Adults Unlock Their Teen Diaries On Stage
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Let's take a trip back in time to the worst of all worlds - middle school. There's a lot to figure out at that age and the way many of us did it, particularly girls, was to start a diary to record the comic, tragic, dramatic occasionally inspiring events of our lives. A seven-year-old theater project, aptly titled "Get Mortified," has taken actual journal entries detailing teenage love, social mishaps and strange friendships and turned them into a stage performance.
Writer Sarah Wildman decided to revisit her eighth-grade journal, revisiting a time when she was, quote, �terrified and adventurous, shy and extroverted, teen and little girl.� And then she, for reasons we must hear about, decided to participate in a Washington, D.C. performance of "Get Mortified." She wrote about her experience in a piece in the Washington Post Magazine, which we consult just about every week for interesting stories about the way we live now. Her piece is called "Drama Tween," and Sarah Wildman joins us now to tell us more about it. Welcome.
SARAH WILDMAN (Writer, �Drama Tween�): Thank you.
MARTIN: What on earth made you want to do this?
Ms. WILDMAN: You know, I saw a show in D.C., in winter 2008. I was invited by a woman named Robin Katcher(ph), who is the sister of one of the lead producers. The producers are based in L.A. This project started in L.A., the two guys, Neil Katcher, Robin's brother, and Dave Nadelberg.
Dave Nadelberg had found a letter he'd written to a high school girlfriend he had never sent and he realized, talking to friends, that a lot of us have this stuff, the artifacts, as they call it, of our teenage years. And I went to the show and even as horrifying and humiliating and painful was it was, I thought it would be cathartic in some way.
MARTIN: Well, what was it like going back and seeing all those?
Ms. WILDMAN: It was anxiety-provoking. I mean, even the stuff - in sixth grade, a whole group of girls excluded me from a surprise party for my former best friend. And reading those entries, I remembered the whole thing.
MARTIN: Did you feel your face getting all hot?
Ms. WILDMAN: Oh, I went to bed and had nightmares. I did. I mean, I remembered that feeling of the, you know, the injustice of it and how everybody knew about the party but me. And I wrote the girl a note saying, even though I haven't been invited to your party, I still want to be friends. And all this is in the diary. And I say, she then takes my note and reads it aloud at the school to mock me. And reading over it, I can feel the anxiety rising in my chest again, you know.
MARTIN: You know what's funny, I didn't know you then, needless to say, and I'm feeling it. But again, why would you want to relive it?
Ms. WILDMAN: Well, the funny thing was, I didn't choose the story about the mean girls. What I went with was a somewhat funnier story about my first boyfriend.
MARTIN: Can you read it?
Ms. WILDMAN: Well, I do tell this long story about how two couples, me, this boy John(ph), and my best friend and her boyfriend, who happens to be his cousin, decide to make out in the basement of his parents' home. And we say we're going to play the game Pictionary.
Michael, John and I make a bee-line for the basement. The game lay on the floor, unopened. John and I got the couch first. The lights were out. All of a sudden Tom, John's older brother, comes downstairs. Guys, how do you play this game in the dark? I was so embarrassed. Michael goes up and explains the whole game to him. Finally, Tom leaves. We go back to making out. Then John's mom comes down. I was more embarrassed. Then John and I got the floor.
The tape was in the wrong deck, so it wouldn't flip itself over. Going to second is so weird. It's just, like, I don't know how to explain it. Does it give the guy a lot of pleasure? I will probably never ask. Then we all went upstairs for spaghetti.
MARTIN: Well, how did it feel to read that out loud?
Ms. WILDMAN: It actually was sort of triumphant. I mean, it's so stressful, the idea of transitioning out of little-girlhood into teenage years. And I say, I literally write: does anyone ever figure themselves out? And to me that's really poignant, but reading it out loud, people sort of cheered.
You know, I ask at one point in the diary, I said to him, the boy, who's 14, I say: Do you have a lot of experience? And he says, enough. And everybody laughs. So I don't realize that as I'm writing it, but with the group, we're all sort of commiserating and thinking back to that moment where we are presenting ourselves as who we're trying to sort of audition ourselves to be as adults.
MARTIN: Who comes to these things? Who comes to these plays?
Ms. WILDMAN: Well, they're - in San Francisco and Los Angeles, from what I understand, they're always sold out. And they're in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, D.C., New York and now overseas, also in Sweden, and I think the U.K. And it's a pretty broad cross-section of people, from - my crowd was - I would say this crowd was a little whiter than some in D.C., but it was broad. And I think it sort of depends on who's performing that night. It's pretty mixed, gay and straight, and there's a nice mix of ages, which is interesting.
MARTIN: What about the backgrounds, though, of the people involved? One the one hand, I kind of feel like I've seen this movie before. I mean, I feel like, you know, "Pretty in Pink," "The Breakfast Club," you know, that kind of thing, and on the one hand, I'm somewhat curious. Is it just - you just think because these are people who were safe enough to have a safe place to write their stuff down? Or what's the through-line of it?
Ms. WILDMAN: I sort of disagree. I mean, yes, I think the initial people who have been drawn to it are that "Pretty in Pink" type. I don't think that that's the only person this would appeal to. I think there's a universal idea here, which is that childhood is hard. People are lonely, even if they're popular. People are looking to be accepted. People are looking for love. And I think those things transcend whiteness and transcend that middle-class kind of bougie(ph), self-satisfied, you know, problems.
And - but you do feel ethnicities in it. What's interesting is I carved a lot of that out in my performance, but mine's very Jewish. I'm constantly talking about Jewish stuff. So I had a consciousness about Jewishness as a kid that I didn't realize that I had.
MARTIN: That's interesting. And finally, one of the things I was interested in your piece is that your diary was never meant to be read out loud. It was a conversation with yourself and it took place in a time before we had all these, you know, social networking, social media tools.
Ms. WILDMAN: Yeah.
MARTIN: And I'm just wondering if you think that this - in a way, these diaries capture a moment in time.
Ms. WILDMAN: No, I had that same thought: you know, is this the last generation that will have this privacy, this space for dwelling to really sort of push and think? Because it's not just about being publicly performative now, it's about editing ourselves constantly. And even if you're very publicly disclosive, even if you say, I'm alone today, I feel lonely, on Twitter, you have edited that sentence. You have said something and thought about it because you know it's being received by an audience. And I think that it doesn't allow full introspection in the same way.
So I do wonder if in 10 years this project can exist. I mean, I'd like to think that kids are still keeping private diaries, but we've become so used to a give and take between our audience and ourselves that I don't know if there's something less satisfying to kids now. And part of, I think, what the joy of this performance was and is, is that nostalgia for a time that was less disposable, less instant, less conscious. I think there's something really valuable in keeping thoughts to yourself.
MARTIN: Sarah Wildman is a writer, and her piece, "Drama Tween," appears in the Washington Post Magazine. If you'd like to hear more of Sarah reliving her teen drama, you can go to npr.org. Just click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE, and on our Web site, we'll have a link to her story in its entirety. Sarah, thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. WILDMAN: Thanks for having me.
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