Ex Fabula Shows Us That Truth is Sometimes Stranger Than Fiction

Ex Fabula reminds us that we all have stories to tell, and time to listen to others’ as well.

Nine years ago, five Milwaukeeans – some friends, some strangers – met over lunch at Maharaja on Farwell to talk about the city’s live lit scene, or lack thereof. In between trips to the restaurant’s buffet tables, they lamented the dearth of local story slams, and wondered whether they had what it took to start their own.

As it turns out, they did. Even before leaving the restaurant that afternoon, they’d settled on a name (Ex Fabula, Latin for “from a story”) and a date and venue for their inaugural slam. They weren’t expecting much from that first, hastily planned event. But 65 people showed up, and many of them clamored for more. More events. More chances to speak. More opportunities to listen to other community members’ stories.

The last “more” has set Ex Fabula apart from many other live lit events. And it may explain why the organization has continued to grow at a time when so many local arts establishments have struggled.

Liza Kessler. Photo by CJ Foeckler

“People think the telling is the most important part,” says Megan McGee, one of the co-founders and the current executive director. “But listening is equally crucial. That’s what builds community.”

McGee became Ex Fabula’s first full-time employee in 2014. Kennita Hickman became its second in July of this year, when she accepted a position as event producer. Both women are committed to strengthening community ties, by establishing a presence in different parts of the city and making Ex Fabula one of Milwaukee’s most accessible, inclusive cultural institutions. 

How? They’re currently rolling out Spanish language programming to reach residents who might not otherwise be able to participate in the organization’s story slams. “We think about narratives we aren’t hearing,” McGee says. “We like to connect people who might not otherwise be able to connect, to accomplish a social good while still being fun and entertaining.”

Last year, they also launched the Equal Access Project, an initiative that makes it easier for individuals with disabilities to participate in live lit events.

Blanche Brown, who became involved with Ex Fabula two years ago, began coaching disabled storytellers shortly after the project’s 2016 launch and says that working with them reminds her of why she wanted to share stories on a stage in the first place.

“You have to believe that it could help someone else,” Brown says, “that they may have had an experience like yours that they can identify with.” ◆

Kantara Souffrant. Photo by CJ Foeckler

Have a story to tell? The theme of the next Ex Fabula story slam is work. You can interpret the theme however you want, so long as the story is true – and less than 5 minutes long. November 9, 7:30 p.m.; $10. 3041 W. North Ave. Advance tickets available.

‘Listen Up’ appears in the November 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning October 30, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.