29 10 / 2013

ATTN: All alienz and vampires and princesses and the like — The Awkward Phase is having a costume contest! We’ll be taking submissions up to Nov. 7th b/c why not

We want your old Halloween photos and stories! Please send them in to myawkwardphaze@gmail.com. We promise to love them and not judge them. The winner will receive a hand drawn illustration of you in your costume!!!

And at-least three pieces of candy corn (floss, optional). 

SpooooooooOOooooky!

13 9 / 2013

When I was a child, I loved country music. I didn’t just LOVE country music; I was collect-country-music-trading- cards, record-every-country-music-awards-show (both on VHS and cassette), write-weekly-letters-to-country-stars in love with country music.

From the get-go, my parents had a microphone in my hands, and they had me performing Randy Travis’ “Diggin’ Up Bones” and George Strait’s “All my Exs Live in Texas” in our living room. We have VHS tapes of me at age four singing these songs with the conviction and bitterness of a middle-aged divorcee. While I sang about negligee and ex-wives, I didn’t understand the content, but I understood the rhythm, and I understood that a story was being told. And I was in love.

By the time I got to fourth grade, I narrowed my sights and focused my passion into one singer in particular: Reba McEntire. I spent my days in rural Iowa listening to her songs on my Walkman while mowing our 20 acres of lawn. I would belt out above the sound of the mower the lyrics to “Fancy” and “That’s the Night that the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” I read about her in my Country Weekly magazines (which were tenderly cared for and alphabetized on my bedroom bookshelf). I read her autobiography. I prudently studied her biographies. At one point I could tell you every.single.detail about her life. Husband’s name? Narvel. Birthdate? March 28, 1955. Middle name? Nell.  

With my handwriting skills excelling by fourth grade, my letter writing efforts to Reba ensued. I would even go so far as to make my mother take pictures of me holding my father’s guitar, which I did not know how to play, and sending them to Reba so that she could see that I had what it took to be a star just like her. How many letters I sent her, I don’t know. What I told her in these letters, I can’t remember. But I wrote and wrote with hopes that she would, just once, write me back and acknowledge my love for her and invite me to visit her in Nashville.

The summer after fourth grade, my parents made a dream realized. They packed me up in our burgundy Cutlass Sierra and drove me on a blistering August day to see Reba McEntire in concert at the Iowa State Fair. I was confident that I was going to meet her. Why wouldn’t I? I was clearly her biggest fan. In preparation for our meeting, I packed my yellow backpack with the following items: my Reba music video VHS tape, my Reba books, my Reba cassettes, my Reba CALENDAR, my Reba t-shirts and, of course, a Sharpie so that she could sign every last one of my Reba memorabilia. After the show I stood around with my ever-so patient parents, waiting for her to emerge and meet me. She never came.

I remember that walk back to the car like it was yesterday. My head was hung low and tears bit at my eyes as I trudged my backpack full of unsigned Reba McEntire merchandise to the trunk. While I was so thankful to have seen her singing in the flesh, my nine year-old heart was broken. I had been so close to her, yet I was still so, so far.

That next fall when I entered fifth grade, my parents open-enrolled me into a bigger school where I would have the opportunity to learn how to type on a computer and meet more friends. Not knowing a soul at this new school, which was five times the size of my previous school, I knew I had to dress to impress. I carefully selected my outfit for that first day: my hot pink, cut-off shirts and my XL Reba McEntire t-shirt. Being the new kid in town, I quickly acquired the nickname “Reba.” Now, at age 29, I for the first time consider the possibility that people may have been calling me that out of jest. But fifth grade Lyndsay responded to that nickname with absolute honor.

By sixth grade, I had expanded my hobbies to also include story writing.  My stories were all basically the same and included a plot that focused around Reba and a star struck girl who hung out with Reba all the time. One particular story I wrote called “The Ninth Caller” was about a girl (me) who won a radio contest. The grand prize was a trip to Nashville to spend a weekend with Reba and her backup singer, Linda Davis. Using the new typing skills I had learned at my new school, I typed up the story (including a title page) and sent it to Reba. I sent one to Linda Davis too, just for good measure.

