People trust Frank Warren. Hundreds of thousands of people have told him things they’ve never told their best friend, spouse or priest.
He’s not a pastor or a therapist, although you could argue he fills those roles. He describes himself as an “accidental artist” who had a simple idea that’s grown into five-going-on-six books, a blog (with a visitor count of more than 650 million, it’s the largest ad-free blog in the world) and now, after a proving ground in Charlotte, a stage production.
The phenomenon known as Post Secret started as a community art project in 2004 when Warren invited strangers to submit secrets to him via postcards he handed out randomly on the street. “You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project,” he announced. “Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything -- as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.”
People, it seems, were ready to unburden themselves. Warren’s art project grew to include more than 10,000 secrets by the time he published the first collection in 2005. Now, he has more than half a million.
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People’s secrets are shocking, funny, sad and illuminating. A few of the secrets he’s collected:
I steal small things from my friends to keep memories of how much I love them. Thinking about being with him is more exciting than actually being with him. Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I’m dead. My husband and I share girdles.
All the sadness, shame and sentiment people keep hidden will be laid bare when PostSecret The Show comes to the Booth Playhouse in April. In fact, the show is being developed here. Tom Gabbard, CEO of Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, said Blumenthal was a natural fit. “The show needed a good development partner for its next step,” he said. “We have a supportive environment, a sharp marketing team and knowledge of the road to help it land in the marketplace of touring theatrical shows.”
Since the show will be taking form here, Gabbard says, “Audiences will have a part to play in shaping the show through their reactions and suggestions. I hope people will come back a few times to see how it evolves.”
The fact that there is to be a show at all seems both surprising and inevitable to Warren. He says he couldn’t have guessed how the project would evolve, but he’s always been open to whatever path it took. “In some ways, I’m shocked [about its success],” he shares. “In other ways – having seen the vulnerability and poignancy and courage revealed in these secrets – I’m not at all surprised.” Warren, who’s been reading secrets nearly every day for the past nine years, describes his role as confessor and curator as both a burden and a privilege. “My vision of the human condition has expanded,” he says. “[I’ve seen] humor and hope and so many hidden acts of kindness. I think I’ve become more accepting of others and myself.”
And more connected to humankind. Warren says, “I had a troubled childhood, so when I read a secret about someone else who did, it gives me a feeling of solidarity.” Warren promises an “immersive experience” and invites Charlotteans to “share a secret with a stranger and then let it go.” The cast of two men, one woman and a musician will be supported by a multimedia component and “loads of audience interaction,” says Gabbard.
Given the adult nature of some secrets (themes include sexual taboos and criminal activity), the show is aimed at mature audiences.
But it isn’t meant to shock. Warren hopes it will comfort and unite us. “We’re all in this together,” Warren says of life. “Everybody has a secret that could break your heart.” Got a secret you need to unload? Mail it anonymously to Post Secret, 13345 Copper Ridge Road, Germantown, Md. 20874. PostSecret The Show will be at the Booth Playhouse from April 22 through May 4. Tickets, starting at $14.50, are available at carolinatix.org