Everyone has secrets; they make life so much easier. Even the most open among us cannot share our every thought, feeling, concern, and action with everyone who knows us. Whether those secrets are past or present actions that may bother others, innermost thoughts that we can’t find ourselves confessing to others, or simply a silly obsession that we delight in hiding from others, secrets inhabit everyone in some part. There’s exuberance found in concealing pieces of ourselves from the public. And yet, through these secrets, we find ourselves at times isolated from others. Alone. However, with the interconnectedness of the internet we’re discovering how much we share in common with others whom we’d otherwise never knew existed. We discover how cathartic it can be to open up to one another.
PostSecret: The Show is an immersive, crowd-funded production based on Frank Warren’s ongoing art project, PostSecret.com, in which anyone can anonymously mail secrets to be posted online, in books, and in museums. As opposed to the preexisting PostSecret Live events, in which audience members are offered the chance to share their secrets to everyone, PostSecret: The Show involves three actors (Kerry Ipema, Abby Rowold, and TJ Dawe) reading out a curated selection of secrets from cards, live events, online communication, and anonymous cards given by the audiences of current and previous performances. Paired with a starry video projection sharing the secrets, and a guitarist (Elyadeen Anbar) to set the mood, PostSecret: The Show is a piece that shouts the often reiterated message of comfort from one PostSecret user to another as they confess their secrets, “You are not alone.”
This production is unique among the previous productions I’ve reviewed through Austin Entertainment Weekly in that there is no story in the expected sense, save for the occasional history of Frank Warren and PostSecret.com. Instead the show focuses almost entirely on sharing anonymous secrets, the stories around some of those secrets, and how PostSecret has brought out genuine human kindness and connection between strangers. The secrets are typically read in turns by the actors and told in groups that center on a shared theme (i.e. bullying, faith, lies told by family members, sex, mental illness, holidays, romance, and more). Whoever curated the selection of secrets read deserves commendations for how they balanced the tone of the evening. Though emotionally charged throughout, the show never got too humorous or too bleak. Moments of ease or dread were oftentimes severed by a secret that shifted the show’s tone, always paired with the immediate and palpable shift in the audience’s emotions. Furthermore, the three actors were each superb in their mutual ability to change “character” merely through subtle changes in their pitch and inflection; it was certainly more effective than coming up with a brand new voice for every persona behind the secrets.
As for the technical aspects of the show, the crew cut out everything except what was needed. The set merely contained some seats for the actors and a rug, Anbar only played on the guitar when the mood called for it, and the video screen (arguably the fourth “actor” onstage) maintained prominence upstage as it showcased the multiplicity of shared secrets and how they differ visually and emotionally. There was a curious choice of projecting a live Twitter feed for audience members to say anything, ranging from general excitement for the show to song requests for Anbar, before/after the show and during intermission. It was an effective means to get the audience into the sharing vibe, as well as a means for the crew to speak to the audience with ease, yet I did wish there was some way to utilize it during the performance itself given its immediate prominence. However, with how busy the projector was through the whole show, as well as how emotionally charged the production was, the continual access to the Twitter feed probably would’ve slowed the show down or distanced us from the secrets.
PostSecret: The Show is an unexpectedly heavy piece of theatre which one cannot experience without being sucked into the lives of strangers who feel like friends and confidants by the show’s conclusion. It’s an elegant adaptation of Frank Warren’s original project and a success for both PostSecret.com and The Long Center. This production isn’t what we would traditionally consider a story yet it is still a cohesive narrative in its endeavor to tie together snippets of countless individuals, whether they’re celebrating or capitulating, into a single mosaic that is at times scary but mostly hopeful and life-affirming, ensuring us that each and every one of us, no matter how strange or scared, is indeed not alone.
PostSecret: The Show continues playing at the Long Center for Performing Arts every day from now until March 27th at 8pm with two matinee performances at 3pm on Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th before continuing its North American tour.