Weeks went by after sending that story, and I had almost dismissed “The Ninth Caller” from my memory when I hopped into my mom’s car after school one day and she handed me a big manila envelope. The return address label pierced my heart with volts of excitement. It was an envelope from Re.Ba.McEntire. I tore open the envelope (the whole time reveling in the fact that she had touched the same envelope that I was now touching and that her spit had possibly sealed the envelope that was now MINE).  Inside, I found an 8X10 glossy that read in Reba’s pen, “To Lyndsay, Thanks for the great story! Love, Reba.” I could barely breathe.

I tore out of the car and ran into the school to show my teacher, Mrs. Soeder, who had also taken to calling me Reba. I ran through the halls showing anyone who would look. Tears of joy flooded my eyes. My hands shook. Reba knew I existed! She read my story. We were FRIENDS.

I proudly framed and hung my 8X10 glossy on my bedroom wall, and I continued to love Reba throughout the years. But, as all things often do, my love for her faded. Junior high brought me exposure to bands like Spice Girls and Ace of Base. I retired my Reba t-shirt in order to adorn more “trendy” duds like Jnco jeans and No Fear t-shirts. But even though my obsession for her eventually faded, I will never undermine the fact that, for most of my childhood, I was able to pour my energies into admiring a strong, confident female who tastefully shared her gift of music with the world. And while Reba McEntire most definitely does not know who Lyndsay Legel is, Lyndsay Legel is most definitely better because Reba let me love her and shower her with letters and look up to her in a way I have never looked up to anyone else in my life.

 Lyndsay currently sells insurance and dreams daily about what to do when she grows up. When not filing claims on destructive raccoons, she enjoys writing letters and drinking beer. When done simultaneously, her letters are epic. 

10 9 / 2013

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When I think of what an awkward phase is, I think of the traditional middle schooler, uncomfortable with their body, and they don’t know how how to act around group of people. I never really had that “traditional” awkward phase. Growing up, I was known as the golden child. I am the youngest of three, and my two older brothers gave my parents a run for their money as they were the ones to tend to cause most of the mischief at school, playgrounds, pizza places, etc…They never had to worry about me, as I was a quiet, friendly, and a happy-go-lucky kid. This carried on with me all through high school, as I prided myself for never drinking, smoking, and rarely ever skipping classes.

I would say that my awkward phase came later in life when I made it to college. In college is when I started to discover who I am and test my own limits. I think that is what the awkward phase in your life is about. Those moments where you are not quite sure what to do with yourself, to where you are feeling the most vulnerable. College is also when I started to get, “wild”. As I have mentioned before, I never drank is high school, so it wasn’t until I was 18, and nearing the end on my freshman year that I really got drunk for the first time. I was a theater major, and it was the cast party for Twelfth Night, so all the guys were wearing dresses and the women were dressed as men to carry on the theme of the play. At this party I borrowed my good friends cocktail dress that had cherries all over it. I had make up on, and I did my hair. I was told I looked like a sexier version of Jamie Lee Curtis.Since I wasn’t much of a drinker, I didn’t know what the “good” alcohols were or really even how to drink. That evening I pounded Smirnoff Ice with Skittles in them..

By the middle of the night, as I was dancing, I decided to close my eyes and someone led me to a couch to sit. At one moment, I realized that I had my eyes closed to a long time and I decided to open them. When I looked up, I saw a friend of mine looking at me pensively and then, all of a sudden, I saw him in double vision. I did not like this at all, so I closed my eyes again, and then proceeded to vomit. Thank god I had wonderful friends around me taking care of me, and one was using plastic grocery bags as his boobs, to which he would use to catch all my vomit.

Eventually, I was led to my friends car, and the put me into the front seat and they very slowly drove me back to my dorm. (I need to point out that I lived in the “Wellness Hall” that meant for people who don’t drink and quite hours are sooner) I don’t remember my car ride or the walk to my dorm room as I had blacked out, but I am told that when walking to my dorm entrance, I was projectile vomiting neon colors.

That evening was one of the quintessential moments of my awkward phase of becoming the person I am today. I have always been a rule follower, and even when I “get wild” it is still in a tame and funny way.

