MANDI Feature

Ex Fabula’s Deaf StorySlam a Finalist

Story telling by untapped voices is up for award.

By - Aug 9th, 2020 01:49 pm
Ex Fabula's Deaf StorySlam. Photo courtesy of LISC Milwaukee.

Ex Fabula’s Deaf StorySlam. Photo courtesy of LISC Milwaukee.

Connecting Milwaukee through real stories: this is the goal of Milwaukee organization Ex Fabula, and the mantra that inspired the vanguard Deaf StorySlam.

“The deaf community is part of Milwaukee,” Nicole Acosta, Ex Fabula’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, said. “Part of Ex Fabula’s mission is to reach those untapped voices.”

The Deaf StorySlam, held Sept. 22, 2019, at the Mitchell Street Public Library, was the first of its kind in Wisconsin. However, Ex Fabula holds StorySlams of different themes — such as “Maps” and “Faith” — rather regularly. StorySlams are “live events where community members connect over true, personal stories,” according to Ex Fabula’s website.

“We have monthly StorySlams, but in the past, we have not really engaged the deaf community,” Acosta said. “So the Deaf StorySlam was a way to engage the deaf community and to remove some barriers.”

Acosta said organizing the Deaf StorySlam required bringing diverse voices to the table, including Deaf community members, American Sign Language speakers and professionals, and translators.

“We knew it was going to be very hard work to do this, but everyone was committed to doing it,” Acosta said. She noted that the organizing team had to consider details they normally may take for granted.

“Every barrier that we came in contact with we had to be innovative and customize everything,” Acosta said. “That included the marketing, so we had to do a video that was voiced over, and then the Spanish speakers became kind of a target audience, so we had to make bilingual flyers. … There’s a huge Latinx Deaf community in Milwaukee.”

Creating an inclusive space does not only come with logistical challenges, Acosta said — it is also a matter of changing your mindset and reflecting on your own assumptions.

“We don’t think about these things. It makes you check all of your privilege and all these things that we take for granted,” she said. “You realize how you’re leaving out certain populations of people and different able-bodied types of people when you’re just out here living a regular life.”

Jose Barraza, one of the performers in the Deaf StorySlam, drew attention to the assumptions the hearing population has about the Deaf population.

“I don’t want to insult hearing people, but they think we can’t do anything,” Barraza said. “They are shocked when they hear I have a driver’s license and that I raise my own son. People don’t understand how you can be deaf and still live a life.”

Despite the challenges and prevailing assumptions, the organizing team did not give up, and the event brought in more audience members than expected.

“We’ve had just a huge, positive response to it,” Acosta said. “We weren’t expecting as many people to show up as they did. We had people overflowing out into the actual library. It was really cool.”

The actual performances were an opportunity for Deaf Milwaukee residents to share their experiences and stories.

“My favorite part about the event is expressing my raw story,” Jonathan Petermon, a performer at the Deaf StorySlam, said.

“We were hearing a lot of stories about the struggles of finding work and employment that would accommodate someone who is Deaf,” Acosta said. “Just hearing their stories of them just moving past these barriers is just very eye opening.”

In 2020, Ex Fabula hopes to host another Deaf StorySlam, and two Deaf performers were able to tell their stories at the yearly Spectacular StorySlam at Turner Hall.

“We were able to incorporate two Deaf storytellers,” Acosta said. “It was new for everybody, and people enjoyed it so much.”

Making sure that Deaf community members felt welcome as performers and audience members was not something Ex Fabula took lightly, Acosta said.

“We were like, ‘How are we going to get the Deaf community to the Slam?’ There’s a lot of trust involved in that and building the relationships,” Acosta said. “After bringing people to the actual event and seeing for themselves the beauty in all of it inspired so many people. We were getting  messages from people who attended about how blown away they were by the whole event, and then it inspires more of the Deaf community to want to get involved.”

The Deaf StorySlam was not meant to only impact the audience and Deaf community members in attendance. Its purpose is to contribute to an ecosystem of inclusivity that does not end once the event is over.

“I truly would say that Ex Fabula does impact invisible voices that need to be heard around Milwaukee,” Petermon said. “And all over the Deaf and hearing community, this is an excellent opportunity and platform for people to understand each other again.”

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