Location: Brooklyn, NY
Kate Telleris a storyteller. She comes by it naturally. “Both sides of my family are storytellers,” she says. The joke is that her uncle’s wife has started boycotting family events because she has heard the same stories so many times. Stories are revered, repeated, and relished. They also serve to preserve family history and, as was the case when Kate’s mother died in 2007, memorialize those who aren’t there and comfort those who are. “Sharing stories about my mom was so impactful,” Kate says. Her aunt told a story in the moments after her mother passed away about how Kate’s mom had rolled around on the floor with her when she was a baby. “That is how much she loved you,” her aunt said. Kate says it was exactly what she needed to hear right then. “And it comes back to me every time I am rolling around on the floor with my own kids,” she says.
Kate’s mom was diagnosed with cancer just before Kate left for college at Carnegie
–Mellon University. That knowledge that her mom was going to die had a profound effect on Kate and on the way she spent time with her mother. “I kept trying to imprint her so that she would stay with me,” Kate says, which is a theme that underlies her storytelling as well. “The main reason that I tell stories,” she says, “is that it makes the past a part of the present.” She studied drama and anthropology in college, earning a Bachelor of Humanities and the Arts. “I love the honesty of great theatrical performances and how they shine a light on what is going on in the world.”
She was particularly drawn to the kind of theatre that provided an authentic representation of people on stage. She knew she wanted to perform, but she also knew that performing the kind of theatre that felt honest and real would not always be an option. Following her graduation, she worked in a theatre company in Newport, Rhode Island and ultimately moved to New York, where she has lived ever since, to work as an actor. She did traditional music theatre, improv, stand up, musical improv, and even wrote her own cabaret.
When her mom died in 2007, Kate had grown tired of gig life offset by temping in offices to make ends meet. And she was ready to write things in her own voice. Her mom’s death galvanized Kate into taking control of her career and getting back to what she most loved. “I realized that I needed to be able to believe in what I do every minute of the day,” Kate says. She heard a Moth story on This American Lifeand loved it. It was the perfect synchronicity of everything she loved about theatre and performing and it was the first time she realized that live storytelling was a path for using her voice and her talents. She did some research and learned that the Moth is a nonprofit dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling and that there was a live event in New York City. “Three stories in,” Kate says, “the roof lifted.” She loved how theatrical the stories were but also how honest they were. She had never before experienced that kind of energy in a room. “This is it,” she remembers thinking. “This is what I have been doing and what I want to be doing.”
Kate wrote to the Moth and offered to volunteer. She was thirty years old, but she felt like she was just starting out, with clarity on what her path should be. Her letter, which was recently unearthed and shared at her 10-year anniversary celebration at the Moth, was, as Kate puts it, “full of passion for the work.” She even mentioned that she is good with a stapler. “I made it clear I would do whatever they needed to be part of the team.” They took her on as an intern for the Moth podcast they were launching, which led to freelancing, and then becoming part of the staff at The Moth. She now serves as the Director of the MothWorks Program (which uses the essential elements of Moth storytelling at work and other unexpected places),is a member of the creative team, and is also a Moth host and storyteller.
Kate loves her role as both storyteller (the first story she shared onstage was about losing her mom, and has been a great way of introducing her mom to people in her life who never got to meet her) and as facilitator of other people telling their stories (as she did with me when I got to tell part of my cancer story at a Moth event about ovarian cancer). “I like that storytelling is the great equalizer,” Kate says. “The Moth demystifies who we are as humans and also elevates it to a sense of magic.” She has a tremendous sense of both satisfaction from her work and appreciation for it. “Sharing stories brings everyone together and brings them to the same place,” Kate says. Moth events, where creativity and vulnerability coincide, are, as Kate puts it, “the world’s greatest cocktail party.”
For more about The Moth:
Kate’s storyteller page on The Moth website, including the one about her mom
Link to Kate’s podcast about making art after kids: