On May 11th, at The Cooperage in Milwaukee’s Harbor District, Ex Fabula’s season 14 came to an end. The cavernous brick-walled room buzzed with greetings, conversation, and laughter as the audience filled row after row. Just like every other StorySlam event, Season 14’s ALL STARS evening would be another sell-out.

Emcees Alexis Outlaw and David Lee

Many of the year’s earlier slams boasted first-time tellers. Of course, we love first-time tellers. We adore the folks who screw up enough courage to put their names into the hat and take a chance at taking the stage. But the All-Star event is different. This night is dedicated to audience favorites; storytellers from earlier slams who were voted back up onstage for an encore!

Before the stories began, the evening’s hosts – Alexis Outlaw and David Lee – restated Ex Fabula’s mission, methods, and general principles but also reminded us of Ex Fabula’s Matching Campaign. A generous donor had promised that if we could reach the $10,000 mark, all donations would be doubled! Alexis and David let us know that at the start of the evening, a whopping $8600 had already been raised, but until we reached 100%, the match would not be triggered. They did the math and suggested it might just be possible to put the campaign over the top this very evening! An encouraging cheer went up and with that, the final slam of Ex Fabula’s fourteenth season was underway.

The theme of this slam was “Forbidden Fruit” and the first storyteller, Jenny Wanasek, took the stage to relate a story about how her son unwittingly co-opted her in a smuggling operation by asking her to take a bag of cigars back home to Dad. Cuban cigars. That’s a no-no.

If you were at the “Nature” StorySlam back in January, you’d recognize the second storyteller, and you’d already know Carol Hale as an adventurous free spirit! Her story involved art, engineering, a younger man, PeeWee Herman, and voodoo. You kinda had to be there.

Greg Marshall, the next storyteller, began by questioning the life choices that had landed him at this particular party. “When the most interesting conversation in the room is a debate about what to name a bong, you gotta wonder if that’s where you should be.” After the party was raided and he led the men in blue on a wild race through several backyards, hedgerows, a river, and a family barbeque, Greg finally arrived at a new, more healthy, and more honest place.

Melani Kaplan

The next teller was a special guest – Melani Kaplan – a swimmer who, even as a toddler, spent every summer day at the municipal pool. She loved swimming so much that she’d use her deafness to steal a few extra minutes at closing time. Clearly, she couldn’t hear the lifeguards yell, “Everybody out of the pool!”

Melani wondered why the other kids could get ice cream at the snack bar but her mom always said no. “When you get home you can eat … ” her mom would say. Later in life, she was relieved to learn she was denied because her family was poor, not because she was deaf.

The next All-Star teller, Megan Heinrich, practiced her oboe tirelessly to earn a trip to Europe as a member of a youth orchestra. It didn’t seem fair when her younger brother JT got to go! All he had to do was sing! And JT won extra points when he brought a bottle of French Bordeaux home for their parents. However, he lost those points when they caught him sharing a bottle of wine with his underage classmates. It turns out he’d brought eight bottles home.

Mmmmmm. Wine. Megan’s story prompted me to get a refill on my Cabernet. I returned from the Cooperage’s well-stocked bar just as co-hosts Alexis and David made an important announcement. Ex Fabula had reached 103% of the $10,000 challenge, triggering the donation match! On a raucous wave of cheers the evening’s next teller, Sara Beth Nelson, took the stage.

The clinic nurse handed Sara Beth a copy of The British Pregnancy Guide. She’d have plenty of time to read it because Sara Beth and her husband John left from the clinic on an extensive, pre-planned driving tour of England and Scotland. Sara Beth would have to adjust her plans, skipping unpasteurized soft cheeses and the Scotch tasting. The guide was right. She was often crabby and always exhausted. Reading the pregnancy guide convinced her that she was destined to spend nine months being “weak, wimpy and no fun at all.” But then she visited the Castle Camulodunum in Colchester.

It was the site of a famous rebellion against Roman rule led by Princess Boudica who, Sara Beth recalled, was a mother too. Sara Beth decided right there that warrior princesses do not “suffer” through pregnancy! She started a personal rebellion by tearing up her British Pregnancy Guide!

The final All-Star of the night was no stranger to the Ex Fabula stage. Anyone who’s seen Nestor Gomez knows he has an endearing, unassuming charm that always wins over the audience. He told the story of “the most delicious chicken you can eat!” Pollo Campero. He hadn’t had a piece since he left Guatemala in the 1980’s. Nestor learned of a man who would fly orders of Pollo Campero in from New York City at an eye-popping price of $25 a piece! But his mother’s birthday was coming and he knew she would love it!

Nestor Gomez crowned Season 14 All Stars Favorite

When his order arrived the Pollo Campero was just as good as he remembered, every morsel triggering happy memories of his childhood. He watched his mother savor this rare treat as a tiny tear moistened her cheek. In that moment, he was reminded of the difference between cost and value.

The audience ate up Nestor’s story and after voting, confirmed that he had won the evening! It was a brilliant evening of storytelling that capped a remarkable year of storytelling.

Personally, I can’t wait for season 15!

(If you can’t wait either, check out our summer events!)