By Joy Carletti, guest blogger
I have a secret.
I’ve been an off-again, on-again reader of PostSecret for over a decade and a writer and storyteller for nearly as long – and my biggest concern about PostSecret: The Show was that it wouldn’t have enough story to it. After all, it’s based on lots of random anonymous lines written on postcards. How much narrative could there be? Where would the emotional arc come from? How satisfied would I be when walking away from this show?
PostSecret: The Show was an immersive experience from the very start. Before the show on February 8, sticky notes bearing secrets hung on mirrors in the restrooms, paired with pens and blank pads encouraging hand washers to add their own. (My husband let me know that the men’s room had a number of secrets that read “I don’t wash my hands.” I didn’t see any such secrets in the ladies’ room, but there were a lot of secrets about husbands.) In the theater, a large screen beckoned audience members to tweet their secrets with a specific hashtag in order to be put onscreen. A lot of “check-ins” were shared on the screen but few true secrets. To be fair, Twitter does not promise the anonymity that an unsigned postcard or sticky note does.
The show started by dramatizing PostSecret founder Frank Warren’s most memorable call while volunteering on a suicide hotline. This was done through voiceover and simple movement; it was both dramatic and moving. The story’s ending was not revealed, but the scene had an energy and a gravitas that were leading. Why might any call into a suicide hotline be memorable?
There is a quote from Oliver Twist that I’ve long treasured, “It is the custom on the stage… to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation, as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky bacon.” PostSecret does this beautifully, segueing from its powerful opening into a series of projected postcards about peeing in the shower. This carried throughout the night: moments of extreme tension were followed by great levity. Each postcard on the screen found murmured relatability in the audience. The secrets came in thematic waves, with some broken out and developed into story-scenes by three actors (TJ Dawe, Maria Glanz, Kerry Ipema). Some of these worked very well, showing how people were affected by secrets shared. Others felt a bit treacly and over the top, occasionally giving the sense that PostSecret was the catalyst for healing – rather than the humans behind the stories.
The show incorporated interaction throughout. Following intermission, the audience’s own secrets were read onstage by the actors. These got the biggest responses of the night: raucous laughter, shouts of encouragement, ripples of sympathy. After the show, a photographer was available to take pictures of audience members with their secrets on a whiteboard. The line to share was long!
In the end, my own fears proved unfounded. Of course, wonderful stories emerged out of mere secrets on postcards. Once a secret is shared, there’s an urge to keep sharing. The emotional arc of PostSecret:The Show builds that urge into a wave. I walked out of the show ready to dig into my inner self for something I hadn’t shared before, if only to be part of the movement. It was a truly satisfying evening of theatre – and made for great ride-home conversation!