Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids brings local stories to the Charlotte Street Arts Centre stage, November 6.
Dan Misener’s interest in embarrassing childhood stories goes back over ten years now. Back to when his wife came across an old diary while the two were visiting family in Kingston, Ontario. After spending the evening reading excerpts to each other, Misener tracked down some of his own childhood ramblings and the two made an event out of it. They booked space at a Toronto café, invited some friends and as they say, the rest is history.
Since 2006 they’ve been getting together with folks across the country to share stories, writings and ramblings from their youth. The idea was developed into a 10 part CBC series in 2013 and exists today as an independent tour and podcast.
“We continue to be amazed at all the stuff people are able to dig up, and I’m always impressed by the range of things people excavate from their childhood and teenage years,” said Misener. “Not only do we get a wide variety for formats – diary entires, poetry, screenplays, lists, letters — but we also hear a pretty broad tonal range. A lot of this material is awkward and embarrassing, but it can also be heartwarming, deeply sad, and incredibly moving.”
Outside of the obvious fascination we all share in hearing embarrassing stories about others, Misener believes the strength and longevity of Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids has a lot to do with the variety of material people are willing to share. While the laughs are plentiful, the honesty presented on stage is what truly unites audiences night after night.
“I think part of the appeal of Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids is how it creates a safe space to show your true self,” he said. “It’s important to understand that a lot of what people share on our stage was never intended to be shared publicly. Much of it was private, or even secret, written without an audience in mind. Making private writing public takes courage, and our audiences reward that courage. Often the gap between private/public and then/now creates an intimacy and authenticity that’s hard to find in other forms of storytelling.
“Growing up, it’s easy to feel like a weirdo, or an outsider, or to feel like you don’t belong,” said Misener. “Our goal is to help people realize that we all felt that way, and we’re all a lot more alike than we might have thought. Sometimes it’s easier to realize that in retrospect.”
Misener and his wife organize between 25 and 30 Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids performances across Canada each year. A typical performance includes anywhere from 15 to 20 participants, from the cities they visit. There is no touring cast so each show offers an interesting look into the people in our own communities, sometimes with surprising results.
“Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids is an open-mic, but readers have to sign up in advance if they want to participate,” said Misener. “We always know the basics of what people will share, but not all the details.
“That’s led to a number of surprises. Like the time in Toronto when a woman read about a teenage romance, and it turned out that her ex’s current girlfriend was in the audience. Or the time in Halifax when a guy’s coming out story turned into a murder mystery.”