaunched organization held its first event under its new guise on January 11. While changes made to beloved entities are typically treated with some skepticism by its closest fans, this is one that members of the group’s vast legion of followers are on board with.
“I was worried that people wouldn’t be willing to buy tickets, but they sold out,” says local performer and frequent MothUP Toronto storyteller Sage Tyrtle, on the debut Raconteurs event. Formerly free to attend, the charging of a $7 admission fee is one of the more immediately striking changes associated with the rebrand. “It was an immense success, which was fantastic to see.”
Tyrtle was in attendance at the very first MothUP and estimates that she’s only missed three in total. As a result, she’s been able to watch the event’s meteoric rise in popularity. She was also witness to ways in which The Moth umbrella threatened to stifle the event.
“The MothUP rules include that you aren’t allowed to publicize the event,” Tyrtle explains. “So from the very first one, [event co-founders] Laura-Louise [Tobin] and Alicia [Merchant] would have to say at the beginning, ‘Please don’t talk about this event.'”
Regardless, through word-of-mouth and the event’s Facebook group (which eventually grew to more than 1200 members) Toronto MothUP crowd sizes quickly outgrew the event’s original bar backroom digs at The Ossington, regularly relegating audience members to floor seating once the bar ran out of chairs. Eventually, the event moved to Litte Italy’s No One Writes to the Colonel bar (where it will continue to be held, as Raconteurs, every second Wednesday of the month).
Says Tyrtle: “My impression is that that [gigantic turnout] was not what the MothUP was after.”
“I’m really excited for them,” says comedian Catherine McCormick, another regular, of the group’s new incarnation, which she thinks will ultimately make the organization stronger.
“I think that Laura-Louise and Alicia have done such an amazing job cultivating not only the show itself, but also creating a community that brought all these amazing people together,” says McCormick. “There were all these elements they brought to Toronto MothUP that there were their own unique touch. But some of their own individual work, I think, was getting lost in the greater scheme of the MothUP group. It’s good for them that they’ve moved on so they can take full ownership of all the hard work they’ve been doing.”
Arianne Shaffer, another frequent attendee, is supportive of the change but also believes that, ultimately, its effect on the event will be minimal. “I don’t get why it’s such a big deal in some ways. The community is incredibly strong. It’s basically my favourite part of the city right now, the community that resonates with me the most.”
And so, Moth or no, the community of storytellers continues.