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Interview Tue Mar 20 2012

Mortified Nation Live Filming Tonight at Lincoln Hall

Mortified, famous for allowing adults to expunge their inner-child shame since 2002, is bringing the show to Chicago for the filming of their new documentary, Mortified Nation. Shay DeGrandis produces Mortified in Chicago.

Mortified Chicago Promo from Shay DeGrandis on Vimeo.

How did you get involved with Mortified?

After spreading to either side of the country with chapters in LA, San Francisco, Portland, Boston and NYC, the founder of Mortified, David Nadelberg, wanted a chapter in the middle -- Chicago being the perfect fit. Our first local producer, now co-producer, was Annette Ferrara, who had heard about Mortified through working at Flavorpill. They approached her to produce the show here in 2006 and, knowing that I have a fairly decent sense of humor and a good amount of bad poetry from my teen years, she asked me to co-produce with her. She also knew that I really enjoy talking to people and can generally make others feel at ease and open up once I start a conversation. It's an extremely important quality to have when sitting down with someone who is sharing some of the most intimate possessions they have -- their innermost thoughts, emotions, fears, crushes, heartbreaks, abuses, stories, angers, joys, strange ideas, and even stranger family lives -- to a complete stranger.

As a producer for the show, what do you look for when booking performers?

Material accepted runs the gamut from journals and diaries, school assignments, poetry, stories, letters, drawings, songs (with and without musical accompaniment), movies, plays, and musings of all sorts. We are looking for pieces that tell a story, give us a glimpse into the life of the reader as they were when they were young, as well as show us the shared experience we all have growing up. We also look for material that has a certain edge to it -- it's a little different, maybe makes the reader blush some and say things like "I cannot believe I would I ever do/write/say/make that. How incredibly odd and embarrassing," or "Who would ever have thought that was a good idea?" I find when I am meeting with people, they come to me with one thing thinking that's what's funny or humiliating only to find in the process of digging, they stumble unwittingly on the really poignant things in their journal that actually make them blush, shake their heads, and put their hands over their mouths.

Other than that, there are no particular prerequisites for being in Mortified. We will have an initial meeting with anyone who is willing to share. It doesn't matter one's race, ethnicity, religion, background or performance experience. All who come to us with their writings, etc. are welcome to begin the process by meeting with one of our producers. As for age, the only thing we really look for is a certain amount of distance from the material being shown, that is to say, we don't want something written by someone within the last few years. There has to be a critical distance and a certain amount of self-awareness to what you are presenting. That said we've had people as young as 22 reading things they wrote when they were 12 and people who are upwards in their 50s. We don't use material written anytime after a certain age -- we typically make the cut-off around 19, 20 or a freshman in college. Most importantly, we will only except material written by the original author -- we do not allow people to read letters, notes, stories that were written by others.

Mortified is unique in that a lot of the participants do not have a background in performance. What do you think is the appeal for non-performers to get involved?

Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone. When people come to see our shows they can really relate to the performers on a very human level. The audience often starts to think while they are watching, I have journals! I have diaries! I remember writing poems! What did I do with those? Where are they hiding? They start to recall all of the things that they made. I think that there is a certain lack of self-consciousness that allows children and teens to put whatever they are feeling down on paper in a way that happens less and less as most people get older. There is an extremely rich repository of materials from our youth which most of us don't consider as rich because it wasn't written with the intention of sharing it with others. Often the intimacy and privacy of the stories told can make them very powerful. And you don't have to be an actor or a writer or an artist or a performer to come up with this stuff. Most of us have it already available and it gives people this amazing opportunity to share in a way they may never have thought possible before.

Why are shows like Mortified important?

I think that they give an opportunity for people to share their lives with others, to make people laugh, even when they don't consider themselves performers or even creative people. I also think that it's an incredibly unique way of telling a story, personal redemption through public humiliation. We all have memories and stories that we tell ourselves over the years of how things went down in our lives, our own personal history memoirs. But when you do an archaeological dig through the stuff you wrote while you were actually experiencing these things, you often find that the memories and stories you've been telling yourself are quite different than how you lived them the first time. Going through one's life with one of our producers can sometimes be almost like a therapy session, but one that makes you really connect with yourself in a different way. It's cathartic. Revelations happen. Relationships mend. And sharing one's story to a group of perfect strangers can possibly make these things happen for those watching, too.

The documentary will feature some of the best performances from the past 10 years. Are there some favorites that we should watch for?

We've been doing Mortified in Chicago for 6 years, 10 years nation-wide. Honestly, all of the people that I have had the pleasure of working with in Chicago who were picked for this particular project have incredible stories to tell. But the beauty is that they are only the very tip of the iceberg, I only wish that we could share even more in the film. That's what is so great about making it out to the live performances -- all of the pieces are so varied, they change every time, and the people who share them are so incredibly brave. It is tremendously powerful to experience the plethora of personalities while they share their stories, sitting in audience full of just that many more possible stories around you.

With the documentary being filmed and regular shows popping up in major cities across the country, it seems like Mortified is picking up speed and gaining some notoriety. What's next for Mortified?

I can't speak for everyone on this project, but I hope that getting this film out into the world will allow for these types of shows to go up in all kinds of cities for all walks of life and people, not just those of us in the major cities.


Mortified holds a special edition of its show about embarrassing stories at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., tonight at 8pm. The show will be filmed for a documentary about the reading series, and Blue Ribbon Glee Club will perform. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. For more information about Mortified, or to participate, visit the website.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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