I don’t think we ever really leave our awkward phase. It is all apart of who we are, and it still helps create and define who we are as people. When I moved to Chicago, I didn’t know anyone, and so I had to go through another awkward phase as I was trying to figure out how to make friends as an adult and not a student, which isn’t very easy. You have to own your awkwardness, and realize that, that awkwardness is not something to be embarrassed about, but it’s that awkwardness that leads you to meeting some of the best people in the world.

Looking back now, I am so glad I got to have that experience of being, "that drunk freshman" all the while wearing a dress and looking like a sexy Jamie Lee Curtis.

- Mitchell Harvick is a Chicago theater director and a company member with Bailiwick Chicago. You can follow him on Tumblr.

 

29 8 / 2013

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It’s spring picture day at the elementary school.  It’s time for the fun photo, with the cool backdrop and maybe even a tree to hug.  This is the picture that doesn’t go in the actual yearbook, but exists for the sole purpose of taking your parents’ money in exchange for years of your embarrassment as it sits framed on the mantle.

This year, the lucky 1st graders get to pose with an item of their choosing, “your favorite thing!” Now, I must have missed the memo.  Either that, or my mom really dropped the ball.  Regardless, I arrive at school grossly unprepared.  Thankfully the good people of Lifetouch Portrait Studios have three generic items for the slacker kids to choose from: a teddy bear, a girly chapter book, or a basketball taken directly from the stash in the gym.

The obvious choice for me, a rather advanced reader for my age, would be the chapter book, with the little teddy bear coming a close second.  Never in a million years should I, the girl whose athletic ability was limited to hula hooping and hopscotch, pose with a basketball.

As I wait in line with the rest of Mrs. Titus’s first graders, I watch as child after child smiles, holding their favorite stuffed animal, toy horse, dance shoes, or random piece of sporting equipment.  Thankfully a couple other kids in my class also arrived sans their trinkets from home. Sean, a playground bully and general punk, and Dora, my good friend and loyal recess playmate.  Sean makes the obvious choice for any 7-year-old boy, the basketball.  Dora, in line directly in front of me, does not hesitate.  She always talks about wanting to play basketball for the school team when we get to middle school.  She grins widely as she holds the basketball for the picture.

Now it’s my turn. I look at the crumpled and torn cover of the paperback and think about how nerdy it would be to pose with a book.  A book I’ve never even read!  That doesn’t seem right.  Book dismissed. My eyes pan to the teddy bear.  It looks sad and abused.  Gross.  Bear dismissed.  The basketball.  Yep.  I bet I would look kind of cool if I had my picture with the basketball.  Dora did it, so I should too.

I step onto the backdrop, a primary-colored, paint-splattered canvas of terror.  The impatient photographer grumpily instructs me to place my leg up on the step stool and prop the basketball on my knee.  Before I can rethink this regrettable life decision, I hear “say cheese,” and automatically open my mouth to display a frightfully crooked bunch of loose baby teeth.  I feel anything but lovely.

Fast forward one week to the first day of basketball in gym class.  In a simple game of “horse,” Sean passes me the ball for my turn.  Panic!  It hits me square in the face.

As an adult, I realize the beauty of the basketball hitting me in the face.  Hello, kid!  Wake up! But I was only 6-years-old.  A 6-year-old, painfully shy, only child with a microscopic amount of confidence.  It didn’t take much to hurt my feelings and make me cry, and as the years went on and I reached middle school my confidence and low self-image remained pretty stagnant.   I wish I would have known how little it all mattered.  Microscopic would be better suited to describe the size of this school portrait in the grand picture of my life. 

Heather is a Chicago based improviser, singer, actor, photographer and museum enthusiast. You can follow her random thoughts on Twitter or check out her photos on Facebook.

23 8 / 2013

I was invited to my first coed party in the 8th grade and it was a big deal. Folded triangle notes were circulating the junior high all week in preparation. It was a Halloween party so most of the girls decided to dress up as bugs. But unfortunately for me, I had done something to piss off the queen bee that week and wasn’t invited to her house for the pre-party, the house where all of the girls were getting ready together.

