We're all connected 24/7 to computers, tablets, phones and television. But there's more to life than being online – even for a digital media company – so this week we're excited to show you ways to connect with family and friends, even when there's no signal. Steinhafels presents OnMilwaukee Unplugged Week, a celebration of all things analog. Sit back, log into these stories and then log into the real world.
When Ex Fabula hosted its first storytelling event at Art Bar in 2009, 50 people showed up. The next month, the group organized a second story slam and 100 people attended. Before long, hundreds of people bought tickets to hear everyday folks – not professional storytellers or performers – tell true tales from their lives.
"Now in our seventh season, we’re selling out all the 230-seat venues and having record crowds of 350 at venues like Turner Hall," says Ex Fabula’s executive director, Megan McGee.
Meg Bowles is the Senior Producer of The Moth and says the events often have a full house. The past three shows in London were sell outs – even before the line-up of storytellers was announced – as was the show at the Sydney Opera House. Next week's events in New York and Massachusetts are sold out, too.
"It’s unusual when we don’t sell out," says Bowles. "Which is always so amazing because that enthusiasm can make a show. The energy of the audience, the support that they bring into the room, really has an affect on the storyteller."
At every Ex Fabula event, interested storytellers literally put their names in a hat from which emcees randomly draw nine. Those picked come onto the stage, tell an autobiographical five-minute story around the theme of the evening – which has ranged from "Luck" to "Never Again" – and at the end of the evening, the audience votes for the winner via paper ballots.
The winner advances to the All Stars, which is usually held at Turner Hall in the Spring.
The Moth, based in New York, also hosts storytelling events in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Moth GrandSlam takes place Thursday, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. at Turner Hall (go here for tickets or more information).
In the world of storytelling, there is no such thing as TMI. People get on stage and are just as likely to speak candidly about failures, heartbreaks, lost opportunities or faux pas as they are about thrilling adventures or enlightening experiences. This concept of storytelling appeals to many because we often receive social and mental messages suggesting we shy away from sharing anything that is scary, sad or simply doesn’t put us in a "good" light.
"People crave entertainment that feels authentic and even a little risky. In a world with so much airbrushing and image control, it’s easy to get self conscious and wonder if we’re alone in our struggles," says McGee. "On Ex Fabula stages, when people reveal their beautiful, flawed selves, the energy in the room is incredible as the audience listens intently and reacts. In between the stories, there’s a different energy as people talk to each other about the stories they heard and even share their own stories."
It's interesting that in the same world where many of us bingewatch Netflix shows or spend hours at a time on Facebook, storytelling is more appealing than ever.
"I think people long for a connection in this digital world of likes and shares to stop and hear the story of someone’s experience," says Bowles. "There is something really intimate about it. People also see themselves, and their own stories, reflected in the stories of others."
The storytelling audience is as diverse as the stories told on stage, attracting people of different ages and from all different backgrounds. Ex Fabula strives to increase inclusiveness by having bilingual story slams as well as choosing venues in different parts of the city.
McGee says some audience members attend a storytelling event in order to gain confidence to someday tell a story of their own on stage. Others do it for connection or confession.
"Personally, I can get overwhelmed by the gap between how the world is and how I wish it was, and StorySlams restore my faith in humanity," says McGee.
There is also an element of surprise in storytelling. "I also think you don’t know what to expect – there is a special kind of immediacy to it," says Bowles.
According to Christy Hall Watson, a comedian who hosts Milwaukee’s local series of The Moth, storytelling audiences have one thing in common.
"The people who attend are open-minded, willing to share and most importantly, are ready to listen," says Watson. "It helps me if people aren’t easily offended, but only because I love a challenge."
In honor of OnMilwaukee's Unplugged Week, McGee challenges anyone to make a pledge to tell a story to someone in their life this week.
"Not sure where to start? Start with a theme like ‘silly childhood mistakes’ and then work your way up to riskier stuff. No matter what, know that everyone has stories worth sharing, so get to it! And then be sure to listen, too."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.