October is almost here and, to me, that means just one thing— it’s time for Waukesha Reads! This year, Waukesha will be reading the great Western novel True Grit. Charles Portis wrote True Grit in 1968, forever giving readers the independent and sassy Mattie Ross and the one-eyed, surly U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn. If you have not already been introduced to this remarkable novel, then you are in for a treat!
It is the goal of Waukesha Reads to unite the community through great books. This program offers citizens the opportunity to read, discuss and explore the themes of a single book with other readers in the community. Through this program, some people will discover the joys of reading for the first time, while others will be reminded of the pleasures of a great book. Everyone will benefit from sharing the literary experience with their fellow community members.
Why read? Growing evidence illustrates that regular reading boosts the likelihood of academic and economic success, awakening a person’s social and civic responsibility. Reading for pleasure is associated with positive personal and social behaviors, both of which impact our community for the better. Simply put, books change people, they change lives and they make us better neighbors. This is why the Waukesha Reads partners feel passionately about reading and its promotion in the community. Reading is the gateway to lifelong learning, personal opportunities and success.
Waukesha Reads would not happen without the support of the community and our local partners. It is this cooperative nature that has made our program such a success over the past eleven years. Partners such as educational institutions, art centers, nonprofit organizations and other area businesses have all jumped at the chance to be a part of Waukesha Reads because they understand the value of promoting literacy in our community. By working together, we reach out to Waukesha’s diverse population, in a variety of traditional and nontraditional ways, to help encourage all citizens to participate. It is our goal that the Waukesha Reads program will bring people together, inspire reading, promote discussion and ultimately strengthen our community.
I hope that you will pick up a FREE copy of True Grit this year, and that you will make it a priority to participate in this citywide event. Whether this is your first Waukesha Reads, or your eleventh, you will undoubtedly find a program or a discussion that catches your eye. Perhaps it will be our (FREE!) keynote speaker, Mike Earp, at Waukesha Civic Theatre on November 2? Waukesha Public Library, and our Waukesha Reads partners, would love to see you there! Books and full event calendars are available at Waukesha Public Library. The calendar is also available online. Happy reading!
Head of Program Development & Community Engagement
Officially, Ex Fabula’s mission is “strengthening community bonds through the art of storytelling,” and we’re excited to carry out our mission in collaboration with Waukesha Reads. Over the years, however, I’ve come up with a series of unofficial mission statements based on stories about things that have happened at our events.
The first unofficial mission, “Host local events where people tell personal stories,” dates to the beginnings of Ex Fabula. In 2009, I and four other twenty- and thirty-somethings kept having the same conversation over and over. For example, after Amy Schleicher and I attended a StorySlam while on a work trip, we kept talking about how someone should start a storytelling organization with a more Midwestern sensibility back. Then, Matt Sabljak and I expressed the same wish after chatting about stories that we heard on the podcast This American Life. At some point Matt and his friend Adam Weise had the same conversation, and then I met Leah Delaney and repeated it. Eventually, it occurred to us that perhaps we were the “someone,” so we scheduled a time to connect at Maharaja’s lunch buffet. 90 minutes after some of us met for the first time, we were planning an event and brainstorming names for our group; six weeks later, we hosted our first StorySlam.
Down the line, we became better at articulating the reasons that we loved personal stories, and thus was born another unofficial mission: “Connecting family, friends, neighbors and strangers.” For example, Amie Losi told a story in 2010 that touched on two big events in her life: her marriage and divorce. After hearing that story on Ex Fabula radio, Amie’s sister reached out to her to talk more about those incidents. At the time of the divorce, Amie’s sister didn’t really understand what Amie was going through, but the personal story opened her eyes and brought the two closer together.
A variation of that mission would be “Making strangers hug each other.” One of many examples comes from Yetunde Bronson, who described her experience at the Spectacular in December 2014 as “That incredible moment when you tell a story about suffering from PTSD, and two Vietnam veterans come up to you afterward, hug you and thank you for sharing your story.” Aww!
Taking that mission one step further and you get “Create a platform for healing and learning through personal stories.” Nakia Hood experienced the power of telling his story as an Ex Fabula Fellow, and the day after his first event, he emailed saying “You don’t know the healing from hurt that has taken place by me just talking about my issues”. I thanked him for sharing because his story, which focused on his experiences in school as a young Black boy, also taught me a lot; I grew up in very different circumstances from Nakia’s, and although I’ve read research and news articles about our education system, his personal story was way more powerful.
Of course, our Slams aren’t all serious, so another mission is “Entertain people through interactive live events.” We’ve heard stories about all sorts of hilarious situations: skinny dipping, dating mishaps, childhood mischief, mistaken identities, and more. The audience is so supportive when people get vulnerable on stage, and it’s really nice to laugh hard with a group of people. Just thinking about these stories makes me giggle a bit!
There’s one last informal mission that I want to share because you can play a part: “Help everyone in the Greater Milwaukee region to share a personal story.” We’re trying to accomplish this by partnering with groups like Waukesha Reads and by providing lots of ways for people to share, including the UltraShort, which can be done without getting onstage, and the Terkel, an interview format. To that end, please join us at the Waukesha Civic Theatre this Thursday November 3rd at 7 pm for a free StorySlam. You can come just to listen – no pressure, I promise – or, if you have a true personal story to share, you can throw your name in the hat and then take the stage. Either way, we hope that one of our missions – formal or informal – can enrich your life as it’s enriched my life and the lives of so many others in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Executive Director of Ex Fabula
Photo Credit: Kat Schleicher
If you don’t know her, Katie Danner is the ultra-talented Box Office Supervisor and Marketing Director at Waukesha Civic Theater (WCT). She’s the mother to Byron; wife to Jonathan.
