I love how highly theatrical 33 Variations is in examining how we choose to live our lives when we know the end is closer than the beginning. It is this combination of theatricality and powerful storytelling that drew me to this play.
“Time is scarce” multiple characters tell us during the play. Both Dr. Katherine Brandt and Beethoven are trying to complete their work before their bodies ultimately rob them of the ability to do so.
For me, it is much broader than that. Time is scarce for all of us. None of us know how much time we have left. Therefore, we need to lives our lives to the fullest and enjoy what we have been given and those closest to us.
My eldest daughters are entering high school this fall. I have spent a lot of time recently bemoaning the little time I have left with them until they become adults and head out into the world. This play has directly challenged me to be sure that I do not waste that time while I have it.
After all … Time is scarce.
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