Frank Warren seems like a nice enough guy, but he sure can’t keep a secret.
In his presentation, PostSecret Live, at Bass Hall on Tuesday, he spilled the beans about all sorts of embarrassing, funny, poignant, terrifying and inspiring private thoughts and feelings people have shared with him over the last 10 years on his website www.postsecret.com.
But while those revelations were made anonymously, several fans of his work were present Tuesday and stepped up to a microphone and shared something personal with the crowd of about 700. Those baring their souls included one woman who felt guilty about a lack of sadness about her mother’s impending death, and another who was still trying to cope with the fallout of being raped several years ago.
Warren set the whole PostSecret phenomenon in motion when he started a website he has referred to as a “community mail-art project” that invited one and all to create a homemade post card, decorate it and include a secret that has never been shared with anyone else. The response was immediately overwhelming. Warren said the cards now number more than a million from all over the world, with several of them currently on display in an exhibit at Washington’s Smithson Museum. He has also published a half-dozen books based on the often elaborately ornate messages he has received.
The content of those postcards, revealed in Tuesday’s 90-minute show with the aid of a projection screen, ran the gamut. Many were funny or trivial (Warren said that the most common secret reported is urinating while in the shower). Plenty had to do with love and romance. Some were simple messages of hope. A couple were just a bit naughty. But a few were deeply disturbing, like the numerous images of doors broken by parents trying to visit violence on their children.
Tuesday’s performance made it clear, however, that the secrets that have to do with fear and mental stability are the ones that matter most to Warren. He admitted to his own struggles with mental illness (he can give secrets as good as he can take them) and has raised more than $1 million for suicide prevention efforts.
Warren’s postcards, and his show, obviously serve a cathartic purpose for those choosing to participate in his project. Dressed casually in shirt and jeans and armed with just a few notes and props, Warren walked the stage and peppered his remarks with inspirational messages, urging his audience to ease their burdens through confession. It was all a bit touchy-feely at times (he even had the audience do the tired old trick of turning and greeting the other patrons around them), but it never seemed insincere in any way.
Overall, Warren’s experience with the postcards represented the very best and very worst people can be. He read or displayed numerous cards that glowed with warmth and kindness. But he also had to tell the story of his app, which had to be taken down because of inappropriate sexual content posted by mean-spirited abusers. An audience member broke into tears when asking Warren about the app, which had been popular during the brief period it was up.
Some of what was shared fell into the TMI category, and there was an almost stifling earnestness to the event. But there were also more than a few smiles and genuinely touching moments.
My favorite secret of the evening came from the guy who was second in line at the microphone when Warren opened the floor for secrets.
“I really wish I had gotten to go first,” he said. And then he walked away.