You might think that after ten years Frank Warren would have become weary from reading people’s secrets every day. But as the creator of popular PostSecret website, Warren still looks forward to the daily visits to his mailbox.
[pullquote]“There is something magical in the marriage of the traditional and tangible postcard with our digital lives” – PostSecret creator Frank Warren[/pullquote]“Even with all the snow right now I still feel like a kid Christmas every morning as I make my way out to the mailbox,” says Warren by phone from his home back east. “I continue to love the secrets. Not everything about project is wonderful – the travel, spending time in airports, getting buried in email sometimes – but getting the secrets on postcards is one thing I don’t get tired of at all.”
Since its inception in 2005, Warren has received over a million anonymous secrets from around the world ranging from the hilarious to the devastating, on everything from the traditional postcard to a pair of flip-flops, and even a banana. He has kept every one (although to be fair we didn’t ask him what happened to the banana).
“There is a pyramid of post cards sitting in my home; literally a ton of secrets that have caused many a backache for interns over the years,” he laughs.
Personally reading each secret, Warren updates his PostSecret website each Sunday with selected submissions culled from those received that week. And while one would think the number of snail-mail postcards (the only way in which to submit a secret) may have diminished over the years, Warren says that the original concept continues to resonate. In fact, Warren’s website just reached 700+ million visitors recently, and is the most visited non-advertising supported website on the internet.
“It changes over time and I don’t get as many now, but there are still hundreds every week,” he says. “There is still something powerful about that ritual of finding a postcard, illustrating the secret, finding the words and then letting it go to a stranger.”
Tapping into the zeitgeist ten years ago, Warren says the ongoing success of PostSecret comes from the combination of the low-tech nature of the postcards and high-tech method in which they are presented.
“There is something magical in the marriage of the traditional and tangible postcard with our digital lives,” says Warren. “We are currently caught up in a wave of young people now who are much more willing to share in a confident manner than their parents ever were.”
Moving to another phase in the project, Warren has teamed up with monologuist TJ Dawe, actor Kahlil Ashanti, and producer Justin Sudds in developing a stage version of the PostSecret project. But more than a simple reading of the “best of” secrets from Warren’s seemingly endless supply, over the last five years the team has pulled together an immersive and interactive stage show that will help tell the stories behind some of the secrets. It is also a show that combines the low and high-tech aspects that have worked so well for the project over the years.
“We wanted to do something more than simply share secrets,” explains Warren who originally met with the team at his home after being approached about the show. “We want people to come away with the idea that nobody is ever alone, something that I have seen over and over again at PostSecret events.”
That idea of shared experiences hit home for Warren during a visit to Australia where an audience member told a story of how lying to his mother about a stomach ache as a child, to get out of going to school, escalated to having his appendix removed.
“I asked if others knew of a similar story and there was someone else who could relate. I get that every time,” he says. “It might feel very personal, but you’re never really carrying it alone. I hope that is one of the messages that will come through in the play.”
The power of PostSecret on people’s lives is undeniable, and something the play’s creative team has tapped into. One example that appears in the play, without giving away too much, is the story of a young woman who confessed she would have to tell her son that Santa wasn’t real.
“There was an immediate response to this woman’s dilemma from the PostSecret community. It is an example of how the community came together to change someone’s life based on their confession,” he says.
Of course, asking Warren if these examples are some of his favourites are like asking which one of his children he loves the most; he simply cannot choose. Instead, Warren graciously responds to the question he has obviously been asked hundreds of times before by saying it is not a matter of having favourites, but being reminded of the secrets he has read as he goes about his daily life.
“I am haunted by stranger’s secrets, in a good way,” he laughs.
As for his own secret? Warren did confess one, but even as he knew it may very well be part of this article it is not included here. For after speaking with Warren, you can’t help but feel the same odd sense of responsibility towards a stranger.
PostSecret: The Show plays the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) January 20-February 7. Visit https://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.