Growing up, I wanted to be an actress. I never considered myself shy or timid. I saw myself on stage. In 8th grade my twin sister and I were even voted “Most Likely to be on Broadway.”
Fast forward several years, and though I can sing karaoke with the best of them (after a couple vodka cranberries), I am no longer the next Bernadette Peters or Meryl Streep. I am cheerful and outgoing around many, but the thought of public speaking terrifies me. In high school and most of college, I was in constant fear of being called on because I would turn bright red and sweaty, and everyone must’ve assumed something was terribly wrong with me. It was a horrible feeling, and it certainly didn’t help when a friend or adult pointed it out, either. In 10th grade a teacher called on me and said, “Now don’t go turning all red on me.” SURE THING!
Starting at age eight, and all throughout my youth, adolescence, and even adult life, I kept a diary. I wrote about celebrity crushes, current events like the O.J. Simpson trial, boys who didn’t like me, etc. When I heard about the Mortified stage show and books, I could SO identify.
Mortified, founded by David Nadelberg of Michigan, is a stage show where people read their actual angsty, entertaining, mortifying adolescent artifacts in front of hundreds of people. The Mortified stage show was followed up by books, a documentary, series, and a podcast. A fun Mortified Guided Journal is even coming out soon.
In May of 2016, Mortified came to Detroit for the first time. I was so excited to sit in the crowd and watch the brave performers from Detroit read their diaries and letters at the Rust Belt Market in Ferndale. To my delight, David Nadelberg opened up the debut event and read from his teenage letter to a girl that started the whole Mortified idea.
I absolutely loved the show and couldn’t get over how brave the people up there were. I was nervous FOR them. They were reading their personal diaries to so many people and they did so perfectly.
After the show, I patiently waited and met David, even asking him to sign my old diary with the kitten on the front. He said he couldn’t sign such a sacred thing, so he signed my program. He told me I should submit my stuff for a Mortified show. I shook my head and replied, “Oh god, I’d be too terrified.” I was red and sweaty just talking to him. I was not meant for the stage.
When I got home, I brought out all of my old diaries and letters.
‘Damn, this stuff is so Mortified-
worthy,’ I thought to myself, but I
figured I could never get past my
fear of reading in front of others.
It made me sad to think that I would avoid Mortified because of this, so I decided to go to the submission part of their website and submit a few lines of my stuff. I figured there was no way I’d be contacted, but I still let out an “EEK” and closed my eyes as I pressed the send button.
About a month later, I got an email from the Mortified: Detroit producer, Lesa. She said she wanted me to share my best stuff with her at a production meeting to see if I would be a good choice to read at the fall Mortified show. My stomach dropped and I turned red and sweaty (there I went again!). I didn’t tell anyone about the email, and as painful as it was, I ignored it.
Another month later Lesa emailed me again to make sure I got her first email, and to see if I was still interested in participating in Mortified. I didn’t want to leave her hanging, so I wrote her back and explained that although Mortified was my dream, the prospect of reading in front of that many people terrified me. Lesa wrote a kind email back saying it would be a very casual meeting, and the team could help me work through my nerves.
I agreed to meet with Lesa and the story producer, Rebecca, last August. I spent the next month or so flagging my best diary entries and fighting back feelings of diarrhea any time I even thought of performing at Mortified.
I met the ladies at Lesa’s studio and stammered through several of my entries. They typed some information into their laptops, asked me some questions about myself, and wanted to know just how nervous I was to read in front of a crowd.
“Now how nervous are you? Like you need a drink before, or you’ll throw up?”
I said I didn’t think I would barf up there (though I wasn’t very confident in that statement), but I’d need a drink or five on show day if this thing was happening.
They told me the next step was for me to transcribe everything.
I spent several hours at Starbucks typing everything from those diaries and my three-page-long letter to Taylor Hanson into one document. This seems like a taxing task, but I was very excited and had a lot of fun digging through my writing. Twenty-one pages later, I was ready to send the transcript.
A couple weeks passed and I was at Trader Joe’s when I received an email from Rebecca stating that I was one of six who would be performing at the fall “Angstgiving Show.”
“I’m really looking forward to
mortifying you all soon!” she wrote.
I squealed and jumped up and down, and couldn’t stop smiling after hearing the news. But the more I thought about it, the more I could not picture myself on stage, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
I spent hours googling how to get over stage fright, and how to not shake when you’re nervous, and how to not pass out when you’re in front of lots of people. I very seriously inquired about getting a Xanax prescription. Comedian John Mulaney tells a story in his act about how all he had to do was tell his doctor he gets nervous on airplanes sometimes so he could get a prescription for Xanax. I practiced how I would ask my doctor for a prescription by repeating that I got nervous on airplanes sometimes, and may I have some Xanax please. I had never taken anything like that before, but like I said, I was beyond terrified.
The possibilities on show night were:
1) I would throw up. Though I had never thrown up from nerves, I figured there was a first time for everything, and what better time to blow chunks than in front of hundreds of strangers.
2) I would pee my pants. The last time I peed my pants was when I was seven and I was outside at my aunt and uncle’s locked house. I waved for my grandma to please open the door so I could come inside and use the bathroom, but she thought I was just regular waving. She couldn’t differentiate between my “Hi Grandma!” wave and my “I’M ABOUT TO HAVE AN ACCIDENT AND PLEASE GOD LET ME INSIDE” wave. I did not feel like reliving a moment like that, especially at 31 years old.
3) I would sweat uncontrollably. This was pretty much 100% going to happen, and I envisioned myself with a big sweaty V on the front of my shirt and giant pit stains. There was no solution for this, and I figured if I wore a dark shirt it wouldn’t be as noticeable. I could live with this.
4) I would faint. This one seemed the most possible. I asked for a friend’s advice, and he made me feel SO much better when he said, “It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if you fainted. It’d actually be kind of cool and endearing, being that mortified at a Mortified show!” Hmm, no. It would not be cool and endearing.
Mortified is a produced show, and the amazing story producer, Rebecca, worked tirelessly to pick out the very best parts of our writings to center on a theme. My script was edited to focus on my celebrity crushes, my young interest in current events (like John Candy’s death—you know, typical things eight year-olds worry about like that), and I would be reading the letter I wrote to Taylor Hanson when I was 12 that I never put in the mail.
Taylor, in case you’re reading this, I
still love you.
Incredibly, the closer the date got, my excitement began to override my nerves. This was my dream. I was going to read at a Mortified show. David Nadelberg was even kind enough to give me a pep talk before the show. I could not wait.
November 26 was show day, and at 8:00 pm I would be on that stage, reading my most personal, weird, hilarious childhood thoughts. I spent the day going over my script again, but making sure not to go over it too much. We performers were reminded that we’re actually NOT performers. We’re human, and humans are allowed to be nervous and can stutter and shake up there. That made me feel much better.
When I arrived at the Rust Belt, I was directed to the green room (or the place behind the bar with a couple large refrigerators and several hanging aprons). I set down my coat, admired the spread of La Croix and Chex Mix, and grabbed a program.
Rachel Black (diary, letters)
There was my name, in bold, listed first on the front of the Mortified: Detroit program. I would be reading first, as the producers said mine was really funny and it would get the audience excited for the rest of the show. It felt beyond cool to see my name there, and I couldn’t hide how special I felt.
The place started to fill up. It was a sold-out show and approximately 300 people would be in the audience. My parents and many friends came, but the rest were complete strangers.
The time came. The MC, Nicole, got the crowd pumped for the show, and soon it was my turn to open. I waited at the side of the stage, not knowing what would
happen when I finally got up there.
Then something strange happened. The second I got on the stage, I didn’t faint, or throw up, or pee my pants. I bravely wore a Kelly-green shirt (my color) and didn’t even sweat through it. I read my diaries and letter with few mistakes, I paused when the audience laughed as I was instructed, I had fun, I smiled, I frickin’ DID IT.
The crowd was so kind and eager to laugh. They made me feel really great, and I could tell they genuinely enjoyed what I read. I had never felt so good.
I exited the stage to Hanson’s “MMMBop” playing and lots of cheers and clapping. Rebecca and a couple others from the Mortified team hugged me and told me how well I did. I: sweaty, red, nervous Rachel, actually got on stage in front of hundreds of people, and my Mortified dreams came true.
That was the coolest experience I’ve ever had. If it weren’t for the amazing people at Mortified, I never would’ve done it.
There are a few lessons to be learned and insight to be gained from my story:
- Don’t pass up on something you know you’ll regret passing up on. The opportunity may never present itself again.
- Suede boots slouch, and you won’t like how they look in pictures of yourself on stage.
- Moscow Mules are good drinks for pre-show-jitters. Two of them are all you need.
- You’re more confident than you think.
- You’re more capable than you think.
- You got this.