Rocket Clicks had the pleasure of speaking with Megan McGee, a founder and the Executive Director for Ex Fabula. Ex Fabula is a Milwaukee-based organization dedicated to creating community bonds through the art of storytelling. Through stories and community outreach, McGee and the Ex Fabula team are working to stabilize neighborhoods and strengthen the city.
Rocket Clicks: Could you tell us about Ex Fabula, what it is, and what your role is?
Megan McGee: Ex Fabula is a Milwaukee nonprofit dedicated to strengthening community bonds through the art of storytelling. We’re mostly known for our monthly StorySlams, but we also do workshops and outreach events working in collaboration with local nonprofits, schools, businesses, etc.
We’ve been around since 2009 – and I’m one of the founders and currently the Executive Director (and only employee).
RC: What gave you and the other founders the idea to create a storytelling community in Milwaukee?
MM: We had all experienced different kinds of storytelling in different places: theatre, film, this American Life on the radio, storyslams in other cities, StoryCorps when it came to town… and we kept having conversations about how we loved storytelling events and wished someone would start one in Milwaukee. At some point, it occurred to us that we should be the ones to start it!
RC: And it seems to be a success so far. We’ve heard only good things about Ex Fabula. You mentioned outreach events earlier… What does Ex Fabula do in the community? There’s a new Spanish project in the works, right?
MM: We’ve collaborated with a bunch of different organizations this year: Harry and Rose Samson Jewish Community Center, Great Lakes Hemophilia Foundations, Waukesha Reads, ACLU’s Youth Social Justice Forum, etc.
The Spanish project is a collaboration with three groups (Ex Fabula, CORE/EI Centro, and UWM Translation and Interpreting Studies).
In short, we want to use stories to bridge communities – the English speaking and Spanish speaking. We’re still learning about how best to incorporate stories in other languages into Ex Fabula programming.
This year, the lineup will include two stories told in Spanish and interpreted into English as part of The Puente Project. This exciting opportunity to provide multilingual programing is made possible through a grant from UWM Cultures and Communities. Project participants invited by CORE/El Centro have met with an Ex Fabula storytelling coach to hone their storytelling abilities, and students from UWM Translation and Interpreting Studies are preparing to interpret stories into English when they are told live at the Spectacular.
(You can find more information about the project here)
RC: What has Milwaukee’s response been to Ex Fabula and community storytelling?
MM: Overwhelming! We had our first event in November 2009 just to see what would happen, and we quickly had to seek out bigger venues. In fact, the reason that I’m full time for Ex Fabula now is that people wanted to work with us, and we just didn’t have the capacity when we were all volunteers.
Storytelling isn’t a new thing – but I think people appreciate our take on it: the way that we encourage new storytellers, our efforts to hold events in different neighborhoods, and even how we incorporate community building into things like volunteer orientation.
RC: Ex Fabula does feel like a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s been around since people could speak. The concept of storytelling hasn’t really ever changed, but our surroundings sure do. Here at Rocket Clicks, we’re really technology driven, and that’s something that’s always changing. Has Ex Fabula jumped on any technology bandwagons? Have you used or will you use the internet, computers, iPads etc. for story telling?
MM: We collect audio and broadcast stories on WUWM and then archive them online. We also do videos from time to time. And of course, technology makes it easier for people to find their way to our events.
We don’t have much of a technology budget other than that! But in the future, we plan to add features to our website where people can add their own stories.
RC: We were also hoping you could tell us about the storytelling workshops Ex Fabula holds. Why are these workshops important?
MM: While storytelling is very natural – we all do it every day – not everyone knows how to effectively structure a story. Some people don’t know how to start a story, and others don’t know how to stop!
Our workshops cover techniques to structure stories, how to come up with good stories to tell, how to practice telling a story… all through hands on exercises – and work in pairs and small groups.
We create a safe environment where people can share stories and improve both their telling and listening skills. Through the workshops, we have been helping people feel ready to get on stage for the first time.
We’ve done this for nonprofits too, helping people to tell stories about the impact of the nonprofits’ work. So this can be about empowering individuals, but also about calling attention to important issues through storytelling.
RC: What would you tell someone who attends a Story Slam, but is maybe a little nervous or intimidated to drop their name in the hat. Any advice?
MM: Try telling your story to a friend before you get on stage. Have an idea for how you’ll end your story.
Be real, be vulnerable, and know that the audience is supporting you and appreciates that you are willing to share! And of course, come to a workshop! Our next public workshop will be in early February.
Visit ExFabula.com to learn more about storytelling opportunities. Maybe you’ll feel brave enough to share a story!
Photo credit: Art Montes