By Rachel Holly - For Weekender

‘Awkward Years’ gives grown-ups a venue and audience to share their most embarrassing teenaged stories

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A crowd of nearly 100 participants and viewers filled the Hazleton Arts League during the latest installment of The Awkward Years.
Photos courtesy of Michael Delmonico
Creator Chelsea Nesler read excerpts from the diary she kept in middle school during The Awkward Years.
Photos courtesy of Michael Delmonico
Chris E. Decker, of Scranton, talks about his childhood love for NASCAR, wrestling and Limp Bizkit.
Photos courtesy of Michael Delmonico
Annie Vinateri talks about growing up as a pastor’s daughter and the ‘awkward’ events that ensued. She spoke in front of a crowd at the Hazleton Arts League during the latest installment of The Awkward Years.
Photos courtesy of Michael Delmonico

Most adults can say their years in middle school and high school may have been some what awkward filled with glasses, braces, bad haircuts, zits, bad clothing and maybe a few bad decisions. But instead of hiding from those growing pains, a Freeland resident is embrassing the bad and askign others to join her.

Chelsea Nesler and the performers at “The Awkward Years” have turned those private moments of cringe into a communal study in laughter, nostalgia and commiseration.

The idea came after Nesler, 23, was watching a film on Netflix called “Mortified Nation,” where “adults share their most embarrassing teenage writings and art in front of total strangers,” according to its description on IMDb.

Nesler enlisted the assistance of Gina Dignazio of the Hazleton Art League, and thus, the idea was born.

Nesler extended an invite via Facebook to anyone interested in “reading old diary entries or telling stories from ‘their awkward years’” and the response was overwhelming.

“Many people were interested, it just sort of fell into place,” Nesler said. “We secured the spot at the Art League and it all came to be.”

Nesler’s first event, “The Awkward Years: An Adolescent Retrospective” was held in December to overwhelming support.

By the time her second installment of “The Awkward Years” rolled around March 6, the crowd more than doubled and there were nearly 200 responses on Facebook.

“This has been an awesome turnout and a very easy fundraiser for the Art League,” Dignazio said. “We’re hoping to turn this into a semi-regular event, since the response really seems to be there.”

The performers came out in all shapes and sizes.

“I would just like to apologize for making out with one of my exes in front of all of my friends at lunch time for the better part of middle school,” said one performer, Matt Ritz of Hazleton. “I’d also like to apologize to my first ex, who my mother made write a report on who she is and who she wanted to be in order to date me.”

Some, like Ritz and many others, fell into the “millennial” age group – reminiscing about coming of age in the mid-2000s and early 2010’s to the tune of MySpace, AOL Instant Messenger, Friday night mall jaunts, and the days of T9 texting.

Others were of a slightly older generation, such as performer Dee Culp who spoke openly and candidly about her awkward teenage years, coming to terms with her own struggles with her gender and sexuality. Culp, now 37, came out as transgender two years ago and has since transitioned from her former life as a man.

“Tonight at the Hazleton Art League was empowering,” Culp said. “For all the geeky, awkward kids who spent their teenage years wondering if it was worth it to keep going … wondering if they’d ever get their s — t together, wondering if anyone could ever love them for who they are … tonight was magnificent.”

Even 32-year-old science teacher, Ryan Boris, performed, reminiscing about his days as a teen “thinking I was one of Missy Elliott’s backup dancers,” and going “cruising” down Broad Street in Hazleton.

Boris, now teaching high schoolers (in the heart of their own awkward years), reflected on the evening in the same light as Culp.

“The best experience I’ve had in a long time,” Boris said. “I’d like to thank Chelsea for giving a platform and a voice to those that have been silenced for so long. The talent, words, and stories are something I will carry forever.”

Whether it’s as simple as a first kiss, a first breakup, or first faux pas, in retrospect – laughter is always the best medicine. And don’t worry, we’ve all been there.

Those interested in participating in the next installment of “The Awkward Years” are encouraged to contact Chelsea on Facebook at facebook.com/chelseasmile570; the next event is currently in the planning stages.

IF YOU GO:

What: The Awkward Years: An Adolescent Retrospective – an amateur speaking event recapping awkward coming-of-age stories and memories

Where: The Hazleton Art League, 255 E Broad St, Hazleton, PA 18201

When: The next installment is still being planned

Contact: Chelsea Nesler at 570-401-4090 or at facebook.com/chelseasmile570

Reach Weekender [email protected] or at 570-991-6111.

Grown-ups share funny stories about their ‘awkward years’

By Rachel Holly

For Weekender

A crowd of nearly 100 participants and viewers filled the Hazleton Arts League during the latest installment of The Awkward Years.
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/web1_awkward2.jpgA crowd of nearly 100 participants and viewers filled the Hazleton Arts League during the latest installment of The Awkward Years. Photos courtesy of Michael Delmonico

Creator Chelsea Nesler read excerpts from the diary she kept in middle school during The Awkward Years.
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/web1_creator.jpgCreator Chelsea Nesler read excerpts from the diary she kept in middle school during The Awkward Years. Photos courtesy of Michael Delmonico

Chris E. Decker, of Scranton, talks about his childhood love for NASCAR, wrestling and Limp Bizkit.
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/web1_awkward3.jpgChris E. Decker, of Scranton, talks about his childhood love for NASCAR, wrestling and Limp Bizkit. Photos courtesy of Michael Delmonico

Annie Vinateri talks about growing up as a pastor’s daughter and the ‘awkward’ events that ensued. She spoke in front of a crowd at the Hazleton Arts League during the latest installment of The Awkward Years.
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/web1_awkward1.jpgAnnie Vinateri talks about growing up as a pastor’s daughter and the ‘awkward’ events that ensued. She spoke in front of a crowd at the Hazleton Arts League during the latest installment of The Awkward Years. Photos courtesy of Michael Delmonico
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Reach Weekender [email protected] or at 570-991-6111.

IF YOU GO:

What: The Awkward Years: An Adolescent Retrospective – an amateur speaking event recapping awkward coming-of-age stories and memories

Where: The Hazleton Art League, 255 E Broad St, Hazleton, PA 18201

When: The next installment is still being planned

Contact: Chelsea Nesler at 570-401-4090 or at facebook.com/chelseasmile570