Shortly after Arthur Bradford started volunteering at Camp Jabberwocky in 1994, he met a man who would forever change his life. His name was Ronnie Simonsen. When Mr. Bradford started teaching video classes at Camp Jabberwocky, the two quickly formed a connection. Mr. Simonsen was immediately drawn to the camera. Together, Mr. Bradford and Mr. Simonsen started making videos together, where they would travel to the Island’s most popular towns and interview people on the street.
“He would always ask them, ‘Do you know who Chad Everett is?’” recalled Mr. Bradford in a phone interview with the Gazette. Mr. Everett was the star of the television show Medical Center in which he portrayed Dr. Joe Gannon. According to Mr. Simonsen he was the “George Clooney of the 70s.” At first, not even Mr. Bradford knew who the actor was, but Mr. Simonsen had cerebral palsy and “sort of obsessive compulsive autism,” said Mr. Bradford. “One of the ways it manifested itself was that he just had this sort of encyclopedic knowledge of TV stars from the 1970s.”
In 1999, Mr. Bradford, Mr. Simonsen and five other Jabberwocky campers made a feature film documenting their cross-country road trip to California, where Mr. Simonsen hoped to meet Mr. Everett. Unfortunately, while in California, Mr. Simonsen did not have much luck with the actor, but the documentary, How’s Your News, was a hit and played at several film festivals across the country. It also reached the attention of Mr. Everett. “Chad saw it and realized that Mr. Simonsen was someone that he should meet,” said Mr. Bradford. “And so we went back to California and they met.”
On Saturday, August 9, at 7:30 p.m. Mr. Bradford will take the stage at the Tabernacle to recount his and Mr. Simonsen’s quest to meet Chad Everett as part of the Moth, which promotes itself as true stories, told live. The Moth began in a bar in New York city, but over the years has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon with a regular feature on NPR and storytelling events taking place around the country. This is the Moth’s third year on the Island. The theme of this year’s show is Great Expectations, and the host will be Ophira Eisenberg, a comedian, writer and host of NPR’s weekly comedy trivia show, Ask Me Another.
Three other Vineyard residents — two year-round residents and one summer resident — will tell stories on Saturday, too.
Other speakers for the Tabernacle event this year are Mary Lou Piland, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Arnie Reisman. Ms. Piland is an emergency room nurse at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Ms. Hunter-Gault is a journalist and former foreign correspondent for NPR, and Mr. Reisman is a writer and radio personality, a regular with his wife, Paula Lyons, on the popular show Says You!
Senior producer of the Moth, Meg Bowles, said of Saturday’s performance that there will be “a lot of humor in this particular show, but there’s also a lot of heart.”
Ms. Bowles and fellow senior producer Jenifer Hixon selected each of the storytellers and served as their editor and coach as they brainstormed ideas for stories and worked up the confidence to tell them publicly.
For the performance, storytellers stand onstage with one standing microphone and a single spotlight on them as they recount their story to the audience. The stories they tell must be about a true transformation they underwent and speakers are not allowed to use notes. This helps set up an atmosphere that is both unique and crucial to all Moth events.
“The tone of it is more a dinner party than it is a performance,” said Ms. Bowles. “Because when someone gets up and lectures or performs, the audience turns into critics and they critique the performance, whereas when someone gets up and shares, people lean in and support you.”
In fact, in its earlier years, The Moth was nothing more than a dinner party of sorts. It began in 1997 when founder George Green would sit on his back porch in Georgia, drinking bourbon with friends as they told stories to each other.
“When he moved to New York, he found that people really kind of spoke in sound bytes and they didn’t really connect,” said Ms. Bowles. “He kind of missed that feeling, so he started holding these salons where he would invite people over and have them tell stories. Then suddenly lots of people wanted to come, and so he moved it out of his house and into a bar.”
Ms. Bowles tries to preserve the intimacy of a back porch or bar setting even at larger venues like the Tabernacle by using the singular standing mic and spotlight.
“Somehow the act of just standing there, grounded, in front of the mic makes the room smaller and that’s when you know a story is really successful, when a space the size of the Tabernacle feels like you’re sitting around a table,” she said.
But that doesn’t always stop the performers’ nerves. Though Mr. Bradford is a Moth veteran, having participated in a handful of Moth StorySlams in Portland, Ore., where he now lives, he is still uneasy about Saturday’s event.
“I do get nervous, but I love it,” he said.
Though Mr. Simonsen, who died of complications of leukemia in 2010, will not be in attendance to hear Mr. Bradford tell their story on Saturday, sharing it in the Tabernacle will be a special experience for Mr. Bradford.
“Ronnie used to sing at the Tabernacle and he did a skit with Walter Cronkite at the Tabernacle, so it’s really kind of like Ground Zero for this story,” said Mr. Bradford. “It’s really meaningful for me.
“This particular story is about how you can meet someone and it can change the course of your life,” he reflected. “Things that are very unexpected, a conversation that you have with someone, can really change the course of your life and something as simple as a summer spent on Martha’s Vineyard can change how the rest of your life proceeds. That really was the case for me.”
The Moth takes place at the Tabernacle on Saturday, August 9. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with stories beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40.
During next week there will be two Moth workshops, one for people new to the Moth and another for veterans. Each class has space for eight people. Visit themoth.org for information.