Writing is generally a solitary experience. Whether you write at your kitchen table or in a bustling café, you are still alone with the words on the page. And while most writers intend for their work to be read, they are not often present when it is. In short, we don’t often get real time reactions to our work unless we hover over our readers’ shoulders. And that’s just, well…creepy.
Last year, I made the first big jump from the relative anonymity of the written (or web) page to a more public forum. Four times now, I have written and recorded personal essays for broadcast on public radio. But even in the studio, it’s just me and the sound engineer — an audience of one. While I’ve received a good deal of feedback post-broadcast, thus far I’ve listened to all airings alone and in the safety of my own home. I have yet to witness a “live” reaction.
So the next big step is a live reading. This both excites and terrifies me.
I love to attend live readings. Let me rephrase that: I love to attend good live readings. Or at least awesomely bad ones. Enter Mortified.
For the uninitiated, Mortified is a celebration of all things awkward teenager. At each event, several brave souls take the stage to read cringe-worthy poetry, song lyrics, love letters, and excerpts from their teenage diaries for the entertainment of the crowd. It is hilarious.
At the end of each Mortified show, the emcee puts out the call to anyone who may be interested in participating in a future show. A few drinks in and still wiping away the tears of laughter from my eyes, I always think: “Maybe I should do this. I have a ton of truly terrible teenager writing to pull from. Certainly, I could put together a good reading.”
And then I sober up.
In high school, my favorite subject was drama (literally and figuratively, ha ha). I both loved and feared taking the stage. During a performance, I went on automatic, and the play seemed to go by in an instant. If I’d stopped to think about what I was doing — essentially pretending to be someone else in front of my peers — I probably would have blacked out. But the post performance high was almost palpable. The adrenaline rush lasted all night, and I was immediately pumped for the next opportunity to get back on stage.
Of course, I was performing someone else’s play, someone else’s writing. At Mortified, I would perform my own writing. So there are two ways to bomb: in delivery and in substance. Then again, the beauty of Mortified is that the writing is supposed to be bad.
But what if my writing isn’t bad enough?
I’ve thought a lot about what I would read. For better or worse, I have a lot to choose from. As a preteen and teenager, I was a prolific writer: angsty poems, ranting hormonal diatribes in my journal, notes passed in class…oh and of course all of those mortifying stories about dating various members of Duran Duran.
A never-been-kissed 12-year-old girl’s take on sex and romance? My cheeks get hot just thinking about it. But counter-intuitive to all of my fight or flight instincts, I know that whatever makes me squirm the most is what will best entertain the crowd. And that’s what I’m there for, right? To play to the crowd? To get a reaction?
But to stand up on a stage in a roomful of buzzed people, spotlight on, hundreds of expectant faces peering up at me…