Stories, community, Milwaukee
Ex Fabula Spectacular at Turner Hall this Thursday brings the group's favorite storytellers to the stage for a night of human connection and Milwaukee culture.
There’s something about hearing a story that feels organic. It’s how language started; it’s how we connect to each other; it provides a sense of community. Ex Fabula, Milwaukee’s own storytelling series, understands this implicitly. Events are designed under the precept “Story. Stage. You,” sustaining Milwaukee with true stories and the simple spirit of human connection.
Ex Fabula (Latin for “from stories”) was created in 2009, gaining interest and larger crowds with each passing season. Megan McGee, one of the founders of Ex Fabula, recognizes that it is a special organization.
“Increasingly large crowds caused us to seek larger venues and the enthusiastic embrace from the community showed that we had tapped into a strong need,” said McGee. The first event opened at Riverwest’s Art Bar, with a crowd of 65. The fourth season kicks off Thursday, Dec. 6, at Turner Hall, with an event dubbed Ex Fabula Spectacular.
In 2011, Ex Fabula received a grant award from the Wisconsin Humanities Council to create the Terminal Milwaukee series, a project starring lifelong Milwaukee resident Tom Crawford, station manager at 91.7 WMSE, that focused on the history and distinct culture of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. Ex Fabula also had a residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan through October 2012.
Normally, Ex Fabula events open the stage for audience members to share their true, practiced, five minute stories (no notes allowed). Each event has a theme around which storytellers build their narratives. At Ex Fabula Spectacular, however, the storytellers have already been chosen by Ex Fabula’s volunteer programming committee.
“They reviewed the past blogs that mention stories told during Season Three, at Terminal Milwaukee, and at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center residency and discussed which tellers would be fun to hear more from,” said McGee. “We wanted to highlight tellers who haven’t ‘won’ (in regular season events, the audience votes and the person with the most votes is the ‘Audience Favorite’ storyteller) in the past but whose stories were touching and entertaining.”
Ex Fabula Spectacular’s theme is “Game On,” and storytellers are allotted up to ten minutes to move the audience with their story.
“I think the audience can sense when people are being genuine, when they show their humanity and vulnerability, and the audience is very supportive of the tellers,” said McGee. “A good story involves moments of reflection where the teller shares what they were feeling throughout the experience, what they learned, and why the events of the story are significant. It has to move beyond what happened to touch on a deeper point like ‘What does that event say about me?’ or ‘What did I realize as a result?’”
Of course, Ex Fabula’s success couldn’t have been built without the hard work of its volunteers.
“We don’t have any employees,” said McGee. “We have a small core of volunteer staff, committees made of volunteers, and a volunteer board. We probably have volunteers from every generation – college students up to seniors…it’s quite a mixed group.”
And who wouldn’t want to get involved? Milwaukee is a unique community, humbly bursting with creativity and culture. Great stories have the power to move and inspire us, and Ex Fabula has found a way to introduce Milwaukee to its own personal narratives.
“Ex Fabula events are experiences that build community,” said McGee. “Ex Fabula StorySlams bolster my faith in humanity and remind me of what’s really important in life. Milwaukee winters can be cold and isolating, but our events make me feel warm and connected.”
Doors open 6:30 p.m. Thurs. Dec. 6 at Turner Hall for Ex Fabula Spectacular. Tickets are $12 online, at the door, or at 414-286-3663. To learn more about Ex Fabula and how to get involved, visit their website. Below are the Ex Fabula Spectacular storytellers’ bios:
Tracy is a stay-at-home mom of two pre-schoolers. Prior to this occupation, she lived in Chicago for nearly twenty years, where she was an analyst at a large bank and worked at the Chicago Futures Exchange. After falling in love with a Wisconsinite, she relocated to Waukesha, where she finds her current job to be way more fun. Tracy happened upon an announcement for Ex Fabula’s “Faking It” event last spring, and despite never having done anything like it, thought she would give it a try. While she loved listening to everyone’s story that night, she was horrified when hers was the last name drawn from the hat that evening. Despite her nerves, Tracy blew the crowd away, winning audience favorite of the evening, with her story about a friend believed to have cancer, who actually suffered from Munchausen disease. She sends thanks and love to her husband and, for tonight’s story, Osu! to Sensei Mats and MMA superstar, Dave.
