Photo by Anya Garrett (From left, Guilia Rozzi & Margot Leitman)
As a creative writing teacher, I’ve noticed some of my students self-censure their work into nonexistence, an approach I discourage. I tell them, only once you’ve unselfconsciously unloaded your thoughts onto the page should you call in your mental editor. I’m on the other end of the spectrum. A former teacher once advised me to “write everything. What else are you saving it for?” Insightful advice which I happily take, pajama-clad and typing in my dining room with only the dog as my witness. However, when my work finds a home online or in print I’m inevitably caught off guard. My uncensored words now public fodder, I’m suddenly accountable for something it seems like someone else wrote.
Back in college I wrote and directed a show called “Girl On Girl Action: An Evening of Theoretical Theory” which is the single stupidest name anything has ever had EVER. In fact, I just had to google it to make sure that was really what I called it. Theoretical Theory? How about Redundant Redundancy? What can I say; I was a women’s studies major…who apparently couldn’t speak English. So, I wrote this show, and performed it and later was recognized by a Big Lesbian On Campus who asked me to take part in this super sexual play she had created. And I sort of blushed and stammered and said I wasn’t sure I was comfortable. Her response? “Oh, c’mon. I saw your show. I know what you’re like.”
But she didn’t. She knew what I wrote, not who I am. I don’t think of my writing as particularly sexual, but then I don’t think of myself as bipedal or American either, still all that I am informs my writing, whether I notice or not. Writing about sexuality isn’t the only way to make oneself vulnerable, of course, however writer/performers willing to make public sexual musings seem brazen and brave.
This week Our Town is highlighting two different live readings: Stripped Stories, an East Coast phenomenon, and The Sunday Night Sex Show, conceived right here in Chicago. Stripped Stories, a hit NYC sex-themed monthly storytelling show has been playing to sold-out audiences since 2007. Guests have included award winning comedians as well as regular folks who have never set foot in front of an audience.
When I spoke with SS hosts Giulia Rozzi and Margot Leitman, I was curious to know how they handle the emotional ramifications of putting personal work onstage. For Rozzi there’s little conflict. “I'm an extremely open person,” she says. “On and off stage. If anything, I find it cathartic to spill my guts in front of people.” Leitman seemed slightly more cautious saying, “I will never perform something I am still broken up about or in the middle of; I don't use the stage as therapy. I would never subject an audience to some story I just "really need to get off my chest." I only work with material where there is humor in the pain because [of] distance.”
I also wondered about persona; perhaps Rozzi and Leitman protect themselves by cultivating larger than life characters. “I'm not really different offstage,” counters Rozzi. “Me onstage is just me but with a time-limit.” Leitman concurs: “The only difference is that I am a little bigger on stage...more larger than life. Beyond that, I stick to being myself.”
After hearing how unfazed Rozzi and Leitman seem, I felt strangely comforted when I found that neither performer’s parents have seen their show. “I wouldn't want to hear my parents tell stories about their love/sex lives and I assume they feel the same way about mine,” says Leitman. “My dad is terrified to come see me do any comedy,” says Rozzi “I think he'd punch someone if I got heckled.”
As for what to expect from SS’s upcoming Chicago performance, Leitman predicts “brutally honest personal stories that will make you pee in your pants from laughing and maybe get a little choked up too.” Adds Rozzi, “people who look sweet and innocent end up having the wildest stories. I love that!”
But what about Chicago darling The Sunday Night Sex Show? “[It’s] sort of like Penthouse Forum,” creator Robyn Pennacchia says, “but intentionally funny.” Pennacchia, the event’s longtime host has recently joined forces with former Chicago Crush of the Month, blogger Samantha Irby to MC the event. Another ostensibly fearless writer, Irby uses her popular blog Bitches Gotta Eat to discuss everything from that one dude she peed on to living with Crohn’s Disease.
In fact, I’m so enamored with Irby that I’ve asked her to guest blog about TSNSS later this week. This will enable me to 1.) Showcase a comic genius (that would be you, Samantha), and 2.) Finalize edits on my novel, just another thing I threw “everything” into without considering the ramifications. At least I came up with a catchy title this time.
Stripped Stories hits Zanies, Chicago Monday August 29th. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. Purchase tickets here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Counter Point Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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