Brian Jacobson

Prime Time for Storytellers in Milwaukee

By - May 9th, 2012 04:00 am

The microphone awaits Ex-Fabulists at Turner Hall (photo: Kat Schleicher/Ellagraph Photography)

Ira Glass during a recent Milwaukee appearance. (Photo: Pabst Theater Foundation)

The wildly popular National Public Radio show This American Life with Ira Glass will go live on stage in New York this Thursday evening. Since most of us cannot be there, it is being streamed to more than 500 movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada, including South Shore and Majestic in the Milwaukee area. The guest list is astoundingly cool for such a night of new storytelling: David Sedaris, Mike Birbiglia, OK Go, Snap Judgment’s Glynn Washington, a host of others, and surprise guests.

In an age when anybody can post their adventures in a blog or recap a moment on YouTube, and in a time when epic special effects and visualizations dominate the way stories are told — it’s pretty interesting that there is a popular niche for the oral tradition in front of an audience. While radio shows like This American Life, Snap Judgement, RadioLab and others have captured audience imaginations with judicious editing and dramatic timing, the live stage version can be a daredevil sport.

Other live storytelling platforms have now gotten into the act with radio shows, including WPRX and The Moth, and locally with WMSE and Ex Fabula. There is something emotional and connecting to hear someone spilling secrets and feelings into a microphone in front of a bunch of strangers. There are moments of laughter, tears, and sheer bravado. The recent Terminal Milwaukee Ex Fabula series special with Tom Crawford proved this yet again.

There are a number of events happening in succession over the next five weeks, culminating in the All-Star final of the Ex-Fab season at Turner Hall.

This American Life Live! at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in NYC (and beamed live via satellite)
Ira Glass hosts this evening of stories, films, songs, dance, animation, and more. There is an intriguing smartphone app to be used during the show (we suspect by OK GO), and an encore of the show happens in theaters on May 15 as well.

Tickets: $20, available through a website but also the ticket booths of local Marcus theaters. It’s also playing at other theater groups like Tinseltown in Kenosha; check here for a full list. May 10, 2012 at 7 p.m. CST.

The Moth: True Stories I’ve Told at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee
Molly Ringwald headlines a group of five storytellers in the best tradition of the Moth mold.  What is that? According to the non-profit organization: “It is a celebration of both the raconteur, who breathes fire into true tales of ordinary life, and the storytelling novice, who has lived through something extraordinary and yearns to share it.”

Tickets: $25 all seats, purchased through the website or at the box office on Wells Street. May 17, 2012 – doors open at 7 p.m.

Ex-Fabula: All-Stars at the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee
The audience favorites from the season face off in a final story slam. The last two years for the final event has been packed and full of great surprises. The final challenge for these true, personal stories is “Saves the Day.”  (Also: Ex-Fabula is in the middle of an arts residency at John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. Next opportunity to catch that is May 26.)

Tickets: $12 each, available at or at the Pabst Theater box office on Wells Street. June 8, 2012 – doors open at 6:30 p.m.

And never say never to: Radiolab Live: In the Dark
Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”  This sister act to storytelling is also wildly popular and always entertaining—to get them to bring this limited edition tour to Milwaukee we have to bug them enough. Here’s the place to do it: Suggest a RadioLab tour stop.

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