Storytelling can trigger social change behind a microphone. Just Ask Megan McGee of Ex Fabula

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Megan McGee was studying abroad in Spain when she learned a valuable lesson: there’s more than one way to experience the world.

One day, while walking in the market, she felt disturbed after a merchant started picking apples on her behalf.

“I wanted to pick my own apples,” McGee said. “I struggled with cultural changes. Then I realized there was more than one way to make things work. Since then, my idea of ​​what is “normal” has broadened. »

It was a moment that could easily have passed for trivial. Instead, the directing would stay with McGee for years to come, a reminder that sharing and exploring the human experience — all aspects — is important.

McGee is the executive director of Ex Fabula, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit arts organization that focuses on connecting community through the art of storytelling. The organization presents storytelling workshops, StorySlams and community collaborations at venues around the city. Ex Fabula, which means “stories” in Latin, aims to provide a place “where people listen to each other, feel heard and grow in empathy and understanding”.

Megan McGee. (Photo by Nicole Acosta)

“Our mission is to connect Milwaukee through true stories,” McGee said. “What assumptions are we making that are not right? We are all about the voices of community and the power that can happen when we have spaces to be vulnerable and really listen to each other.

Ex Fabula was started as a grassroots project between five friends in 2009. For several years, the group volunteered their time to organize storytelling events. After incorporating as a nonprofit in 2011 and participating in a six-month residency at John Michael Kohler Center for the Arts, the organization is expanding to develop its series of workshops and its bilingual programming.

In Season 5, McGee became Ex Fabula’s first official full-time employee, a dramatic departure from her role as a Lean process consultant. McGee called quitting his job a “hit or come home moment.” As their events grew, the group began to realize that specific voices were not being heard and focused on including stories outside of their “white, graduate” circle. of university”.

Since then, Ex Fabula events have included storytellers from all corners of the city and have tackled a rainbow array of topics through its storytelling and onstage workshops, including family, mental health, disability, work, bereavement, cultural identity and spirituality.

While some people may view Ex Fabula events as “a fun night out,” McGee said internally, the organization is intentional in its efforts to give community members a voice — and works to shine a light on the work necessary to help the city to unite better.

“Stories are like the gateway to culture,” she said. “We’re trying to find our common humanity and create a world we all want to live in. I want everyone in the region to feel heard.”

Ex Fabula’s Deaf StorySlam in September 2021. (Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Public Library

This thread has become even more important in light of the pandemic and civil unrest. This is also one of the reasons why Ex Fabula launched brave space, an affinity workshop space for Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and other people of color to share stories. McGee noted that hearing other people’s stories has even helped her to question and unlearn some of her own biases, like what it means to be “professional” or how to be an ally for causes.

“We all have our stories where we might judge each other, but how do we use stories to have those conversations we need?” McGee asked. “Arts and stories can set the stage for us all to be human. The arts can be a tool for creating social change. Our long-term goal is a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

So far, more than 1,600 stories have been shared at Ex Fabula events, attended by nearly 40,000 people, per McGee. The storytelling collective was also honored with a Unity Award from Milwaukee Magazine in 2021. But the executive director said she won’t be satisfied until more people come forward with their stories.

“Storytelling doesn’t accomplish one thing, it accomplishes a lot of things,” McGee said. “If you really listen to people, you can feel how the world really works. We are all strong, powerful and amazing, but it’s easy to forget that with the outside world. Stories allow us to see ourselves.

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