Would you allow someone to read the diary you kept as a teenager? Who would you choose to share in the humiliation, shame and hilarity of your teen angst? Odds are, your first thought wasn’t to share it with a room full of complete strangers - but that’s exactly what thousands of people since 2002 have decided to do. That’s the foundation of Mortified – a stage show that’s spawned a media empire.
At Mortified, adults take to the stage to share their most intimate and embarrassing childhood writings – diary entries, poems, love letters – in public, in front of an audience who are all former teenagers themselves.
Their curated stories are told, as founder Dave Nadelberg puts it, “with no embellishing, no exaggerating, just God-given awkwardness.”
Part comedic, part cathartic and part voyeuristic, it’s billed as “personal redemption through public humiliation” and it’s become a bona fide cultural phenomenon.
Today, Mortified has local chapters in more than 20 cities worldwide; and now the acclaimed stage show is coming to Nashville.
The Nashville chapter, the first in Tennessee, will make its debut this summer.
And you could be a part of it.
Creator Dave Nadelberg launched Mortified, it seems, almost by accident.
In 1997, Nadelberg moved to Los Angeles to become a writer; but when his mother fell ill, he returned to his Detroit, Michigan, family home to care for her. There, among his childhood artifacts, he discovered a high school love letter he had written but never sent.
As an adult, Nadelberg found the flowery teen letter pretentious and ridiculous. And so, of course, he felt compelled to share it with a live audience.
In interviews, Nadelberg said he’d decided to rent a theatre, thinking at first that he’d do a quick, one-time, open-mic type of performance. But rather than simply inviting others to share the stage, he sent an email asking to meet with anyone who had something saved that they might want to share.
The message went viral.
It took about seven months, Nadelberg said, to curate the submissions and finally stage the show, but when Mortified hit the stage, it was well received. He was immediately met with questions about when he would host the next event.
Seventeen years later, Nadelberg is still staging the “next” event.
Since its 2002 inception, the live stage show has made its way from Los Angeles to “spread the shame” all across the country. In the U.S., Mortified chapters have formed in cities spanning from the San Francisco bay area to New York City, including Chicago, Denver and Washington D.C. International chapters include London, Paris and Dublin.
Over the course of its 17-year history, the Mortified concept has expanded to include a podcast featuring Mortified Live readings worldwide; a feature-length documentary (“Mortified Nation”) and a six-episode docuseries featuring footage of Mortified stage shows (“The Mortified Guide”), a Sundance TV celebrity interview series ("The Mortified Sessions"); two anthologies and a guided journal.
It was the show’s appearance on Netflix that caught the attention of Nashville’s Tiffany Vinson.
“It's mesmerizing,” she said. “Or it was to me.”
After watching the Mortified series on Netflix, Vinson was hooked. She contacted the Chicago chapter and asked to participate because, she said, “I was just dying to share my journals from junior high and high school.”
She was selected and, at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall in December, she shared her 8th grade goal of achieving a boyfriend with whom she could dance at cotillion by taking a “Dirty Dancing”-inspired trip to Myrtle Beach. Comparing what she believed was her own awkward appearance to that of Jennifer Grey’s character “Baby,” Vinson hoped to find there her very own “Johnny Castle.”
Sharing that story, she said, has “been a very cathartic experience.”
After her appearance in Chicago, Vinson expressed interest in developing a Nashville chapter. The rest, she said, is history.
Now the producer for Mortified Nashville, Vinson said, “One thing I love about Mortified is that it highlights the universality of our human experience. I also love that it lets us claim very personal and private moments and that by sharing them with others we grow stronger while laughing all the way.”
Vinson will be one of the performers in the inaugural Nashville show and, she said, Nadelberg will be there, too, performing his original piece.
“It's so funny,” she said. “And very heartwarming too!”
Mortified will make its Nashville debut this summer.
“I am really excited about this venture and I hope you’ll join me on the journey.”
How to participate
First, dig up some of your embarrassing, old childhood artifacts (letters, poems, journals, artwork, plays, videos, you name it). Then, to “share the shame,” visit the “participate” tab on GetMortified.com, select Nashville, and request a producer’s session by filling out the form explaining what it is you have unearthed.
If your submission sounds duly entertaining and cringe-worthy, you will be asked to meet with the producers to identify the excerpts and backstory an audience will love.
As every podcast episode reminds us, “We are all freaks, we are all fragile, and we all survived.”
Traditionally, the Mortified stage show format includes six participants sharing their curated memories. Though the venue and exact date of the Nashville event have yet to be nailed down, Vinson said, “We are looking at early August for our first show.”
“Please contact us if you would like to be a part of it, the sooner the better. The closer it gets, the harder it’s going to be to get a spot.” Vinson said. “Not everyone will make it into the first show but we will be keeping everyone in mind for future shows. We hope to do a show every three or four months.”
If you’re selected
After you’ve submitted a few pieces or ideas, Vinson said, the producers will schedule a weekend, in-person meeting in Nashville “just to see what they have to offer.”
After that meeting, she said, the producers will ask you to transcribe the most entertaining excerpts into a document that, working with producers, you can develop into a narrative thread. Ninety percent of what participants share on stage is something they wrote as a kid, but the other 10 percent is context about why they wrote it that helps frame the story.
Most of this process, Vinson said, can be managed online using Skype or email and will be done by early to mid-July.
“The time commitment is actually minimal,” she said.
When there’s enough material to engage an audience for about eight minutes, you will be asked to attend a single rehearsal, “probably a week before the show,” where all the participants will read their pieces for each other and “prepare for laughs, give each other tips, and tweak the work.”
Then, sometime in August, you’ll share those results on stage and inspire others to do the same.
You can find the Mortified podcast, distributed by PRX (Public Radio Exchange), on Radio Public, Google Podcasts and iTunes. The podcast is also available on Stitcher and TuneIn. New episodes posted every other Sunday.
“Mortified Nation” and “The Mortified Guide” are both available on Netflix.
For more information about Mortified or to participate, visit getmortified.com.
For more information about the new Nashville chapter and upcoming show dates, follow Mortified Nashville on Facebook.