So I said screw it and decided to just show up with the best bug costume I could find and show them all. My mom helped me paint my face and you can’t see my blue Nikes in the photo, but I assure you they are wrapped in black tape. It was all going so well until I actually got to the party and realized in absolute horror that the other girls all chose to dress as “slutty bugs.” They were wearing those short “sofee” shorts with tight white shirts they had puff-painted on with names like “sexy spider” and “baby butterfly.” They didn’t look anything like bugs.
Suddenly everything I had on was completely wrong, including the (very unnecessary) fleece red and black gloves I was initially so excited about. But it gets worse. One of the mean boys, let’s call him Andy, because that was him name, could smell my insecurity and he suddenly announced in front of everyone,
"It’s okay, Taylor’s wearing so many layers to hide her bug bites."
To which I snapped back, "It’s October, I don’t have any bug bites, dork!"
It seemed like a logical response to me. But I would later learn Andy was actually referring to my flat, ten-year-old boy-like, chest. The slutty bugs had all developed, the lady bug had not. 
Nearly twelve years later I wish I could tell all the flat chested teenage girls out there to wear their bug bites proud! While I never grew the chest I thought I would, at least I’ve never had a back problem either.

Taylor Wolfe is a Chicago based comedian. You can follower her on The Daily Tay via her twitter & website.

22 8 / 2013

Niki Madison at The Awkward Phase: The Final Prom

21 8 / 2013

This picture is not of me, however much we may look alike. But it is a part of me.
My mother started getting really sick in the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. She had been manhandling chemotherapy and radiation for years, but when cancer finally caught up to her jet-propelled willpower, it stripped her of that strength in less than a week. When her lung collapsed for the first time I drove her to the hospital at 3 AM to nod off in a plastic ER chair while doctors drained fluid from her chest cavity.

She spent the next month in and out of the hospital, and soon it was time to decide whether I would take time off of school to be with her or return to keep up my graduation track. Everyone insisted that my mom would want me to go back to school. When my mom was lucid enough to talk to me about it, that’s exactly what she said.

I spent the first four weeks of college in silent denial while my mom was dying. I distanced myself from what was happening in my house. Not one of my friends at school even knew that she was ill.

She died on September 22nd of 2008, which began a year and a half of numbness in my life. I became bitter and destructive in my personal relationships, drank my way through evenings and weekends, and nearly abandoned classes and extracurriculars. I felt so incapable of connecting to anything that I turned into the polar opposite of the goofy kid my mother worked so hard to raise and protect. If she had seen me then I have no doubt she would have been heartbroken.

This awkward phase in my life had nothing to do with the way I was dressed, the activities I enjoyed, or my social skills (even though I am a fashionless dork who functions socially by viewing other humans as logic puzzles). Those things I accepted, and those things were nurtured by my mom 100%. My awkward phase came from denying the loss of my mom. My awkward phase came from denying the person who made it okay to be the fun and quirky kind of awkward that I was used to being. It took me a long, long time to let my mom’s spirit back into my life.

I’m never letting her or any part of myself go again.
Alan Linic is a Chicago based comedian. You can see him twice a week at iO playing with Switch Committee

20 8 / 2013

Co-creator Claire Meyer & guest host Alan Linic at The Awkward Phase: The Last Prom. 
A huge thanks to the Annoyance Theater for hosting our last four live shows. We look forward to seeing you in the new space!

Co-creator Claire Meyer & guest host Alan Linic at The Awkward Phase: The Last Prom. 

A huge thanks to the Annoyance Theater for hosting our last four live shows. We look forward to seeing you in the new space!

15 8 / 2013

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Hello. My name’s Forrest. Forrest Gump.

Third grade ‘Idol Day”. I spend two days (because in elementary school you always forget until the night before) putting together the best costume. I am thrilled and so excited to show off my idol. Mom and I sit in front of the TV rewinding the VHS (yep…VHS) and watching the moment when the briefcase opens just so we can get every detail exactly right. Which is all worth it when I am awarded first place throughout the whole school for my recreation of Forrest Gump played by Tom Hanks…my idol!

Tom Hanks still blows my mind, but in third grade he could do no wrong. Forrest Gump was played over and over on my TV. The ensemble is part goodwill, part house found items, and all heart. I pulled all my hair back to appear to be a man. The hat reads “Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.” Before it was a restaurant. I was very serious about this day. The briefcase was filled with the exact items found in the movie. When the judges came to the room, I offered each of them a chocolate saying, “Life’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” in my best southern Forrest twang.