Most importantly (at least as far as this story goes), Katie was the author of an e-mail which went out in May of 2012, asking any local musicians if they wanted to help publicize WCT’s upcoming season by playing at the Waukesha Farmer’s Market.
That tiny bit of encouragement was all I needed. I am primarily a “pit” musician, playing for musical theater productions throughout Milwaukee. I’ve been meaning for a while to get back into a band, but my pit work keeps me pretty darn busy (and happy), so the “band” thing was pretty much always on hold.
Until Katie’s e-mail.
When I got the e-mail, I had just finished playing in a production of Aida. My friends Jay Kummer, Maddie Dietrich, and Brian Carter were in the Aida pit as well, and I had said some random thing about how much fun it would be to get together and jam. Which wouldn’t have happened, except that Katie’s e-mail gave us a reason to do it.
So I told Katie sure, I could pull something together.
“In a couple of weeks?” Katie asked sweetly.
Um… sure, okay, why not? So, with barely time for a rehearsal, and with about one hour of music, Jay, Maddie and I made our debut.
Katie liked us well enough, or was desperate enough, that she asked us to come back again, and we did, this time with Brian joining us on percussion.
We quickly settled on a few things – music pretty much from the jazz standards, but with some songs from western swing, gypsy jazz, and blues. Instruments would be guitar and uke (Jay); mandolin, bass, or fiddle (Maddie); mandolin, guitar, or bass (me); a whole bunch of percussion toys (Brian). Vocals would be – very few!
The name came around pretty quickly, too. There are several things about “Hot Damn” that I liked. First, even though it’s not exactly a common saying anymore, I used it a lot. Second, the “Hot” makes a bit of a link with the “Hot Club of France”, Django Reinhardt, and the whole gypsy jazz world. Third, “Hot Damn” was a popular American saying in the 20’s and 30’s, which is when much of the music we play was written. It just seemed like the obvious fit!
The band has gone through a few personnel changes, as Maddie finished her Master’s degree and planned for a move out of town. Early this summer we added Linda and Jeff Binder, who are cohorts of mine from the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, and just recently we added Tim Dondlinger on bass.
I like to think of us as playing melodic and recognizable jazz standards. We have an easy-going style, with a lot of variety in the instrumentation and sound, and we have a lot of fun playing gorgeous songs. We even throw in a few vocals now.
We’ve played several venues, but we keep coming back to WCT in one form or another – at the Farmer’s Market several Saturdays during the summer, or at Friday Night Live three times this past summer. In all cases, we’re playing in front of either WCT’s front door or back door – and usually Katie is there to say hi and give us a big hug.
So, come on out to hear the band sometime, or check out our website . If you like our music, please tell your friends and help spread the word about us.
If you don’t, just blame Katie.
The Waukesha Civic Theatre is full of fun stuff to do! One fun thing that we’re really excited for is One Night With John McGivern, coming up in just a couple of months on November 5th! John will be at the theatre for an evening of storytelling. If you’re not sure what to expect, here’s a snippet about John from his website, www.johnmcgivern.com: “His stories are personal and funny and touching and familiar. His themes are based in family and remind us all that as specific as we might believe our experiences are, we all share a universal human experience.” He will also be available to meet both before and after the show. We’re hoping to fill the house for John and tickets are going fast! Call the box office for more information about this upcoming fundraiser at 262-547-0708.
We also feature a myriad of partnerships over the course of our season. I’d like to share a little bit about six of our exciting partnerships.
On August 24th & 25th, we had actors performing with Wings Over Waukesha, an annual airshow at the Waukesha County Airport. They portrayed passengers on the Ford Tri-Motor, one of the first passenger airplanes in the 1920s. We also had a table there to spread the word about Waukesha’s cultural cornerstone!
Also at the end of August, the Adaptive Community Approach Program (ACAP) PlayMakers performed Snow White and the Magnificent Seven. They had several sold-old shows and great audience response! We partner with ACAP to produce two shows a season featuring actors with disabilities, a studio show in the fall and a mainstage show in the spring.
Each January, the Waukesha STEM Academy produces a musical. These shows are performed, crewed, and designed entirely by students at the Saratoga campus, with guidance from local (adult) professionals. This year’s show will be The Pirates of Penzance, Jr. You won’t want to miss this production!
Also in January, our education program (Academy at Civic Theatre, or ACT) offers a two week workshop to students aged 9 to 19. It does require an audition, but the students involved have two weeks to create a sketch comedy show from scratch; they do all the writing and character creation, they figure out the costumes and props, and – during the Waukesha Janboree – they perform their work for a full house! There are two performances, one at 10 am and one at 1 pm, on Saturday, January 18th.
During the summer, we partner with the Waukesha Downtown Business Association to bring live music to Freeman Friday Night Live and the Saturday morning Farmers’ Markets. Don’t miss this opportunity to support local artists and discover new talent!
Finally, our fourteen Downtown Waukesha restaurant partners offer incredible savings to our subscribers. We still have three of our four subscription packages available – the Super Six, Perfect PIX 3, and Fabulous Flex! Check out our website for more information at http://waukeshacivictheatre.org/subscriberBenefits.html
Only a handful of community theatres across the nation can claim the honor of a half-century of consecutive operation and we are delighted to be in our 57th Mainstage season! Feel free to contact me at the box office with any questions. See you at the Theatre!