Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do you ever read your old, awful diary entries?

Don't even front, I know you do.

I read mine a few months ago, in front of an audience full of strangers at the Alamo Drafthouse!  It was for Mortified, a national show that has performances all over the country.

While a little humiliating to read the stuff I wrote as an ill-informed, hormone-crazed, overly-curious preteen, I can honestly say that Mortified was one of the most fun things I've ever done here in Austin. I shared with hundreds of people things I never expected to be public knowledge, including but not limited to the time I mooned a dog.  What.  You don't moon dogs?

Anyway, tonight and tomorrow, Mortified is happening again.

For those of you that have never had the joy and delight of seeing Mortified, I asked my director, Erica Lies, if she'd stop by and tell us a little bit about it. Erica was the gifted individual, you see, who took my weird, pre-pubescent scratchings, and actually turned them into something worthwhile and funny.

Buy tickets here, and read my interview with Erica below!


Erica: Mortified is a comic excavation of adolescent artifacts where people read aloud from stuff they created as kids to an audience of total strangers. It's comprised of journals, letters, poems, drawings, lyrics, and even some screenplays. It is hilarious, it is poignant, it is a really good time. Mortified's live stage show is in eight cities across the U.S., and Mortified also has two books out, as well as a web series.

AE: How do you possibly find people willing to bear their adolescent trauma in front of a live audience?

E: We get people from all walks of life. I think the biggest pull is from audiences who've seen the show and see what a good time it is and that it's possible (and oddly cathartic) to live through the embarrassment of sharing those old works of terrible art. A lot of folks have found us through the Mortified books, as well. We put out a call every time we do a screening (which is what we call it when we look for new performers). Folks can also fill out a submission form at the Mortified website:, and we'll get in touch with them when we're gearing up for our next show.

AE: How do you, as a producer, take someone's "material" (old diary entries, camp letters, passed notes, etc.) and shape it into a condensed, 15 min. piece of agonizing hilarity?

E: It depends on the performer and what material they have. A lot of it starts in the screening. We have folks read their most embarrassing stuff to us and then we ask them lots of questions about their life at that time and what they were like, and that sort of interviewing process is ongoing as we work on the piece. Some pieces are pretty easy to put together, especially if they're straight-forward journal entries, but others can be tough becasue you have to wade through a lot of material, which means looking at many many possible themes and storylines. I just did one piece for this next show that was tough, because this performer was a writer in high school and college and he was actually pretty good, and therefore, not embarrassing. I read through all his stuff, though, and found some perfect, terribly written gems, but in a case where someone's material is all fiction, it's doubly difficult because the material itself might not reveal a great deal about the writer, so you have to do more work to figure out a storyline and reveal the author.

I had another piece last fall with a performer who'd kept an online journal going back 8 years or something. And, um, I read all of it that was written before she was 21 just to find the gems for the show. So it can be a bit of a treasure hunt, but it's so worth it.

What's been one of your favorite Mortified pieces to date? (besides mine of course! Knowing wink!)

E: It's so hard to pick!! We've had so many wildly different folks, and you love each piece because they're all so extraordinarily interesting. But if I had to pick one--aside from yours, of course--the first one that comes to mind is one of the first pieces I worked on. The performer was a woman who was a nerd stalker in high school. Her whole piece was about how she wanted more experience with guys, and so she went after these really nerdy dudes because she liked them, although no one thought of her as nerdy at all. But, she had more in common with nerds because she was actually into the same stuff. And here's the thing: she'd never told anyone about it before, except her husband. She wasn't a performer, but she really came out of her shell for her hilarious piece, but it was also really sweet and vulnerable because she'd never shared this diary with anyone and suddenly there she was reading it to total strangers.

Anything else you'd love to tell us about Mortified?

E: The show truly reveals how utterly fascinating people are, and how similar so many of us are, even in our differences. And even as the show is fall-out-of-your-chair funny (and I know this, b/c I've watched audience members practically fall out of their chairs), it's also really poignant to find yourself as an audience member really investing in and rooting for these people you've known for less than ten minutes. Also: The much-touted Mortified: Austin band will be back with more ridiculous reinterpretations of classic hits from your youth. You've never heard "Love Will Tear Us Apart" until you've heard it played on a kazoo.

**EDITOR'S NOTE: The Mortified: Austin band is amazeballs. They only play for Mortified, and it's all acoustic versions of cheesy '80s cover songs. Their low-fi version of "When Doves Cry" is heartfelt, hysterical and ... hot.

That was some serious alliteration.


Heather Howell said...

Oh man. I JUST read through my journal from only a year ago last night and I was "mortified". I should dig up my 16-year old self journal.

GARY! said...

I need to get you my videos of that night...

joanna said...

This is such an awesome idea! I wanna go.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@Heather - Girl, it is SUCH an enlightening experience to go back that far in time. The unsent love letters I wrote to my high school boyfriend - age 17 - read like bad imitations of Charlotte Bronte. Sooooo over the top.

@Gary - You also need to send me pics of you in your tapdancing outfits, to post on the interwebs. ;)

Gary, you were the best little cheerleader that night. You laughed the hardest at all my diary entries, even the ones that were just ok funny. :)

@Joanna - It's pretty brillz. If you didn't make last night's, there's a show tonight too!