Curious Trends

08/01/2011

Teenage diary readings


The curious trend whereby people read old diaries from their adolescence whilst standing on a stage in front of an audience started in the United States in 2005. In the past few years similar events have been hosted in London. The trend has sparked growing interest, inspiring dedicated books, websites, video channels and even a BBC Radio 4 programme called My Teenage Diary.


The trend probably began with the Hollywood stage show called Mortified, which featured adults reading aloud from diaries, letters and poems they’d composed as teenagers in front of an audience of strangers.

Mortified was created by Dave Nadelberg, who re-discovered an embarrassing love letter he wrote to a high school classmate and decided to read the letter to some of his friends. "I went home one year and dug up this old box," he remembers. "Inside was this horrific, embarrassing, mortifying letter written to a girl. It was a draft of a love letter. I saw a window into this kid's life, what it's like to hear someone come totally unhinged. It's so squirm-inducing because you feel so bad for him. Except I had the realization that that idiot was me."

Initially run in Los Angeles, the stage show included quite a lot of actors and writers. However, shows have now started up all over the States (and even in Malmo, Sweden), for which auditions are held to choose performers wishing to be humiliated in public.

Nadelberg belives that presenting one’s childhood ineptitudes to an audience is cathartic, entertaining and, above all, very funny.

The guidelines for participants are as follows:

1) Material is collected through open calls for participants found at getmortified.com
2) Material includes any writing, art, or media created before the age of 21
3) Material must be presented by its original author
4) Material is screened by Mortified producers to help authors select excerpts that reveal unique personal themes and narratives
5) Material must retain the original wording; language only altered to protect the innocent, awkward or angsty

Though Nadelberg and co-producer, Neil Katcher, don't write any of the material, there’s is an editing process to ensure the dialogue holds the audience’s attention and keeps them in stitches as well. "Though the idea is deceptively simple, we are in no way an open-mike, teen-diary free-for-all," says Nadelberg in an interview with Kevin Raub for americanway. "And while our show is certainly not rocket science, there is a lot going on behind the scenes in terms of shaping each piece for the stage. We craft each piece into unique autobiographical tales that we call a 'diagraphy.' It's a very odd transformation process -- comedic, cathartic, and creepily voyeuristic."



A similar venture called Cringe also started in Freddy’s Bar in Brooklyn, New York in 2005. This was the brainchild of Sarah Brown, who found her teenage diaries when she was moving house.

"I realised they were so awful that I had to get someone to witness how bad they were," she says. "I showed them to a friend and then thought, 'Why not share them with others?'"

So she took over the back room of her local bar, with just friends and colleagues as the audience. Cringe quickly became a regular event and Brown has now collected some of the best readings in a book: Cringe: Toe-Curlingly Embarrassing Teenage Diaries, Letters and Bad Poetry.

Whilst on vacation in London, Sarah ran a Cringe session in June 2007 in the basement of the Foundry in Shoreditch. This resulted in a London-based version with regular cringe-worthy diary readings.

Meanwhile, there have now been two series of BBC Radio 4’s My Teenage Diary, described as: An 'intimate BBC radio comedy show' in which Rufus Hound gave comedians the chance to revisit their formative years by dusting off and reading out in public "their hormone-fuelled angst-ridden diaries".

The guests on this show are well known as actors and/or media personalities. Before they begin, the performer puts their diary excerpt into context by recounting the backround to their story and revealing how old they were when the extract was written, what year it happened and why it makes them cringe. The series has a strong biographical element, unearthing hidden gems from the guest's life and revealing intimate details of their teenage experiences and personality. Unfortunately, this show comes across as being overly pre-rehearsed, unlike the more authentically angst ridden and embarrassing Cringe.

Salon of Shame invites enthusiastic participants to set up their own local diary-reading events.

Coming next? Watch out for the public airing of teenage diaries on television…

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