Frank Warren has secrets – hundreds of thousands of them, collected from strangers over the last decade and shared, anonymously as part of a community art project called PostSecret.
They come via snail mail, scribbled, sometimes rather playfully, artfully even, on postcards, and are uploaded digitally to PostSecret’s website every Sunday. Since its inception, PostSecret has had 750 million visitors and Warren has received more than a million postcards, so many that he had to build an addition just to store them all.
The project has become phenomenon, spawning its six best-selling books, an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., a theatrical play and a live TED Talks style touring show, which comes to Fresno Tuesday, April 12 at the Satellite Student Union at Fresno State.
“Secrets are the currency of intimacy,” Warren says during a phone call in advance of the show.
He’s seen all kinds of secrets.
There are pee-related secrets, he says. Those can be funny.
There is a sub-set of secrets for those little white lies that parents tell their children. For instance, the father who told his children the ice-cream truck only played music when it was out of ice-cream.
Some secrets, can be emotional, shocking even. Warren remembers on postcard that read, “Everyone who knew me before 9/11 thinks I’m dead.”
The postcards offer revelations on just about anything, from addiction and abuse, to sexuality, relationships, religion and suicide. That last subject is of particular importance to Warren, who volunteered for a suicide prevention hotline, where he listened to people’s secrets at two or three in the morning. The experience partially inspired the project. In 2006, Warren, aided by PostSecret fans, raised $30,000 for the Kristin Brooks Hope Center to keep its suicide prevention hotline open.
“Suicide, is one of America’s secrets,” says Warren. “It’s the secret we keep from ourselves.”
Keeping secrets can be problematic. There’s a stress and guilt that builds up when we keep things buried. Sharing secrets then, can have a cathartic, even therapeutic affect.
It’s obvious, just looking at the postcards, Warren says.
“You can see the effort these people have put into this artifact,” he says.
There are few outlets in modern society for people to share their secrets. Church – the Catholic church in particular with its rites of confession – doesn’t hold the sway it once did. Even therapy, once the go-to place for telling another person about your secret life, has become largely pharmaceutical based, Warren says.
“We have fewer and fewer place to share those stories.”
At “PostSecret Live,” they get shared openly. The multimedia presentation is an evolution of Warren’s book signing events, where he showed the “secret” secrets – the ones that the publishers found too controversial for the books.
Warren does have secrets of his own.
One, in particular, he wrote on a post card and mailed to himself, after being inspired by the PostSecret community (you’ll have to attend the show to hear the story).
Over the years, he has seen how sharing secrets – his own or those of strangers – can be catalyst for those in the crowd, as it was for him. So, there is built-in time at the end of the presentation for the audience take the mic and share.
And people do, Warren says.
It tends to be the most emotional part of the night and the overall affect is a “cascade of courage,” as Warren calls it, that inspires people for days, weeks even.
“It’s not what happens during the show,” he says. “It’s what happens after.”
Post Secret Live
- 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 12
- Satellite Student Union at Fresno State
- Free, parking will be enforced
- 559-278-2741, www.fresnostate.edu/events/#/?i=6