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The Joy of Telling Secrets
This is an improv related essay... mostly
There is something particularly tantalizing about being let in on something you’re not supposed to know about. When we learn secrets about our political leadership it can make us feel smart or betrayed… or both! When we learn trade secrets, knowing them can help us feel special or important. When friends trust us with the things they can’t share with others, it strengthens our bonds. And when we open up and let our own secrets out, it can provide us some relief from the stress of holding something so tightly.
Secrets as Inspiration
I am a cast member in a show called Portland Secrets, which is a direct descendant of a show born in Austin, TX at the Hideout Theatre called… you guessed it, Austin Secrets. We haven’t performed in 5 years, but we’re coming back this coming weekend, for one very special night!
In this show, we perform scenes inspired from real secrets that are submitted anonymously by people who may never see the show, or might be sitting in the audience that very night. Because the secrets can range from the charming “whenever I go through automatic doors, I secretly pretend to be a sorcerer” to the dark secrets of those who have survived trauma.
As performers we never really know what we’re going to get for our next secret, so to play in this show requires a couple of qualities beyond the usual improv playfulness. We must be willing to hold each secret with the honor and care that we would treat a friend who has just shared something with us. We’ve also got to be hyper flexible, because most secrets are best honored when we don’t reproduce things in a literal way, and instead take inspiration from the core of the secret. We’ve also got to be willing to bring our own human vulnerabilities to the stage.
In our last rehearsal there was a secret from a person who had experienced a trauma at a wedding, and had told no one. The scene we performed from this was simply three people talking about nothing important at a public event, each in a different emotional state. The message of the scene being simply, that you never know what is happening below the surface of small talk. The secret having already been shared with the audience was all that was needed to make a benign and maybe even boring scene seem rich with layers and depth of emotion.
There is a section of the show called Hidden Secrets in which only one cast member (along with the audience) is let in on a secret, and then must perform in a scene started by another player who has not seen the secret. Our director’s favorite example of this was from the first year of the show: one cast member was given the secret “I like to draw naked self portraits.” That cast member pulled out a chair sat down, and began miming doodling in a notebook. Another cast member (who did not know the secret) came skipping onto the stage, and said “Hi daddy!” causing the first player to quickly hide his imaginary notebook before replying “good morning sweetheart.” Lights came down, and the audience erupted in laughter.
Does everyone keep secrets?
I believe that having secrets, whether about our likes and dislikes, thoughts and actions, or about experiences we’ve had, is a universal human experience.
I used to tell people that I have no secrets and that I’m an open book. This is still true about me. I don’t keep secrets purposefully (unless they belong to someone else, in which case they’re not mine to tell). But in reality even I have secrets. There are things about me that people in my closest network may not even know simply because they’ve never bothered to ask. I bet this is true about you and the people you are connected to as well.
Perhaps the reason Portland Secrets is such a bonding experience leaving both audience and cast feeling elated and close, sometimes even euphoric, is because there is an emotional relief to knowing that we are not alone. Even our most horrible human experiences can be sources of creativity. Our fears are valid. Our silliness is welcome. There is a universality to our humanity and in opening up in this way we can laugh and we can cry… together.
I cannot express how tremendously excited I am to have this show return for one special night (and hopefully more in the near future).
Do you have a secret you’d like to get off your chest??
You can experience the relief that comes with sharing a secret in a way that is absolutely and completely anonymous, and help our show at the same time!
Submit one secret, or many, by clicking this button and filling out the one-line form.
And if you’re in Portland this Saturday the 16th at 10pm… drop by the Funhouse Lounge to see what we do with Secrets.