Cocoon to Present an Opportunity for Metamorphosis

By HANNAH BENSEN

As students experience the seasonal and academic transformations this time of year brings, this Friday’s storytelling event, Cocoon, will offer even more opportunity for metamorphosis.  

The sixth-annual live performance event will feature six storytellers speaking to the theme of “Origins” on Friday, Oct. 5 at 8:00 p.m. in Robison Hall at the Mahaney Center for the Arts (MCA). The community-wide event is organized in conjunction with the MCA and the Middlebury Moth-Up, a student storytelling organization. Guitarist and MCA Technical Director Mark Christensen will provide musical interludes, and a reception will follow the event.  

Cocoon will present a diverse cast of storytellers. Two students, Megan Job ’21 and Kyle Wright ’19.5, were selected to speak, along with alumna and admissions staffer Maria Del Sol Nava ’18 and community member Jon Turner of Wild Roots Farm. Recent Middlebury retirees Linda and Ira Schiffer will also present a joint story. Also telling his story will be François Clemmons, a lauded actor, singer and writer best known for playing Officer Clemmons on the TV series, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

“We’re trying to engage the community in as broad a way as possible,” said Liza Sacheli, a staff organizer and the director of the MCA. “This event succeeds because we have a really interesting group of storytellers every year. We try to balance some students, some alumni, some faculty/staff, some community members, so there is really a diversity of voices, and hopefully that relates to a diversity of audience members as well.”  

In the past, Moth-Up and Cocoon events have had a variety of themes ranging from “Blood” to “Arrival.” Although the storytellers might interpret the theme very differently, the theme serves as a common thread, linking the collection of stories together to some degree. 

“The theme ‘origins’ asks our storytellers, and to an extent our audience, to think about deep and personal questions,” said Sarah Asch ’19.5, president of the Middlebury Moth-Up and co-organizer.  

“Where do I come from? What do I represent? Who I am? How do I tell that to the world? From what I have seen so far these musings are going to turn into some truly awesome stories,” she said. “It is a theme that asks a lot of the storytellers, the producers and the audience, but I think that the show will prove very rewarding.”

Job’s story will reflect on her transition from her hometown in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Middlebury. It will be her first performance. 

“I think that the spoken word and storytelling is very powerful,” Job said. “I think that they are very moving for the speaker and the person who is watching it.” 

This will be former Cook Commons Coordinator Linda Schiffer’s second time performing at a Moth-Up affiliated event. Her husband, Ira, is a rookie performer to the organization, but he has public speaking experience having delivered sermons as the former Associate Chaplain/Rabbi of Middlebury College. The duo will recall a significant moment that shaped the lives of their family.   

 “This story, for us, was compelling, and we are hoping that others find kernels of truth of themselves in it,” Ira said. “I’m hoping it’s a story that will get people thinking, reconsider world views, reconsider biases, reconsider life trajectories.”  

“And I’m going to pick up on the life trajectories,” Linda said, “and hope that people will be less locked into given situations, and know that there’s more out there, and that when given the opportunity to take a different path, they’ll have the spirit, the courage, to say, ‘yes, I’ve wanted to try that; I’m going to take the chance and do that.’ And recognize that whatever happens down that path — it’s not a failure. It’s a learning experience.”  

Cocoon is inspired by the national sensation The Moth, a group dedicated to the craft of live storytelling that has become a popular live event, radio show and podcast. The Middlebury Moth-Up evolved from the national organization in 2010 and is a monthly event that features a handful of storytellers, generally students. Both Cocoon and the Moth-Up have two rules: all stories must be true and no notes are allowed.

Sacheli refers to Cocoon as “The Moth on steroids.”   

“What we’ve done is take the successful model that the students did for their monthly Moth [Up] gatherings,” Sacheli said, “and we said, ‘What would happen if we put this on a more formal stage, and we put a few production values behind it? If we had live musicians, we had lights, we sold tickets and had a reception after it? What would happen if we added some pizazz to the already-perfect recipe that the Moth [Up] was serving up?’”   

The formula has worked, and according to Sacheli, there will have been a total of over 30 storytellers and 1500 audience members after this year’s event. The Moth phenomenon seems to have struck a chord in its audience members, as evidenced by its widespread popularity nationally and at overflowing Middlebury Moth-Up events.  

“Everyone likes different stories, or rather, everyone notices different things about the same story,” said Asch. “We all bring our own experiences to the table as audience members and that impacts how we react to stories on stage. For me, what I really value in storytellers is vulnerability. I admire storytellers who are able to transport the audience emotionally, to really give us a slice of what they are feeling … The stories that I always remember, even years later, are the stories where the emotion came through loud and clear.”

 Tickets can be bought at Middlebury’s online arts page or at go/boxoffice. 

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