By Alison Geisler
11:35 AM EDT, April 3, 2013
PostSecret Live: An Evening with Frank Warren
April 5, 8 p.m., $20, Southern Connecticut State University's John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, 501 Crescent St., New Haven, (203) 392-6154, tickets.southernct.edu.
There comes a time in everyone's lives where we feel like no one else on the planet is feeling exactly the way we are at that very moment. Since Frank Warren launched PostSecret in late 2004, thousands of people have opened up their lives anonymously to the world, exposing deep dark secrets, and letting each one of us know that we are not alone. Warren started PostSecret by leaving blank postcards around or handing them to strangers, inviting them to mail him a secret they've never told a soul, anonymously. In the years since, PostSecret has flourished into a highly successful blog, five books and live shows hosted by Warren himself. Warren still receives hundreds of handmade postcards each week. Some of the most recent submissions posted on the project's website postsecret.com: a confession: "I'm addicted to boxed cookies ... I'm a professional baker;" an admission: "I gave my son up for adoption so he would never have to meet his father;" an expression of grief: "I still text my mom every day in hopes that she'll answer me, even though she died 8 years ago;" and the absurd "I have a poop diary." Warren brings his PostSecret show back to Southern Connecticut State University's John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, April 5.
Warren's live PostSecret shows are a mix of stories surrounding particular submissions, including some that were banned from being published in the PostSecret books, and live secret-sharing by the audience themselves. "My secrets and stories change a little bit, but more than that, at these events, I create this safe, non-judgmental place where audience members can stand and share their secrets live in front of their classmates and community. And that's different every time. But it's always compelling, and emotional, and cathartic," says Warren. The secrets shared by PostSecret submitters are our deepest fears, regrets, painful experiences, and also expressions of hope and perseverance in the face of these fears.
Folks in the audience are invited to share their secrets out loud during the show. "This safe, non-judgmental place that I was able to create online now has evolved to a safe, non-judgmental place in the physical world, where people can feel — temporarily at least — like they can stand and share, and not be judged and be supported. And because of that, the secrets that come out at these events can be funny or sexual or hopeful or painful, cathartic," says Warren. "I think real secrets usually connect to burdens. I think one of the biggest motives that people have for keeping a secret inside, and not sharing it, is because they feel like they'll be judged, or people will think they're different. At these events what I try and do is convey the idea that I've learned that when we bottle up our secrets inside us, they feel like walls that divide us from others and ourselves. But if we can find the courage to share them, to be vulnerable with others, we discover that these walls are actually bridges that connect us, with friends, family, strangers, and our deepest selves."
Warren calls his live shows the "highest manifestation" of the PostSecret project. It gives him an opportunity to share and talk about postcards that were banned from being included in his books. "There's a lot of reasons why the Harper Collins attorneys didn't want certain postcards in the books," he says with a laugh. New postcards are posted every Sunday on the PostSecret blog, selected by Warren, and he says that he rarely chooses not to publish a secret due to its contents. When he has made the judgment call to keep a submission private, the postcards have included pictures of a child's face, or a family portrait, and he tries to be sensitive to others' privacy.
The audience members at Warren's live PostSecret show will obviously be outing their secrets willingly. But sometimes he's heard back from a submitter who is angry that their secret was posted, because someone they know figured out it was theirs and now they're dealing with the fallout from what they shared. "That's the nature of telling a secret. It's painful at first, but in the long run it can be a healthy decision. That pain can be healthy," he says. And speaking of pain, Warren is an advocate of suicide prevention and mental health causes. He'd volunteered answering phones on a suicide prevention hotline, and knew he could use PostSecret's popularity to help create resources for suicide prevention. He's raised $1 million for suicide prevention thus far, as a way to help the people who've submitted a secret, as he can't directly reach out due to the anonymity surrounding the project. One recent submmission reads as follows: "3 months ago, I wanted to kill myself. 2 months ago I just wanted to die. 1 month ago I wanted to escape. Today I found my dream job. Thanks PostSecret for helping me sit through the pain. It was worth it."
While a new PostSecret book isn't immediately in the works, Warren has kept himself busy expanding the possibilities of what PostSecret can do. Up next is a live stage production. "We are coming out with a play, called PostSecret: Unheard Voices, where we bring some of the stories and secrets to life on stage," says Warren. The play will tour across the country, so hopefully we'll get a chance to experience that in Connecticut as well. It's just another opportunity to remind us that we're not so different, and our struggles, experiences and triumphs are more universal than we realize.
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