Victor Hugo once said, “No one ever keeps a secret so well as a child.” And no child protects a secret better than from their mother. In the ultimate creative collaboration, Secrets I Never Told My Mother examines the connotations and consequences of secret-keeping through the memoirs of Durham community members. The show incorporates video design, audio documentary and dance in a display of local talent from every artistic background.

Development of the show’s background material took many months. Videographer Jon Haas employed Isadora, a trailblazing real-time manipulation software that allows him to interact with the stage activity. Leah Wilks created choreography from audio interviews she conducted, beginning with the question, “What is a secret you never told your mother?” Wilks used their secrets to explore how society influences even our most personal relationships. These include the physical and emotional tolls of keeping, exposing and spreading secrets.

“A lot of the source material and topics we’re exploring have been drawn from audiences and people in our community,” Haas wrote in an email. “This show is a collection of what people are going through and living with.”

Inspired by these interviews, over twenty artists—including professional dancers, original composers and behind-the-scenes architects—came together to create a collaborative production centered on a near-universal experience. Wilks intentionally selected these team members from Durham and the surrounding Triangle area to take advantage of face-to-face interaction. To further foster the locally based creative atmosphere, all of the proceeds from ticket sales will be put toward financing future homegrown productions.

“A big part of my long-term goals is to create a professional performing arts community here, in Durham, and that means hiring artists who live here,” Wilks wrote in an email.

When listening to Wilks’s recordings, members of the production team individually interpreted the fortunes and misadventures of secret-keeping. Also drawing on their own experiences, the team members were tasked with contributing to the performance through distinct elements.

As the project’s premiere neared, the artists synthesized their creations into one collective show that the audience could experience on multiple dimensions.

“The aim is as much creating a space for an audience to ruminate on what we’ve been exploring as it is telling people what we’ve learned and what we think about it,” Haas said.

The show’s creators aim to represent the diversity of circumstances that govern secrets and secret-keeping. The most salient, however, is the complexity of mother-child relations.

“Secrets [kept] from someone who gave birth to you, who brought you into this world and knew you from your inception, are particularly compelling and worth exploring,” Haas added.

In the video preview for the performance, dancer Nicola Bullock comments on the unique feeling of owning a secret as a child.

“One of the most powerful things you can have when you’re a kid is secrets because they’re yours and they’re not anybody else’s,” she says. “Everything else is given to you or done for you.”

Whether devastating, like those that separated Hugo’s Cosette and Fantine, or more harmless everyday confidences like protecting the name of a crush, secrets affect our bodies, consciences and interactions. Their incredible variance deserves a closer look, and Secrets I Never Told My Mother intends to do just that, along with presenting that which words cannot adequately express.
“The most important part of the show is what it makes audience members think about,” Wilks said. “Whatever they walk away questioning, thinking and feeling is important.”

Secrets I Never Told My Mother will run October 4-6 at 8 p.m. at the Trotter Building (410 West Geer Street in Durham).