Tyler Gillespie embraces his awkwardness, but it wasn’t always that way.
“In my Florida middle school, the tanner you were, the more popular,” he says. “I’m the palest Floridian you will ever meet, so I got this great idea to use self-tanner, except, I did it in shameful secrecy and no one told me I needed to use gloves. Later that week, the most popular guy in middle school told me that it looked like I had “crapped on my hands.” I remember caring so much I was basically speechless.”
Inspired to help people feel connected rather than isolated by their awkwardness, Gillespie and Claire Meyer created "That Awkward Phase," a Tumblr and stage show. They spoke with Our Town about their project.
Our Town What was the inspiration behind "That Awkward Phase?"
Tyler Gillespie We started the Tumblr as an entry for Chronicle Books “Great Tumblr Book Search.”
Claire Meyer Tyler and I knew that we wanted to do something positive. It’s too easy for comedy to turn cynical—we weren’t going to let that happen with this project. Tyler and I are both wonderfully weird and awkward in our own right. Neither one of us hide from it though—we celebrate it. So why not create a project around that idea?
OT How did TAP move from tumbler to stage event?
TG When we were having our consultation with Tumblr (part of the prize for being runner-up) they suggested we do a story-telling night to generate more submissions. Being performers, Claire and I had already played around with the idea, but having Tumblr’s support really made us go full force.
CM I have a photo of Tyler and I right after we hung up the phone with Rachel. It’s pure shock and emotion.
OT What’s the next step with Chronicle Books?
TG The press was super cool and told us they were interested in possibly developing our Tumblr into a book, if we were able to get more submissions like Claire’s post. We’ve received a ton of great submissions and hopefully we will be able to continue developing the project. A few weeks ago, I scanned someone’s high school journal entries. She just gave me her whole journal and said “scan whatever you want, it’s all basically Pretty Ricky fanfiction, but I just want to be a part of it.” We had a moment and it wasn’t awkward at all.
OT You’ve already produced one TAP event. What was that experience like?
CM It felt like a welcome home party for everyone there. Within two hours there was really a sense of community in that room. People were being so open and real on stage that it allowed the audience to do that as well. I had friends and strangers tell me that during the show they had memories spark that they hadn’t thought of in years—even decades. I couldn’t be more proud of that.
OT How do you go about attracting participants?
TG We think about people or friends that we’ve seen perform and who inspire us.
CMSome of them were friends, some of them we met through or Tumblr and some of them were our talent crushes. By the end of the night they all became my latest talent crushes though.
TG We also want to have people in the show who have already submitted to our Tumblr. And for me, it could just be about someone I’ve seen or heard of but don’t personally know – I had never talked to Tim Jones-Yelvington or Shaun Sperling but I sent them each a FaceBook message. They were both great and I feel so good about working with them.
OT You also pull from the audience, how does that work?
CM It was actually Tyler’s idea to bring up an audience member. One thing I’ve learned through this project is not only to trust my gut—but to trust Tyler’s as well.
TG We passed around one of those pointy-cone party hats with pens and slips of paper. Anyone in the audience can sign up and our thought is that we want everyone to take the stage. The crowd that night was so great and supportive. We didn’t know if anyone was going to put their name down but 12 did.
OT What’s your most awkward moment?
CM In 8th grade I was a Hot Topic-loving skater. I spent most of my time listening to Avril Lavigne and wearing shirts from bands I had never even heard. My skater friend asked me out over MSN Messenger. I replied yes and then decided to take it one step further and type “I love you”—he immediately signed off. Three days later my first relationship was over.
OT What did you learn from it?
CM I’ve stopped telling people I love them the first day we start dating.
Check out That Awkward Phase here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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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