A lingering polar vortex was almost a close encounter in itself, but it wasn’t enough to stop story fans from coming out to our first Story Slam of the year, “Close Encounters”! And boy did we start the year off with a bang – African lions, New Kids on the Block, Gen Con, and Mozart were just the beginning of our journey through nine tales of “Close Encounters”!

Missed out? Check out our recap below, or listen to our monthly podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes. 

We begin with a then 12-year-old Stuart Rudolph, who is in eastern Africa with his grandma and two aunts on a self-directed safari in a VW station wagon. Between giving a ride to a rather well-endowed warrior and just barely avoiding a lion galloping toward the Land Rover Stuart was riding around in, his trip was fraught with close encounters! And, a lesson – before you ride around in the bed of a truck to study real-life lions, make sure it doesn’t still smell like last week’s zebra carcass!

Deserae Constantineau brought us all back to our own high school dreams when she told us about her own. Deserae and Donnie Wahlberg were going to fall in love at a bowling alley, and she and all of her friends were going to end up engaged to the members of NKOTB. Fast-forward to 2013 and Deserae’s erstwhile fantasy fiancé and the NKOTB are coming to Milwaukee! And talk about a twist of fate – Deserae and friends track them down playing pool and bowling at Landmark Lanes! As Deserae sits at the bowling alley bar, looking across the room at Donnie and trying to gather the courage to make old dreams reality, she realizes that some fantasies are better left as close encounters.

It’s 1990 and the tail end of the Cold War – the wall has fallen, the Soviet Union is changing, and USSR President Gorbachev is visiting…Minnesota? Michael Heider, working as a news cameraman, is sent to get the “DLA” – dreaded local angle. After walking for blocks trying to scope about a good place to see the motorcade, he eventually settles on a spot near some Latvian demonstrators, whose signs and chants aren’t exactly welcoming to Mr. Gorbachev. Michael can’t believe his luck as the motorcade comes to a stop and Mr. Gorbachev comes out and looks right at him! Unfortunately, Mr. Gorbachev also happens to notice the angry Latvians and their signs right behind him, and thus Michael’s once-in-a-lifetime scoop becomes a close encounter for the ages.

First time Ex Fabula story teller Matthew Poulson has had numerous close encounters with famous folk – and his attempts to be clever always seem to blow up in his face! Desmond Tutu ran right into him as he was leaving the bathroom at an event and all Matthew could choke out was, “I think you’re amazing!” before being whisked away by a security guard. And when he met Roger Ebert, he tried to remind him that he had hit on Matthew’s mother several times in the 1970s, only to have Mr. Ebert respond, “I hit on a LOT of women in the 70s!”

Milwaukee native and first-time story teller Philip Cruise Warren was a teenager working for the Wisconsin State Fair on the tractor team and all was well until one rainy day, when Philip had to go under a lift to hook a dumpster up to a chain. His lifelong fear of heavy objects teetering above ground came back to him when the lift going down wasn’t stopping, despite his pleas. As panic set in, the lift finally stopped, letting Philip escape with his life – and a haunting close encounter.

Our final newbie story teller, Aims McGuinness, took us back to high school again, where he was trying to impress a date by telling her about his summer abroad in Austria. Little did he know his date was about to throw him an all time one-up  – she was married to Mozart in a former life! After they locked lips Aims asked the burning question: maybe he was Mozart? She said no, and from then on, whenever they went out Aims wondered whether his date was thinking of him or a certain legendary composer. Sadly, the relationship didn’t work out – because who can compete with Mozart?!

It all started at Gen Con when a buddy dared Andrew Steeves to challenge a guy dressed as Batman to a staring contest. After Andrew, a self-professed staring contest champ, won the match, he proceeded to start asking every costumed person he saw to a staring contest. Andrew had everyone he battled sign his tshirt: those who lost to him signed the back, those who beat him signed the front. Pretty soon the back of his shirt was full of names and the front was still bare. He even beat Felicia Day! But he met his match in his second close encounter, Wil Wheaton: Wheaton’s trash-talking successfully psyched Andrew out, and he is now the proud owner of a tshirt with Wil Wheaton’s name scrawled on the front.

David Hendrickson decided to use his recently-acquired meditation techniques to finally meet someone special at Hooligan’s. After all, meditation had gotten him a free pizza one time! Feeling lucky, he went to Hooligans on his usual Monday night and, remembering the meditation advice to “ask the universe when you need help,” he closed his eyes and wished for a dance partner by 11:00. The clock neared 11 and just when he thought his luck had run out with the pizza, a female voice whispered into his ear: “Hi, remember me?”. Dave’s memory failed him, but he capitalized on his chance and asked the lady for a dance. It had worked! After their dance, Dave confessed he doesn’t remember her, and she left, crushed. Next time, Dave says, he’s asking the universe for more than a dance!

The fact that she was 17 didn’t stop Lisa Erin Brown from hitting it off with a 24 year old best man at a wedding she was working one summer. Like any teen in love, Lisa was determined to go to college in another state so they could be together – so much so that she took the money orders her mother gave her to apply to other colleges and hid them under her mattress. When Lisa’s mother got suspicious that letters from colleges weren’t arriving that spring, Lisa resorted to a tried-and-true teenage method: deny everything! Her mom believed her – even when she said that her guidance counselor was lying about Lisa never turning in any applications! Luckily, Lisa’s mother found the money orders eventually and put two and two together. Lisa had a close encounter with costing an innocent counselor his job!

Ex Fabula newbie Aims McGuinness may not have measured up to Mozart, but he did take the crown for audience favorite! We’ll be hearing more from him at our All-Stars show in May!

We had a great first time at Hot Water Wherehouse – thanks so much to all of the staff there and all of our audience members for making “Close Encounters” a great night!

Ex Fabula would be nothing without our wonderful volunteers, notably emcee Megan McGee – thank you all for your hard work! We love you! And we love our sponsors for making it possible to keep doing what we do.

Thank you, everyone, for a show to remember! We can’t wait for next month!