THE ARCHEOLOGY OF ANGST
MORTIFIED BY DAVID NADELBERG
Imagine you’re rummaging through an old cardboard box salvaged from the storage shelf in your parent’s garage, and you stumble upon a forgotten cache of essays, song lyrics, love letters, and diary entries from your clumsy adolescent past. What would you do with the painfully naïve, angst-ridden ramblings of your pubescent self? Would you burn them, tear them up, or bury them in an unmarked grave?
Better yet, send them to David Nadelberg, creator of the popular stage phenomenon and recently released book, Mortified: Real Words, Real People, Real Pathetic. He has made a successful career out of publishing and sharing priceless, unearthed juvenile artifacts of prose and wisdom, poetry and advice.
Recently, I spoke with Nadelberg who told me, “I am a professional, frustrated writer. A few years ago, I discovered an unsent love letter by my 15-year-old self, who was—just then—developing skills on how to be a frustrated writer. It was written to a girl who didn’t even know I existed. It was a window into a kid who was trying way too hard to sell himself. Now I’ve invited all sorts of other frustrated writers to share their own childhood essays, letters, lyrics, and journals that were written somewhere between when they were six and 20. It’s material that showcases that awkward adolescent stage.”
Originally from Michigan, Nadelberg arrived in Los Angeles after college and set his sights on writing and producing. He said that the first Mortified show was intended as a one-time event. That was four years ago, and now it plays to sold-out audiences in five cities. “It’s truly a grassroots project,” he said.
Mortified, the stage performance, relies upon original submissions that are chosen, edited, and produced by Nadelberg and his colleagues. According to the staff, the chosen artists are able to experience “personal redemption through public humiliation.”
Finding that first adolescent archival love letter was an epiphany for Nadelberg. “I just knew there was something about it. I’m not a performer by any stretch, but I had this feeling that I could get on stage and make people laugh. I thought: Now this I can do. Read that letter in front of total strangers. If I can do that, I bet I can get others who are just as shameless with embarrassing evidence of their youth.”
The recently published book is a logical consequence of the show that threatens to expand to Europe. Many of the submissions are from the participants of the Mortified stage performance. They cry-out to be read aloud. Banal teenage emotion reverberates from the page of an unsent love letter, “Do you remember this place? Do you remember the touch of synthetic fabric?” Krista Lanphear, casting producer of Mortified LA, contributed a poignant, albeit awkward, tribute to the Space Shuttle astronauts lamenting, “The Shuttle went up, but it didn’t come down.” The melodramatic, hyperanalytical teenager attending Christian summer camp contemplates, “If it was illegal to be a Christian, would I be convicted by my actions?” And, in a moment of sublime childhood identification, the brief tirade of a bullied 11-year-old victim is hysterically revealed in “I Hate Drake.” The unforgettable scène is immortalized on YouTube and the Mortified website.
Nadelberg said, “Our motto is ‘laugh-at, cheer-for.’ We don’t want to be doing some snarky, smug exercise in narcissism and humiliation.” Instead, the mood of Mortified is more cathartic than confining, more liberating than libelous. He says they wanted to give the project an “empowering spin” that made it a lot more fun than simply laughing at childish ramblings or jeering at teenage angst.
Mortified is ungainly innocent and awkwardly charming with a bite of reality. It’s a voyeuristic glance at our juvenile past and an opportunity to reconnect with the clumsy child we have conveniently forgotten and anxiously hoped no one would remember.
For submissions or more information, visit the Mortified website at: www.GetMoritified.com.