We are excited to introduce you to Ex Fabula and share four stories from their 2020 virtual Deaf StorySlam.
Since 2009 Ex Fabula has been connecting Milwaukee through real stories. Ex Fabula, which is Latin for “from stories,” leads storytelling workshops, StorySlams and Community Collaborations. At a StorySlam people come together to tell and listen to true, personal stories, told without props or notes. StorySlams have a touch of magic to them when a room full of people listen to each other, feel heard, and grow in empathy and understanding.
First, we want to introduce you to Megan McGee, a founder and Executive Director of Ex Fabula.
Ex Fabula | Milwaukee, WI
But as great as it is to read fiction, stories are even more amazing when it’s a real person telling you their truth.
I am the director of Ex Fabula, a storytelling organization that connects Milwaukee through stories. Five of us started Ex Fabula in 2009 because we were interested in personal stories as a way to create connections between people. We wanted to put together a live local storytelling event, since we can learn a lot from listening to the life experiences of those who are different from us. So we met for lunch at Maharaja Restaurant to do something about our idea, instead of just talking about it in a bar. Six weeks later we had our first storytelling event at Art Bar.
Our plan was to have ten people tell a story on the theme ‘beginnings’. We weren’t sure if anyone would come, we really had no idea if this would be a thing. To make sure we actually had some storytellers, we confirmed eight people in advance. So we confirmed our friends, my dad, whoever we knew that might be down for this new thing. Sixty-five people showed up, which was more than the space could comfortably hold. I don’t know if we even asked ourselves if we should do another event, we just said, “let’s have another one,” and then “let’s have another one”. By the time we got into the spring, someone suggested we have a season finale. Our audience was growing and enthusiastic—but we definitely made it up as we went.
Three years later we had a ‘go big or go home’ moment. There were a lot of things we wanted to do that we didn’t have the capacity to do. With Milwaukee being such a segregated city, but also a city so full of potential, we wanted to use stories as a tool to connect and learn. A few of us wrote a storytelling curriculum, which we piloted at a residency at the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. This curriculum on how to find and craft a story you want to tell became the basis for our workshops. Once I started working full-time with Ex Fabula, we could take on more projects. It was really small scale at first, a single workshop here or there, some we turned into larger projects. We were very intentional about identifying barriers to sharing stories and then designing a project to address that barrier.
Most of our projects happened because community members have asked for it. We did a workshop in partnership with the Greater Milwaukee Association of the Deaf, taught in spoken English with sign language interpreters. In the surveys, several people said that we should have a Deaf StorySlam. I thought, “Great, I’ll file that away for whenever we have capacity to do it.” A year later, Milwaukee Public Library wrote a grant proposal for this big project and they wanted to include some deaf storytelling, so we got involved.
We got together a group of Deaf community members to help shape the project. The first thing they said is that the workshops should be taught by Deaf artists. So we couldn’t use our already trained coaches to teach the workshops. American Sign Language is a different language, the way we taught our workshops might not work exactly the same for the Deaf community. One thing that’s central to the way Ex Fabula works is that we try to do what community members ask for. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but we were going to make it happen.
All the work I’ve done with Ex Fabula makes me see the world a little differently. This was really true working with the Deaf community. We all have stories. I think what Ex Fabula does is we share our expertise and create spaces so everyone realizes that their voice—and their story—matters. This is where I feel the most excitement. Can we learn from these stories to make a better world?
There’s something that can happen at a StorySlam when you see how people are connected. This happened at the first Deaf StorySlam we had at the Mitchell Street Library. One of the storytellers was an older white gentleman who was deaf. Afterward, the event photographer, a middle-aged Black man who was there working, came over to me because he thought he knew the storyteller. I got an interpreter and it turns out that the photographer’s father used to work with the storyteller, they worked at the same plant. It’s just lovely for people to discover these firsthand connections in unexpected places. Normally these two folks wouldn’t have had a chance to communicate because of the language barrier. But just to have this little moment—here is another human being that I get to meet.
Ex Fabula held its 2nd annual Deaf StorySlam on September 27, 2020. Due to Covid, it was a virtual event. Below are videos from four of the storytellers.
Marin Kiefer shares a story in American Sign Language about growing up Deaf at Ex Fabula’s 2nd Annual Deaf StorySlam. (These videos are silent. Click CC (closed caption) to read along with the story.)
Jairo T shares a story in American Sign Language about growing up Deaf at Ex Fabula’s 2nd Annual Deaf StorySlam. (These videos are silent. Click CC (closed caption) to read along with the story.)
Eric Murphy shares a story in American Sign Language about growing up Deaf at Ex Fabula’s 2nd Annual Deaf StorySlam. (These videos are silent. Click CC (closed caption) to read along with the story.)
Lucas Baron shares a story in American Sign Language about growing up Deaf at Ex Fabula’s 2nd Annual Deaf StorySlam. (These videos are silent. Click CC (closed caption) to read along with the story.)
Wisconsin Humanities grants have supported Ex Fabula’s community engagement projects and story slams, including the Work StorySlam in 2017. Watch this lively video to catch the Ex Fabula vibe and learn a bit more about Wisconsin Humanities. Every year they give away more than $200,000 in grants to support projects around the state.