Andrew Larsen has lived most of his life in Milwaukee, except for a decade he spent in Madison earning a doctorate in medieval history. As an historian, he firmly believes that the past is a collection of really good stories, and teaching gives him a captive audience to tell them to! At previous Ex Fabula events, he told a story of having a car breakdown in rural Scotland and a story of telling his minister father that he was gay and getting a nice bonus for his efforts.
Evelyn joins us from Sheboygan, where she was a frequent and favorite storyteller in a number of Ex Fabula workshops and story slams held during our residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. At her first slam at Paradigm Coffee & Music, she had us in stitches recounting the car breaking down on her honeymoon and being subjected to some choice language from her new husband that no one she knew had ever dared speak in rural Wisconsin. Evelyn has six children, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, with one more on the way! She would like to thank Ex Fabula for the opportunity to get up and tell stories in front of large groups of people, something she thought she would never do. After all her experience with Ex Fabula, she’s getting to be a regular ham!
Tom Dillon, a hit at Terminal Milwaukee’s Generation Gap event, is a lifelong resident of the Brew City and comes from a long line of great story tellers. Thanks to his grandpas Miller and Dillon, he can talk at length and make you laugh while doing it. When he’s not busy telling a story on the stage shared by Fishbone, The English Beat, and The Promise Ring, he’s reading a good comic, playing video games or spending time with fellow Ex Fabula story teller, Amie Losi. After toiling for years on the small stages of Milwaukee theater, Tom has settled into the life of a corporate man, as a trainer for Kohl’s Department Stores Corporate Offices. He’d like to thank his family for paying money to hear him tell a story that they could’ve heard for free at home.
Frank and Mary Koczan
Frank and Mary celebrated their 40th anniversary a few weeks ago. They met in the halls of Northern Illinois University’s music department. They are both natives of Illinois but have embraced all things Wisconsin since their move to Sheboygan in 1975. Their two sons and daughter-in-law live in the Madison area. Mary is working as a teacher of 4-year-old English Language Learners. Frank is a retired music teacher, having taught 34 years in the Sheboygan public schools.
The couple began telling stories with Ex Fabula after attending a workshop this spring at the John Michael Kohler Art Center and told their first stories at the first story slam ever held in Sheboygan. Now that Ex Fabula’s residency at JMKAC is over, Mary and Frank are working with other newly addicted storytellers to establish their own storytelling group – Great Lake StoryTellers.
Katy Richter is a lover of words; a poet, an artist and a reading teacher in New Berlin, Wis. A long-time fan of storytelling, one night she found herself sitting in the dark fascinated by The Moth Story Hour. Inspired, she investigated the storytelling scene in Milwaukee and discovered Ex Fabula. She persuaded her husband, son, and a friend to accompany her to her first event, intending only to observe. Upon entering, she was told that if she had any inkling to tell a story, she should go for it because there was a smart, welcoming audience who loved storytellers. She did, and she’s here tonight to share a longer, less impromptu version of that tale. She wants to thank her husband, Scott, her son, Forest and her friend, Denise.
Tom Strini, born in St. Louis in 1949, played his first league baseball game at 6 and joined his first soccer team at 9. After earning degrees in music, he somehow landed at the Milwaukee Journal in 1982, as dance critic, critic at large, and charter member—and frequent batting and RBI leader of the newsroom softball team.
Strini left the merged Journal Sentinel in 2009 to become a managing partner at www.urbanmilwaukeedial.com. He was an original member of the Wednesday Soccer Club, est. 1992. He founded and continues to manage Wednesday O40, a perennial power in the Uihlein Soccer Park Indoor over-40 league, where opponents fear the Orange and Black. Lee Ann Garrison, UWM art professor and Strini’s spouse of 36 years, never tires of hearing of his soccer exploits. She encourages his tales with such remarks as “That’s nice, honey,” and “What? Did you say something?” Strini appreciates the chance to let Ex Fabula fans join in her enthusiasm.