Storytellers to gather at Byham for The Moth


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After earning her drama degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2000, Kate Tellers landed a job in Rhode Island where she worked for five months at Beechwood, a 39-room estate in Newport that was the summer retreat of the Astor family.

It was August 2001, she recalled, and, "We were totally separate from the real world."

The Moth Mainstage
Where: Presented by Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures at Byham Theater, Downtown.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Tickets: $20, $35 and $65; 412-622-8866 or trustarts.org.

That's because Ms. Tellers was among 15 people who, during mansion tours for the public, re-created the year 1891 by playing the roles of Astor family members or domestic staff. She also performed with a different cast in musical Christmas concerts at the house. The experience was intensive and memorable, but creature comforts were lacking.

"We lived in the servants' quarters," Ms. Tellers said, adding that from August through December 2001, she bunked with three other people in a room, slept on a mattress that had a board underneath it to keep it from sagging and earned $80 a week.

Now a senior producer with The Moth and a resident of the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, Ms. Tellers, 36, is one of four people who will recount stories on the Byham stage at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Horace ​H.B. Sanders, ​Cole ​Kazdin and ​Richard ​Price will be the other three storytellers in the show.

Ms. Tellers grew up in Mt. Lebanon, and her story is set in Pittsburgh.

"It's about my mother and my relationship with her as we realized that I was going to lose her in 2007," she said.

"Half of the Byham will be my family," she joked. "It means a lot to share it in Pittsburgh. A lot of people who will have known my mother."

Her parents met in Erie but later split. Her father, Paul Tellers, is an architect and campus planner who still spends part of the year in Pittsburgh. Her mother, the late Lisa Antoun, moved to the North Side, where she taught at the Community College of Allegheny County. Ms. Tellers comes from a "huge Catholic family" and her mother's side is Lebanese.

When she married her husband, Jason, in 2011, they held their wedding at the Pittsburgh Opera headquarters in the Strip District.

"My husband is from Florida, and we had a destination wedding in Pittsburgh," she said.

Ms. Tellers started attending live Moth events in 2007 and realized she had found her tribe and her passion. A year later, she joined the organization's staff and works from a SoHo office but travels frequently.

Founded by George Dawes Green in 1997, The Moth began as a live event where people stood up and told real stories from their lives. (A Southern novelist, Mr. Green got the idea from sitting on the porch of his close friend, Wanda, with a group of people who drank and told tales while watching moths flutter around light fixtures.)

When The Moth began offering stories on podcasts and radio, more people learned about the organization.

"We just became a name in storytelling. People had always known us for our live events," Ms. Tellers said.

She wears a lot of hats at The Moth. Since 2009, she has taught storytelling to people employed at corporations such as L.L. Bean or staffers at cybersecurity firms.

"Storytelling is such an effective way of communication. I like to teach and open people's minds. I love to travel,'' she said in an interview from Martha's Vineyard, where she had taught a workshop that morning.

"I host our story slam series. I tell stories and I run this corporate program. I am a member of the creative team. My joke is that I've done everything at the Moth," she said.

"A great story is a story that is specific enough that it comes alive and in that specificity there is a universality. When you are in a room, you're having a shared experience. You can celebrate every voice and see yourself on that stage."


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.

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