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TMG Austin - Liz Grossman - credit Thomas Allison

“Dear Diary…” – Mortified, the global phenomenon, is coming to London

15 June 2018 Suzanne Frost

Do you remember being a teenager? Did you confide all those overwhelming and intense emotions to a secret diary? And if you read said diary again now, would you hide in shame, or recognise the raging emotional teenager still inside of you? Mortified has been described as “cathartic”, “life-affirming” and like “giving your younger self a big hug” – apart from being just hilariously funny. What started off as one man’s idea in 2002 has morphed into a worldwide phenomenon with live shows in over 20 countries, a podcast series that has been named “best story telling podcast” by the Guardian in 2016 and a Netflix documentary that premiered at Sundance 2018 and is available to stream in the UK. London Calling talked to Reuben Williams, lead producer for the London branch of Mortified, ahead of the live show at Leicester Square Theatre this June.

London Calling: Mortified is a worldwide phenomenon. How did it all start?
Reuben Williams: It started in 2002, 16 years ago, when David Nadelberg found this really embarrassing love letter he never sent, and he thought it would be funny to share that with his friends and actually lots of his friends went “I’ve got other stuff which is really embarrassing that I want to share.” Basically that’s how the stage show started and it grew from there.
LC: It seems like people are very eager to volunteer. Are they reading themselves?
RW: Everyone reads their own stuff. Unless someone’s piece is a play or something.

Mortified first show, David Nadelberg, credit Rebecca Aranda

LC: So you have to be brave enough not just to expose yourself but also perform.
RW: We are looking for people who have kept journals or records of embarrassing stuff and are then prepared to share that stuff.
LC: But it is a curated show not just an open mic night?
RW: We work pretty hard to make sure that people will succeed. We wouldn’t put anyone on stage unless we felt that their piece was really stage worthy. We do a lot of work behind the scenes as the producers, going through people’s pieces with them, finding what is unique or interesting about that piece and then honing it to build a little story. We do everything we can to make sure that the audience are going to be interested, that there’ll be lots of laughs and that the performer will feel comfortable telling their story on stage.
 TMG Austin - Tyler Clarke - credit: Thomas Allison

LC: When you listen to some of the stories on the podcast, it is really striking how dramatic teenage life is!
RW: I think the more dramatic people’s writing the better the piece is. But also, it is a very dramatic time, you feel things very intensely. Actually I think we all feel stuff quite intensely inside, we just don’t always necessarily express it. As a teenager, you are feeling a lot of stuff for the first time, you’re just starting to experience relationships or sexual feelings, it’s all quite new and overwhelming. We tend to forget about that, just how consumed by our feelings we can be.
LC: Apart from really hilarious stories, what else did you discover when you listen to these confessions?
RW: What I like about it is I think a lot of the time one of the best ways to connect to someone is to admit your own vulnerability. I think that’s what people are doing with the stories that they are telling, they’re sharing their vulnerability and inviting you to laugh at them. I think there’s something really brave and wonderful about that. I laugh the hardest when I see myself in that person, which I often do. Even if people have quite different lives to me, you kind of recognise your own difficulty of coping with emotions or struggling to deal with life in a way that we find familiar. So it’s a chance to laugh at ourselves in the process.
 1978 Mortified Dublin, credit Lisa Coyle

LC: As a teenager you often feel like there is something wrong with you and sharing these confessions you find out there is something wrong with everyone. You can forgive yourself for being that weird kid.
RW: That is a good point. I think everyone was a bit weird. One of the most powerful things about someone talking in their own words or getting their own point of view across is that you get a chance to empathise with someone else and recognise similarities between you and another human being.
LC: If people wanted to get involved in the next shows is that still possible?
RW: If people want to volunteer their pieces we are always looking for people to get involved and participate. If we get a steady stream of people volunteering we can put on more regular shows. At the moment, we do about three or four London shows a year.
Mortified is at Leicester Square Theatre on 23 June and again on 20 October. Tickets are £15.

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