The audience at the March 7 story slam witnessed a first in Ex Fabula history – every single teller was a NEWBIE! Eight people dispensed with any lingering fear they may’ve had about public storytelling, and shared on the Times Theater stage.

First up was Thomas Jansen.

Right before a vacation to visit friends in Germany he herniated a disk in his neck. He was cleared to travel, though advised to take it easy. They were near the beautiful Tyrolean Alps and Thomas couldn’t resist joining his host on a hike. His wife asked his friend “not to let Tom do anything stupid”. The hike got long, the going got rough, Tom got hurt. As he cleaned blood off of himself in the lodge, his worst fear wasn’t that his injuries were extensive…it was that his wife would know that once again, he’d done something stupid. She did.

Lani Knutson never exactly loved air travel, but it was OK.

She was a TA at the University of Minnesota when she had to chaperone the undergraduate choir on a trip. By the time they were headed home, she was sick of undergraduate company and missed her husband. So she wasn’t too happy when bad weather diverted their plane to Fargo, North Dakota to sit on the ground for hours. And hours… Finally, they were in the air. Finally, they were cleared to land but – oops! All of a sudden, the plane pulled up sharply. To avoid landing on another plane! Eventually they landed safely, but Lani acquired a new fear of takeoffs and landings.

Everyone who knows Wendy M(?) knows she loves pigs!

When she got married, she agreed to her husband’s request that the decor of pig-themed knickknacks be curtailed. But when they planned a cruise with another couple, she pleaded with them to select “swimming with pigs” from the menu of activities available.

Who knew that a safety lecture is required before you get in the water with adorable pigs? You don’t feed them apples on stainless steel skewers just any old way. Also, pigs can hurt you when they step on your feet. Wendy still loves pigs but her sentimentality has been tempered with a healthy fear.

Thunder…high winds…lightning.

Big storms terrified Sam Treder when he was a child. But Sam wanted to overcome it, by studying these events and pushing himself. His Dad helped him. He recalled a day when he was eight years old, at his Dad’s farm up north. It was raining hard and there was thunder in the distance. Instead of covering his ears with a pillow indoors, he and his Dad went outside and ran around. His Dad also taught him to breathe deep, to arrest that panicky feeling. Last summer, Sam was in Texas and Oklahoma – storm-chasing. However, he is scared of tornados.

Matthew Lewis is a UW-Madison grad, a Badger through and through.

A Black, Queer Badger. He and his good friends had a regular route of night spots where they felt safe and welcome. One fine night out, he was feeling alive and beautiful –  in his best skinny jeans and carefully chosen boots. He and three friends hit some of their usual spots, and the night was going fine till they deviated from their usual circuit in pursuit of French fries. As Matthew stood in line to order, someone behind him kept saying Hey bruh….hey bruh..

Matthew turned around. He was challenged: Why you dressed like that? Matthew told him because I want to and was attacked with a tirade about why he should feel shame. Matthew described how he felt his mind and body drifting apart as he sensed the violence behind the man’s words escalating to physical threat. No one in the restaurant intervened as it got uglier. His friends hung with him, and they took it outside. Thankfully they escaped from the sidewalk tussle physically unhurt. Matthew knew that for him to be completely himself was an issue for some people. This time he experienced fear for his very life, and he had the courage to share this with the audience.

Brian Hulsemon has three sisters and ten brothers.

Wherever he went to school in the Chicago suburb where they grew up, he was following in the footsteps of one or more of his siblings. Brian’s most like one of his older brothers, Colin. Freckles in the same location, water polo players…But Colin ran into trouble with alcohol and other drugs.

When Brian was on the water polo team, Colin was the coach.

Yet younger brother Brian was the one who had to drag his coach to practices as Colin’s struggles intensified. Brian can’t forget the feeling of helplessness he felt watching Colin’s downward spiral. This has given him a deep fear of losing control. He doesn’t touch alcohol and is wary of putting himself in any situation where he can’t control what’s happening.

Marty Lataille had a great childhood.

His father’s advice to “never stop believing in people” has always stayed with him. Marty works at an alternative school with students whom many people had already given up on. He described the determined struggles of a student he worked with. Things would be looking up, then down…but Marty and his staff were undaunted by setbacks. This student lost his mother on the eve of his triumphant graduation ceremony.

Marty recalled that Devon said he missed school at times because he didn’t like to leave his Mom alone at home; and wondered if things would’ve been different if his team at school followed up on that when looking at Devon’s attendance. But Marty expressed confidence that the support that got Devon through his schooling could carry him forward too.

Griffin Knipp didn’t know anyone when he moved to Milwaukee several years ago.

He used Tinder and some other dating apps. But he also worked a lot of hours and often lost track of people he connected with. When an Emily from “Be the Match” called him, he was puzzled. When she said “we have your DNA and we want to talk to you about being a bone marrow donor” he was even more confused.

Eventually, they established that in 2009 when he was in college, a woman named Katie was tabling at the student union for bone marrow donations. He liked her, so he agreed to a cheek swab. Now, he was a match for someone who needed a transplant. One problem though. Besides a fear of cows, Griffin has a fear of blood draws! The chance to help someone fighting disease is a strong motivator. Griffin passed out the second the tech’s needle hit him! But he did it. Now, maybe he should work on a dairy farm.

By now you’re wondering who took the crown?

And the winner is Matthew Lewis! Congrats Matthew, thank you for sharing your story on the Ex Fabula stage! Join us on March 26th for StorySlam: What’s in a Name? *noncompetitive purchase tickets here: