By: Marissa Cudworth

On a lovely Saturday morning, I found myself at 5Wise Workshop, a cozy little workspace tucked between neighborhood businesses on National Ave. The sun poured in and lit up the room where Alea McHatten and John Lopez hosted the February Ex Fabula’s StoryStretch Workshop. At the front of the room, a whiteboard read “StoryStretch: Exes.” Wait…the theme is Exes? That made me a little uneasy. I mean, I have exes in my past, but did I want to think about them? Not really…

After some quick introductions to the others in the room, we dove into the workshop with a short warm-up game. The room split into pairs, and with very little time to prepare, we shared 1-minute stories with our partners. I somehow managed to piece together a shaky short story about an ex-job I had in college. And it seemed that as quickly as I had started speaking, the time was up. “Switch!” Alea called out to the room. I found a new partner and conjured up another about an ex-version of myself. This time around, it was easier. After a third switch of partners, I felt like I could tell a story with the snap of my fingers. You know what they say about practice? It makes…almost perfect.

Now, you might be wondering why I would attend an Ex Fabula workshop when I’m already an employee of the organization. Shouldn’t I already be a storytelling pro? The truth is: no, I’m far from. I’ve had stage fright all my life and have truly dreaded standing at the front of a room full of people. Class presentations since I was a kid have made my heart pound out of my chest. So, I came to the StoryStretch workshop to start working towards my Season 15 goal: to tell my first story on stage!

We continued the workshop, discussing parts of a story and tips for captivating your audience. We learned there is no wrong way to tell a story, just ways that can make them more dazzling. After sharing a 3-minute version of our stories, we received feedback and tried again. Each time, I got better at telling.

I really appreciated that Alea and John participated in the workshop with personal examples of true stories. It made me feel more comfortable, as if we were hanging out and holding conversations rather than learning in a classroom. I also felt that there were accommodations for everyone at this workshop; handouts and paper worksheets made it easy for me to follow along and note down my thoughts, the agenda at the front of the room helped us visualize the day, and the small breakout sessions allowed me to connect with others in the workshop. There was time for connection, time for reflecting, and time for sharing out. I left the StoryStretch workshop feeling more equipped to tell my story and a little more in touch with myself.

The story I chose to practice in depth was about an ex-friend that continuously chose others over me. It was a painful time in my life, but the reflection and group space provided me with some healing I hadn’t experienced before. While it had felt like my friend abandoned me in that moment, it actually created an opportunity for me to look critically at the people who I allowed into my life and celebrate the friendships that have been preserved over the years. While it was scary to share deeply personal moments with a room full of strangers, I also felt empowered by the connection the workshop provided. Maybe I wasn’t alone during that hard experience in my life after all.