Nothing says “drama” quite like the diary of a teenager or, at least, that is what Bishop’s University theatre students Patrick Grogan and Chris Bowe are hoping for. For the past several weeks the two students have been putting out a call for people in the university community to go into the dark corners of their closets and dusty boxes in their attics to find the journals, school projects, and general treasures of childhood for a one-night night of public reading in the style of the nation-wide phenomenon “Mortified.”
What “Mortified” is can be explained well by simply reading the name of its Canadian equivalent: “Grown-ups read things they wrote as kids.” Explaining why the two projects exist, however, is a little bit more of a challenge. The Mortified website describes people willingness to share childhood and teen writing on stage as “a healthy cocktail of curiosity, catharsis, self-deprecation, cajones and a desire to connect with a room full of strangers,” but Grogan and Bowe put it a little differently.
“It’s creating a story without realizing that you had a story to begin with,” Grogan offered. “It’s not something you typically read, and it’s not something you ever wanted to read when you were a kid, but looking back at it is different.”
“It’s always interesting to go back to that place where you lived at home and your parents and your school was the entire world and nothing else existed outside of that,” Bowe added, framing the experience in a kind of morbid curiousity. “We’re all still cringing over the things we said when we were younger.”
Bishop’s “Mortified” event is inspired by but not affiliated with the project of the same name south of the border. The two drama students organizing this week’s reading explained that a mutual friend had wanted for some time to organize such a gathering, but never pulled it off prior to graduating.
“She thought it would be a great idea to have students read their diaries during happy hour at the Gait or something like that,” Grogan said “then I was talking to Chris and we thought that we could bring it to orientation week and it would be great way to have the Drama Department have an input in the week itself.”
Both Bowe and Grogan said that they are surprised at how often even upper level students don’t seem to know where the theatre is on campus. The “Mortified” event, in their minds, provides a perfect opportunity to get new students in touch with the school’s performance space from their first week on the campus. Trying to feed off of that, they have planned the reading to take place the night before the open auditions for the annual New Plays theatre festival.
“This gives people the chance to come in, see the theatre, smell it, maybe get up on stage, maybe not get up on stage and regret it, then give them a chance to do it again the next day,” Bowe said. “We want to crack the drama department open and pour all these other people in.”
Although the Mortified activity is being framed within the context of the University’s Orientation week, the organizers told the Record that, in the name of outreach, they welcome participation from alumni, staff, and the greater Lennoxville community. A number of pre-submitted, vetted readings will start out the night before the project offers an open call to audience members to share from their own personal writings.
“A show can be a hit or a miss, and so can this; we’re going in with no expectations,” Grogan said. “It’s going to be very laid back. We don’t want (the audience) to feel pressure. We’re not forcing anyone to go up.”
Reflecting further on the motivation behind sharing journal entries or old school assignments publically, Grogan returned to his experience working with guest director Michael Kennard during this year’s Spring Musical. The drama student said that the core lesson of that experience was “to go where the fear is,” and seize on the significance of what makes one afraid.
“It’s about not filtering,” Grogan said. “Anyone can act so long as you put yourself out there. There can be comedy or tragedy in places you don’t expect.”
Both organizers expressed regret at having destroyed their own childhood journals.
“I got rid of all my journals. I knew my mom had read them and I couldn’t deal with that so I just threw them all out” Bowe said. “I wish I could go back and see who I was trying to be, or what I was going through.”
“I didn’t necessarily keep a journal as much as I kept ten, page-to-page filled doodle books; they were just filled with imaginary characters going through their own adventures,” Grogan said. “I, unfortunately, ripped my pages out because I didn’t want anyone to find them.”
Calling up the Mortified slogan of “share the shame,” Grogan called the reading an exercise in solidarity and communal acceptance. Whereas people’s teen years are often a time of rejection and high stress, the organizer presented the public reading as a way of seeing how the melodrama of youth is not an isolated, individual experience, but something everyone goes through in their own, often hilarious way. By revisiting the past in a safe, non-judgemental environment, people are free to see themselves and their experiences in a new light.
“No one’s laughing at you because you’re laughing at yourself as well. We’re laughing with you now,” Grogan said, “Plus, you write as if you’re talking to an audience anyway; you’re using your journal as another person, so you’re basically setting yourself up to read it in front of a microphone.”
“Mortified” is set to take place at the Turner Studio Theatre on Bishop’s University’s campus from 9pm to 12am on Thursday, September 3.