Confessionals aren't just for holy rollers anymore. They are for everyman, according to Melissa Joy, creator of the Truth Booth — a wandering tent designed to collect secrets.
Only there isn't a priest who listens. There in the Booth the confessor is left with a stool (to sit on), sketch pad (to write the confession), and a camera, which is compiling footage that will all be part of a larger documentary the photographer has in the works. After participants leave the Booth they are given candy — or in some instances farm produce — for their admissions.
"Candy for your sins, peppers for your secrets" is Joy's catch phrase.
The Booth — made out of PVC pipe, bed sheets, and string — has been spotted around the state at parties and street fairs. This Sunday, it will be at the Lee Harvey Oswald Post Modern Make-Out Party at Firehouse No. 13.
It's a place where teenage girls confide that they hate their dads' girlfriends and boys admit first loves. And there's plenty of carnal talk.
"There's a lot of sex, a lot," said Joy. "People just want to talk about it."
Others admit to a deep fear of death, some talk of bouts with eating disorders. To conceal identities, a black masquerade mask is always available. And for the particularly paranoid, a sheet to wrap the entire body.
But for Joy, the fascination isn't unveiling scandal; it's about making the novel mundane: in the sheer accumulation of secrets, she said, people come to understand they are connected by universal faults. Or at least that's the idea.
"Everyone could realize our secrets are our honesty," she said.
The Booth started off as a University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth senior thesis project that led to university gallery showings and later solo exhibits at New Bedford coffee haunt the Green Bean.
Joy, who has no end date in mind for her project, would like the footage to incorporate more than "just a bunch of college kids." And with that in mind, she paid a visit to Kennedy Plaza this past Saturday.
Joy and her "recruiters" erected the Booth in an area close to the bus terminal but not so visible that the cops would tear it down. Almost immediately after the group set up, youths from the Tent City homeless encampment wandered toward the Booth, some giving videotaped confessions.
And as night arrived, Joy and crew turned their attentions to the out-of-towners attending the nearby WaterFire festivities. "God will not be present," said recruiter Victor Mansella.
Joy did a quick poll of her cohorts to discern their astrological signs. And finding a Sagittarius and Aquarius in the mix — water and fire both accounted for — she made another pitch: "Turn down all that ruckus!," she shouted. "People, we have water and fire here!"
Their appeals exhausted, the group noticed some of their rewards for confessors were missing. Joy said it's a common occurrence.
"They stole our peppers and candy without giving us some truth," said Joy, rolling a cigarette. "That's screwed up, but it's part of it."