Of all the interviews I’ve led in my career, I have never been as at ease as I was wandering into Toronto’s Sheraton Hotel to meet Frank Warren, founder of PostSecret, visiting Toronto to promote PostSecret: The Show (at Panasonic Theatre, May 3-8). As the world’s leading keeper of secrets – ranging from hilarious to evil to gut-wrenchingly tragic – there is nothing Frank hasn’t seen, well, read.


Frank started the project in 2004 as a creative outlet. “For twenty years, I was an information broker. It was a lucrative business but it was monotonous and boring,” he says with a smirk. “I thank god for having a boring job. It pushed me to do creative things after work and on the weekends. One of those things was PostSecret.”

Since then, he’s amassed over a million cards with secrets. His weekend project quickly grew to become something profoundly beautiful that has affected countless individuals and changed lives. Further, PostSecret has had an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as a dozen other museums and galleries, including a permanent installation at The Smithsonian. The latest incarnation of the project, PostSecret: The Show, is a live performance in which actors read aloud some of the most fascinating secrets Frank has received, while including an interactive component where audience members share their secrets.


After a dozen years, the thrill of receiving postcards has not waned for Frank. “I still feel like a kid on Christmas morning as I pull the secrets out of the mailbox.” I wonder what Frank considers to be the greatest lessons of humanity he’s learned. His findings are too important to edit, so I’m sharing exactly what he shared with me.

“I have two ways to answer this question:

1) The shame and stigma and commonality of feeling alone in today’s world. I think a lot of us struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation, and I think we also feel that there’s shame associated with that, so we keep it a secret, which is paradoxical because there’s never been more technology that allows us to communicate and connect. Maybe the sharing that we do digitally isn’t authentic. Maybe with Facebook we’re creating a profile projecting how we want others to see us, whereas the real sharing has to do with taking off that mask, and showing our wounds and being vulnerable.

2) Learning about the source of real threats and danger in the world. When I was a kid growing up, we would be told, “Watch out for strangers!” Don’t stray far from home!” But you know what? Most of the secrets I receive from people who have been abused or victimized, the threat more often than not is someone they knew. It was a friend of the family, an uncle, that first date in college. That made me re-evaluate how I see strangers. For me, the most inspiring secrets are hidden acts of kindness for strangers or from strangers. There’s one secret in the show that came from a meter maid. She said, “Whenever I’m travelling in other cities, and I see a meter that’s expired, I always put money in it.” For me, it’s made me feel a greater sense of closeness and community with strangers. At the same time, it’s helped me recognize that in my own life some of the biggest bullies, some of the things that scared me the most, some of the biggest threats, were coming from my own home.”

With so many secrets pouring in about abuse, addiction and adultery, I ask Frank if the project makes him feel pessimistic or optimistic about our world. He’s quick to respond, “Optimistic. And it’s not necessarily because of the secrets but how the project has connected me, in so many ways, with young people,” says Frank, who believes that the youth of today are doing a better job than his generation when it comes to opening up the dialogue of issues like sexual assault, mental wellness, depression and anxiety. “Young people are not just talking about these things but taking ownership of them.”


As someone who has had her share of secrets, I confess to Frank that I found holding them in to be toxic. He said, “It’s not the secret itself that is the most toxic; it is the burden of having to keep it a secret…investing energy to conceal part of who you are, and the shame and stigma connected to that. I think that can be the real burden.” I think he’s right.

But not all secrets are poisonous. Frank points at a little case he carries with him, full of various secrets. “I have a secret in here that has a picture of a horrible-looking face and it says, ‘I think my actor roommate is talentless and ugly.’ Maybe that is a toxic secret, but the fact that they don’t share that is a noble way to protect somebody’s feelings.”


The case on the table is there to show press examples of the secrets that Frank gets, the types of secrets in the show, but I want to know if there is one special secret that Frank always keeps close by. He then reaches for his back pocket and shows me his wallet. Inside, he pulls out a dollar bill with scrawled text that reads, “We are all part of something bigger than ourselves, and we are all in it together.” Frank then passes the dollar bill to me to keep. I’m nearly brought to tears. Like so many, Frank’s work has deeply affected me.


In 2007, when I first began Shedoesthecity, I went to a talk that Frank was giving in the park underneath OCAD. I was 27 at the time, and in a far different space than I am today. At that point, I had secrets that I wasn’t even aware of, but secrets that were nonetheless gnawing at my insides. It would be a few years before those secrets would bubble to the surface, when, staring in the mirror, they’d appear in my reflection. It was only when I began to acknowledge my secrets and share them with others – with you – that my tightly knotted insides began to loosen.

Standing up to put on my jacket, I ask Frank one last question: “What do you want to say to the person struggling? The person whose secrets are suffocating them…who is feeling completely alone?”

“Trust your story. It will set you free.”

PostSecret: The Show is a visual, auditory and emotional journey through the beauty and complication of our deepest fears, ambitions, and confessions. With the assistance of projected images and video, three actors guide the audience through a crowd-sourced narrative of the stories behind never-before-seen secrets: sexual, sad, funny and controversial postcards that have made postsecret.com one of the most popular blogs in the world. PostSecret: The Show is on stage at the Panasonic Theatre May 3-8.