Time for a Water Slam

Milwaukee’s a city inextricably linked to water. From its location on the shores of Lake Michigan to the fact that officials have spent the last several years branding the city as an international water hub—it’s the home of both the University of Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and the business-oriented Water Council. All that focus on water generates a lot of activity—and a lot of stories, since every Milwaukee resident experiences water differently in their day-to-day lives.

In the interest of capturing some of those stories, Wisconsin Sea Grant has partnered with Ex Fabula, a Milwaukee-based organization that connects communities through the power of storytelling, to sponsor a StorySlam with the theme of “Water” on Tuesday, February 21 at Lakeshore Brewery.

Attendees can put their names in the hat for a chance to share a true, personal story onstage in five minutes or less, and over the course of the night, nine names will be drawn. Additionally, audience members can write what Ex Fabula calls an UltraShort— a 2-5 sentence story written on a slip of paper and read on stage by the emcee. To add in a competitive element, the audience votes on the best five-minute story and crowns a winner.

“We’ve recently expanded our focus in terms of event themes,” said Megan McGee, Ex Fabula’s Executive Director. “The question continues to be, how can we bring different and diverse groups together?”

The idea for a water-based StorySlam came from Michael Timm, a project manager with Reflo, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit focused on sustainable water solutions. Timm created a mobile app called Water Story MKE. Similar to the Stories and Science website Wisconsin Sea Grant helped create for the St Louis River Estuary, the place-based app allows users to learn interesting facts about water in and around Milwaukee–and more important, add observations and stories of their own to the ever-growing mix.

Looking for additional sources of content to populate his app, Timm reached out to Ex Fabula, and a collaboration was quickly born.

“I told him, ‘You want to collect stories? Well, one way would be to do that in person,’” said McGee. She noted that Ex Fabula StorySlams, which explore topics ranging from community experiences to cultural diversity, typically attract a wide range of audiences.

“We’re trying to walk that line between being accessible and professional,” she explained. “Most of the people that get up there on stage have thought through very carefully what it is they want to say.”

Sharon Cook, a Milwaukee lobbyist who also serves on Wisconsin Sea Grant’s advisory council, is a big fan of Ex Fabula’s work and mission. She said she’s happy to see Sea Grant reaching out to audiences with which it may not typically interact.

“Water–access to it, enjoying it, drinking it, looking at large bodies of it–creates communities that sometimes don’t communicate with each other across the diverse fabric that makes up Milwaukee,” Cook said. “The StorySlam provides an opportunity to share personal stories about how water refreshes, calms, sustains and scares. It may help people of diverse backgrounds understand another’s perspective.”

McGee said that some of the stories will live on, both as part of the Water Story MKE app and through Ex Fabula Radio, which airs on Milwaukee Public Radio’s WUWM 89.7 .

“When we listen to stories, we realize we have our own stories,” said McGee. “We’re hoping this event can be a real momentum provider.”

Tickets to StorySlam: “Water” are $10 and are available at exfabula.org.