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What links prune juice, a car crash and an orphanage?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 15, 2011 - As expected, MothUp was packed on Thursday night. People from all over the city met in the basement of Bridge to hear stories with the overarching theme, "Saved." Many had already claimed seats by 7:15 p.m. for this 8 p.m. story slam called MothUp.

"I like the spontaneity of the stories. You never know what you're going to get," said Meghan, 26, a local middle school English teacher who was one of the early birds that grabbed at seat in the front. She had been to MothUp before but has yet to tell a story, "I'm waiting for the bravery."

Buzzing around the crowd was a MothUp regular, Maureen Hanlon who put her name in the hat again this month to tell a story, "I always get nervous before I go up," said Hanlon, 23, an AmeriCorps volunteer, originally from Ann Arbor, Mich. "I feel like I am always exposing myself, which makes me feel raw and vulnerable in front of strangers."

May was the one-year anniversary of MothUp going public. The first meeting was held at Foam on Cherokee Street with the theme "Broken."

From then, MothUp has taken off, packing the house each month in such different locations as Blueberry Hill's Duck Room and CityGarden. MothUp organizers Amanda Clark and Stacey Wehe are city savvy community members who have rallied support to help pull this production together. This month Left Bank Books sponsored along with the help of Clear Channel's Gen X radio operation manager, Jeff McHugh, who donated a sound system to this group along with the help of many other volunteers.

"I think this is another example of St. Louis creative bringing life to this city," said Tim Eby, director and general manager of St. Louis Public Radio. It is a room ripe with energy.

This month's stories were kicked off by Nathan Gemayel, who told of being constipated for days until someone saved him by explaining the magic of prune juice.

Sera Jennings told a hilarious story about being saved in a car crash. Mary Kate Allen, originally from Western Tennessee, recounted being reconnected with her birthparents; and Darryl Williams had everyone in stitches with his story of being picked up by a stranger in the South after his car had broken down.

"MothUp can be anything from really hilarious to super emotional, my favorite stories are the ones that have you hanging on every word," said Amanda Yates, 22, a Washington University Grad and volunteer graphic designer for MothUp. After the first four stories, during a quick intermission, Hanlon marveled at Sera Jennings' story, "If you just tell the bare bones of the story, you got nothing. But when she [Jennings] tells them, they are just so funny!"

After intermission, Hanlon was called up to stage, where she told about her experience at a Christian summer camp in rural Michigan. She was followed by last month's winner, Heather Clark, who told about saving someone, which was also the night she decided to stop being an ambulance volunteer. April Kincheloe closed the night explaining her grandmother's experience growing up in an orphanage during the depression.

The three judges -- who are not the same each month -- went off to deliberate.

The winner? Darryl Williams.

Rosa Dudman Mayer is a freelance writer.