Everyone comments on how odd/funny/unfortunate/amazing it is that I chose to go as a man. All I was thinking was I love this actor. Why would I go as anyone else? The next year I went as my next favorite actor, Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura Pet Detective. Stuffed monkey and all.

I won’t end this story until we talk about my surroundings.Yes. Those are stenciled flowers as my border. Yes. Those are Beauty and the Beast stickers that my mother painstakingly applied to my wall one afternoon. Yes. That is a hideous old fashioned heating blanket. And I know that every little girl had a ruffle curtain in their room in the 90s.

As funny as this picture looks now…I was just an average girl with male actors for idols. Tom Hanks is an amazing actor. Forrest Gump is an inspiring movie. Beauty and the Beast is a “Tale as old as time.” This picture hangs proudly on my wall in my 26 year old room. What a great day.

P.S. A big thanks to my mother!!! Who worked with me to quickly put together this amazing costume. She is a constant supporter of my passions to this day. She’s an amazing woman!

—Jessica Stopak

14 8 / 2013

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While I was home a couple weeks ago, I was looking through old pictures. I got to a stack from my early high school days and said to my mom, “I wish I would have realized how cute or, at least, not unattractive I was while in high school.” She replied, "You were very attractive, you just let what other people thought get to you." This surprised me. I always felt like I had done a good job of being my own person. Wearing my men’s jorts along with my orange and blue and a glitter turtle shirt with pride. I was never told I wasn’t pretty. Never bullied. I had no reason to think I was anything other than a beautiful girl.

Perhaps because I reached puberty before everyone else. Like. Way before. Resulting in a weight gain and more hormones than a 4th grader and can comprehend. Thinking back, I felt like a cow in a field full of mice. Or perhaps more like The Hulk in a classroom full of children. But when I look at pictures, the only noticeable difference from other kids was my height. I was the tallest girl in my grade for a lot of years. In fact, I remember once in 5th grade, Mrs. Gardiner’s class, I don’t know why but we were talking about runway models and how they’re all very tall. Mrs. Gardiner looked right at me and said, “You know, Erin could be the only one of us who could potentially be a model.” Obviously I turned bright red and knew that couldn’t be true cause I wasn’t pretty enough or skinny enough to be a model. I mean, duh. That had to be what everyone else was thinking too. I didn’t think that I would much rather be a lawyer or actor or in the WNBA (an honest-to-god past dream of mine) instead of a fashion model, but that I wasn’t pretty enough.

Why? Was it society? The magazines? Was it because I was the only girl out of my friends who hadn’t had a boyfriend? It certainly wasn’t my home life. My mom constantly told me how pretty I was and my family was always very proud and loving. What made my little girl brain react like this?

It didn’t stop there, of course. This belief followed me through the years. Convinced me of my outward inadequacies. Assured me that I was doing fine in life in every way except my appearance. I wasn’t depressed. I didn’t let this tiny voice rule my life, but it was always there. Guess what. Let’s be honest. It’s still there. It will always be there. Now I’m just better at shutting it up. 

So even though I had an awkward phase, a solid chunk of years with purple, wire-rimmed glasses, unruly curly hair that usually resembled a mushroom cap and a fashion sense that attempted to combine sporty and cute and failed, I think my personal awkward phase is the one inside my head. The one that was still around after I discovered hair product and starting shopping for bras outside of the sportswear department. The one that trapped me inside of that uncomfortable, confused, newly pubescent girl even though I was far beyond her. 

If I could go back and talk to that girl, impart some of my knowledge, I would write her  anonymous notes celebrating parts of her that were beautiful and unique and perfect just for her. Imagine how uplifted she would feel knowing that a stranger took the time to tell her she’s beautiful. I mean, imagine how all of us would feel. 

On the train today I saw a little girl reading a book called “A Smart Girls Guide to Liking Herself.” Although it’s sad that a book like that even has to be written, I’d love to thank whoever wrote it, who published it, whoever bought it for that child. This little gem has got a head start in self esteem building. I think we could all take a page straight out of that book. 

Erin spends her time improvising, acting, and running around Chicago. You can be her online friend by following her twitter and/or blog.