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New Pittsburgh storytelling series takes place of The Moth

Alan Olifson hosts a Moth event
Handerson Gomes
Story Club Pittsburgh
Alan Olifson hosts a Moth event

Pittsburgh’s version of The Moth storytelling series was a big success by most measures. It ran for a decade, drawing up to 300 patrons and performers to the Rex Theater for monthly story slams, and filling Downtown’s Byham Theater for annual Grand Slams.

But all good things come to an end, and a year ago, national organizers pulled the plug on Pittsburgh’s The Moth. The pandemic, which had relegated the monthly events to online affairs, didn’t help, nor did the closure of the Rex.

Yet the two local organizers behind Pittsburgh’s Moth believed Pittsburgh still needed a regular live outlet for tellers of true stories about themselves. So here comes Story Club Pittsburgh, the result of a connection between Pittsburghers Alan Olifson and Kelly Flanagan Dee – the host and producer, respectively – and Dana Norris, Cleveland-based founder of the Story Club franchise.

Starting this week, Pittsburgh becomes the sixth city with a Story Club, after Chicago (which has two), Cleveland, Boston, Columbus, and Minneapolis. It takes place the third Tuesday of each month at Alphabet City, on the North Side. Tickets are free; the inaugural event, themed “For The Love of The Game,” is sold out, but available to live-stream.

“There’s so many different communities in Pittsburgh, and a good storytelling show that can pull from various communities and get a nice diverse audience,” said Olifson. “It’s a great way for people to understand each other through stories. I mean, it’s really hard to hate someone when you can hear the story of where they come from.”

There are a few differences between Story Club and The Moth. Where monthly Moth events were strictly open mic, Story Club shows will also include a featured performer selected and coached by organizers. (However, this format doesn’t apply to the debut event, which is all open mic.) Moth rules required storytellers to speak without notes, and limited stories to five minutes; Story Club performers can use notes if they wish, and go for up to eight minutes.

But Dee said Story Club will evolve.

“As it grows and we see what the need is in the storytelling community here, we can flex with it,” she said.

Perhaps most importantly, where Pittsburgh’s Moth events had an admission cost, Story Club shows will be free, thanks largely to City of Asylum, which is letting Story Club use Alphabet City at no cost.

One catch: Alphabet City is smaller than the Rex. Under pandemic restrictions, about 150 patrons will fit in the space, said Olifson.

More information is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: