“Dear Diary, please don’t get up on a stage and read this 15 years from now.”
Such words are not likely to appear that often, but perhaps they should. On Nov. 6, the Charlotte Street Arts Centre will host an evening of grownups publically sharing some of their most embarrassing, honest and vulnerable childhood writing to an eager, receptive audience.
Grownups Read Things They Read as Kids is a live storytelling event where local adults share their past creations—whether they’re journal entries, poems, book reports or love letters.
The show was born when co-creators Dan and Jenna Misener found some of their teenage writing in a basement. After realizing many people likely had access to similar work, they invited a group of friends to a cafe in Toronto to share their funniest examples. A regular live show soon followed, which eventually morphed into a CBC radio show.
Nearly a decade later, GRTTWaK is still growing strong and touring cities all across Canada. Each show is recorded and condensed into an episode of their independent podcast, which is also very popular. Part of the idea’s success, according to Dan, is due to the content’s relatability.
“A big part of it is the universality of the material,” Misener explained. “My favourite readings are the ones that highlight the timelessness of these experiences…There are universal themes that crop up again and again: unrequited love, teen angst, childhood imagination.
“Whenever you grew up—wherever you grew up—these are things everyone went through. We were all more alike than we were different, and sometimes you can only really realize that in retrospect; there’s something to hearing someone else’s story about growing up and hearing yourself in it.”
Despite the universality, Misener believes touring is thrilling because it lets him experience each city’s particularities.
“Where we really hear the local flavour come out is in the specifics,” Misener said, with readers often making references to long-gone restaurants, torn-down businesses and forgotten hang-out spots—all of which give audience members the opportunity to experience their city in a deep, sincere and nostalgic way.
Another part of the appeal is the sheer unpredictability of each performance.
“We’ve been doing live events for more than a decade, but I am just consistently surprised and delighted by the material that people dig up and have the courage to share,” said Misener.
To elaborate on this, Misener cited a recent show where a woman in her 90s read a transcript of a recording she had sent to her father, then serving in World War II. Hearing the woman read the transcript in the present, then immediately playing the original recording, allowed for a powerful reflection about the life she led in-between.
Sometimes the readings are humorous; sometimes, they’re bittersweet—but above all, what Misener hopes his show is able to do is promote empathy.
“We all have secret lives and public lives. So often, we don’t have access into others’ public lives. And I think gaining access—just a small window—into someone else’s personal life can be a way to better understand that person and who they are today,” said Misener. “It gives a glimpse into someone who is different from you—a different age, a different race, a different gender—yet it allows you to connect with the elements that are the same.”
Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids will take place at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre on Nov. 6 at 8:00 p.m.
Photos by Jenna Misener.