“Post Secret” is a worldwide phenomenon based on the principle of anonymously sharing a secret. This project as led to a world-famous blog, art exhibit, and best-selling books “Post Secret: The Show” brings this phenomenon to life and is currently running at The Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall. In anticipation of the event, Post Secret Writer and Founder Frank Warren took the time to share a bit about how Post Secret got started and what good it’s doing millions of people around the world.
Emily Carl: How did you come up with the idea for the Post Secret blog?
Frank Warren: The idea for Post Secret started about 10 years ago. At the time, I was a small business owner, father, and husband just living out in the suburbs. I kind of had a boring life until Post Secret came and turned that upside down. I printed up 3000 self-addressed postcards and handed them out to people on the street, inviting them to write down a secret on that postcard anonymously and mail it to me. I got a lot of surprises. The first surprise was that people actually did it. The second was the beautiful artwork they included on the postcard- pictures, photos, drawings, to further convey the feeling behind the secret. The last thing is the postcards never stopped coming. Ten years later, I still get postcards- hundred every week and not just from the U.S.- from all over the world.
EC: What made you come up with the idea to start that project in the first place?
FW: Good question! When I started Post Secret I didn’t really understand why I was doing it. I thought maybe because I had a boring job and I was looking for something that offered more meaning or creativity, but about three months into the project I got a secret from a stranger that gave me an epiphany. It helped me recognize a secret I had been keeping from myself for years, and when I uncovered that part of my past, I wrote it on a postcard, I mailed it to myself, I talked to my wife about it, and I felt a sense of unburdoning and that happened several times since then. And now, looking back on why I started the project, even though I didn’t know it at the time, I would have to say, part of it was because I needed to recognize those secrets I was keeping from myself- secrets I had buried long ago. I needed Post Secret just as much as the other people who were mailing me their secrets.
EC: Post Secret led to you winning the Mental Health Lifetime Achievement Award. How do you think this project has touched into people becoming more healthy mentally?
FW: Before I started Post Secret, I was a volunteer at the Suicide Prevention Hotline so sometimes, at 2 a.m., I’d be listening to people’s confessions on the hotline at night. I would just share with you some of the emails I’ve received from people that have chosen their words, taken ownership of their secret, and let it go. What they’ve shared with me is that it’s allowed them to feel a sense of relief and also, in some ways, their secret became more manageable once they wrote it on a postcard. Some people have talked about how it was the first step in a much longer journey to share or deal with that secret in a way that was right for them. But it’s not always easy. It sounds simple- just put your secret on a postcard and let it go, but once you really start to try to take ownership of the words of a confession you’ve never let out loud before, it can be a powerful thing.
EC: So would you say there’s more work to be done by the individual than the one step of sending the postcard?
FW: Yeah. I just invite people to share a secret with me. It’s not like I’m a psychiatrist who’s going to react to it or a priest who’s going to give you something to do. When you let it go, there’s kind of this void and I think people like that. They don’t want to be judged or know what I think- they don’t care about that. But there’s this vacuum that allows them to take that next step.
EC: How is this progressed from from a project to a live show?
FW: The project started as an art exhibit first and then I scanned the postcards and created a blog and the blog has now had over 700 million hits. It’s the most visited advertisement-free blog in the world. We had 6 best-selling books and then there were live Post Secret events where I would go out and share stories about the secrets and listen to audience members tell their secrets live, and that led to the “Ted Talk.” Now, for me, the most exciting part of the project is “Post Secret: The Show.” This is where we dramatize and bring to life the stories of transformation of people coming together through outing secrets. It’s pretty experimental. It’s multimedia- there’s music, we have a live musician on the stage, there are three actors, we show many secrets that have never been seen before. Some of the secrets were banned by the publisher of my books. We have the audience members get a chance to write their secrets down on a postcard and have it read back anonymously from the stage, the actors have a chance to share a true secret from their life.. so there’s a lot of interaction with the audience which is why I think it’s so exciting for people who have been Post Secret fans for the past 10 years, or folks who have never heard about the project before, come together in this space and experience this one-of-a-kind theatrical experience.
EC: What’s the span of things that you hear within a show?
FW: I think audiences are surprised by the boldness and richness of the whole experience and the secret. The confessions can touch on every human emotion. They can be laugh-out-loud funny, for sure, they can be heart-breaking, they can be sexual or hidden acts of kindness, they can be romantic… Two of the stories we tell in the show are about people who have decided to spend the rest of their lives together based upon secrets. But they can also be endearing. In one part of the show, we talk about this genre of secrets I discovered through Post Secret- this whole kind of class of secrets that comes from parents- usually fathers- telling something to their son or daughter that turns out to be a complete lie. I’ll give you an example: one was “My dad used to tell me that avocados were alligator eggs.” Another example: “My dad used to tell me that when the ice cream truck used to play the music, that meant they’d run out of ice cream.” [laughs] So I think people will be surprised by how much laughter is in the show, but also how poignant it can be. At one point I talk about a secret I got from somebody who saved the last poem they ever heard their grandmother sing to them on their birthday and their grandmother died not long after that and we play a whole selection of these final messages that people have saved on their cell phones of friends and family that have died, and that’s really grabs people right in the heart.
EC: Why do you think that people tend to keep secrets in the first place?
FW: I think there are many reasons. One is that they think they’ll be judged. Another is, it might make them feel different or alone or weird. But that’s just an illusion. You keep a secret inside of you and it feels like a wall that separates you from others. But if we can find the strength to face it, to bring it out, and share it, I think we instantly realize that the secret was never a wall. It was a bridge the whole time, connecting us to ourselves and to humanity. We just couldn’t see it.
“Post Secret: The Show” is running at The Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall with its final performance tonight, February 26, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available online or by calling 414-273-7206.