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Mortified puts the spotlight on your horribly embarrassing past

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DEAR DIARY Amanda Janik, seen here in a 2015 performance, never expected her teen angst to become entertainment. - SUZANNE KARP
  • Suzanne Karp
  • DEAR DIARY Amanda Janik, seen here in a 2015 performance, never expected her teen angst to become entertainment.

Amanda Janik was first mortified in 2011. That's when she started performing on stages in San Francisco and Oakland, reading from her teenage diaries and reciting angst-ridden poetry as part of the international storytelling event Mortified.

Now Janik, a social media manager and event producer living in Santa Rosa, is bringing Mortified to Sonoma County for an evening of funny and poignant stories and songs on April 30 at Annie O's Music Hall in downtown Santa Rosa.

For the uninitiated, Mortified is a long-running show that hits stages in major cities around the world, including New York, Paris, Austin and Los Angeles. The acclaimed event showcases regular folks reading from their actual teenage writings—hyperbolic drama, intimate secrets and all. A regular segment on This American Life, and now a weekly podcast, Mortified is beloved for offering entertainment that everyone can cringe along with.

Janik describes the experience of sharing her personal past with a roomful of strangers as cathartic and liberating. She knew right away that she wanted to stage the show in Sonoma County.

"In this area, there's a lot of art happening, music, performances," she says. "But I think people really want more, and they don't have anything like Mortified up here."

Though it took time for the head organizers to agree to bring the event to Sonoma County, Mortified made a pilot-program appearance at Christy's on the Square in Santa Rosa early last year. The event sold out quickly. "The audience just loved it, and we got a lot of great feedback," Janik says.

With that success, Janik got the green light to begin working on organizing an official Sonoma County chapter of Mortified from the event's top producers, based in Los Angeles. This weekend, Janik unveils the first official show of the new Sonoma County incarnation, and she looks forward to watching it grow locally.

"I'm a very enthusiastic lover of Mortified," she says. "It's nice to look back at that older version of yourself. Like they say, it's part therapy. I think it's true."

While it can be initially embarrassing to revisit teenage angst, Janik explains that once the performers get past that nerve-wracking vulnerability, and once they hear the audience laughing (and commiserating) along with them, there's an element of self-forgiveness that comes with sharing the stories.

For the audience, the experience can be similarly cleansing. "When I started going and stood in the audience, I would hear things that I could completely identify with," Janik says. "Hearing these things sort of validated me, knowing I wasn't the only one who felt or acted or dressed this way, whatever the case may be."

Even when Janik couldn't directly relate to the performers, she always admired the courage it took to share a part of themselves. "I think, as an audience member, it's really rewarding to share in that embarrassment and also support the person up onstage," she says. "You feel gratitude for them, but you also feel protective. You want them to win."

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