Mouths of Babes Theatre Company presents a new documentary play based on Wilmington interviews with the LGBTQ community. It's called Out, NC. The group presents a first staged reading at Cameron Art Museum March 29-31. Actors are seeking input as they continue to develop this piece.
Staged reading performances are Thursday, 3/29 at 7:00pm; Friday, 3/30 at 2:00pm; & Saturday, 3/31 at 2:00pm at CAM.
Listen above to Artistic Director Trey Morehouse and Actor/Collaborator Tony Choufani. See our extended conversation below.
Gina: Mouths of Babes-which is a pretty new name in Wilmington theater-Mouths of Babes recently had an interesting performance that was a documentary play based on journaling…
Trey: We were at Cucalorus Festival this November where we had our, I guess Wilmington premiere of a play called The Diary Play, a play that was a compiled and created using teen diaries. So actual diaries from actual adults during their teen years. When we made this play, we went out, we had a call for diaries and created a play that performed at a Cucalorus and then we also had some performances at the Cameron Art Museum.
Gina: Interestingly, you are using a similar tactic with this current show, which is called "Out, NC."
Trey: "Out, NC" is, is what the project we're working on right now. Yeah, so these would both be called documentary plays. These are plays created using, I guess you could say a document. So the document for the diary play was diaries and for this play we're creating right now, we're using a interviews. So we are conducting interviews in the community from local members of the LGBTQ community and we're asking them a variety of questions, like what is coming out mean to you? is a big one, with the idea being to create a play on the theme of coming out and being LGBTQ in the south.
Gina: And then what do you do with the information that you gather?
Trey: Yeah, so we conduct the interviews and then we transcribe them, which is a very painful process. We all hate where we basically type out the interviews word for word. Then we kind of take the sections that we like, whether for thematic purposes or whether it'd be for something that’s informative. Typically something that has a strong narrative, so as you know, in creating theater, you want to think about story and we want to think about, um, things that have a good plot, right? So we find those things and right now we're in the process of compiling, compiling to create the actual script for the play.
Gina: And Tony, you're an actor in the show. You also have been gathering, doing these interviews, gathering this material. What is it like to go through that process? First of all, how do you find the people that you want to interview? What kind of questions are you asking them? Has there been any discomfort or weird moments?
Tony: It's been really eye opening. We’ve found people either through friends of friends or just people we know in the community. Uh, we've reached out to LGBTQ organizations in Wilmington and tried to find people there. And each interview has been totally different. I've always had a set of questions that I bring with me, but often I start with just what the general question of what is coming out mean to you? And then that person's story sort of dictates what I asked them after that. And each interview has been pretty different in terms of the stories that people tell.
I've had people who were like from an older generations that have lived through the AIDS crisis and you know, from, you know, younger people who are just in starting college and their experiences with like having come out recently and what that's been like for them. I've gotten to see all these different perspectives, not just gay people but bisexual people, transgender people, people of color. And we're just trying to gather as many perspectives as we can so we can be representative of everybody
Gina: And Trey, have you also been doing these interviews?
Trey: I have been. Yeah. The interview started summer last year and it started small. It was just like, me gathering interviews, a couple here, a couple there. And then it expanded beginning in January when I began to look for actors like Tony and some of our other cohorts, friends and cohorts to help gather those. So we've kind of grown exponentially since January.
Gina: How many actors and cohorts are working on this?
Trey: So there are the core company for actors on this project. And then we have some other folks that are just helping us gather interviews. We have a student volunteer, Monica, who's a member of Wilmington pride who's been who's been doing interviews for us. A friend of mine who's moved out of the state was helping us with interviews. So it's probably around a six or seven total.
Gina: The material that you gather in these interviews, do you have to keep it word for word? Are you able to take that and shape it into a stage situation?
Trey: Definitely shape, I'd say. I mean, I, I think that it being actual voices and actual stories. We do want to keep that authenticity. But there's a certain level of editing that and I think has to happen in terms of streamlining the stories or making it somehow more interesting or engaging or linear for the audience, if that makes sense?
Gina: Absolutely. What you're presenting this weekend at the Cameron Art Museum is, is a work in progress. What exactly will you be presenting to the public right now?
Trey: We'll be presenting a staged reading of the work that we have assembled so far. A part of the point of this is that we really want to have a community-created peace. So we want to present the material and the hope is that there'll be someone in the audience that’ll say, hey, well you didn't talk to this person or that person or you know, this voice isn't represented. And we'll say, oh wow, we didn't think about that. The hope is to get feedback on that and to kind of following the reading, kind of going back to the drawing board a bit and to continue our interviews and then to actually workshop it again over the summer. We'll be at the Lumina Arts Festival on campus this summer, the plan being to have a full presented production by at least the fall. So it is kind of like a long workshop process. And, and, uh, the aim really is for it to be a community driven piece. We really want the community's input as we're creating it.
Gina: When people come, Tony, when people come this weekend, will the audience only hear the direct interview text?
Tony: Yes they will, we, it is going to be just the text and we've went through, we've added that in. We've sort of grouped a answers to similar questions. So there is a narrative. The play sort of starts with like what is coming out mean to you and then moves on to other things like adversity, what adversity people face in their lives, the first time that they came out to somebody and what that was like. And then we also have some more fun sequences where we ask people questions like what shape would your sexuality would be, or what costume would your genitalia wear and things like that…
Trey: We went to Ibiza…
Tony: Yeah, we went to Ibiza. We, we interviewed people in short bursts while they were partying and stuff to just get sort of that environment. So it all will be directly from people's mouths and, and nothing that we've come up with ourselves other than just editing in shaping what we've transcribed.
Gina: I'm wondering about just the genesis of the idea for this project. How did this begin?
Trey: Is something that I've been thinking about for awhile personally. I had a stint in California, lived in California for a bit and all the HB2 stuff was happening just really affected me. Like I felt like I was like on different planet in California and suddenly my home state was making national news over this, in my mind, human rights violation. I just really wanted to do something. I really felt like I wanted to get voices, have voices be heard. And in the midst of this, there was actually a theater company I worked with in Raleigh, an actor quit a show there in protest of HB2. They were a New York actor, they quit and went back to New York and I kind of felt like that was maybe the wrong response and it was kind of a disservice to the wrong community in a way. I was just started thinking about what would it like a productive artists response be to that.
Having an interest in documentary theater, I thought, well, what if we could create a space using these interviews to create a space to talk about LGBTQ issues in a productive way? And so that, that's really been the genesis and there's been a lot of, I think, interesting conversations to come out of that. Things like, well, Wilmington doesn't have an LGBTQ center for example. And why is that? So, you know, Greensboro, Raleigh, Durham have LGBTQ centers, but Wilmington does not. So maybe this could be a, a place we can help create a space to help talk about those sort of issues.
Gina: Mouths of Babes-is this a theater for young people?
Trey: Yeah. Well the idea is that it's a teens and young adults. And so the idea of coming out…it's typically a puberty teenage issue. It's not always, and people come out all the time for all kinds of different reasons, but a part of the impetus for the project was making a play that a teen or young adult might be able to go to and talk about and think about these things. So it is essentially a teen, a young adult-oriented theater where create work for teen and young adult actors. Creating plays for anybody-I mean, we're not going to be exclusive about who comes to see the plays, of course. And there's a big component of, I'd say, youth outreach. So, for example, our projects in April, we'll be doing Hamlet in April, we’re having students come to see the play during the daytime showings and we'll be doing some outreach in the community for that show. And for “Out, NC” actually at a local LGBTQ youth group that will be coming to see the play. So youth outreach is just a very big part of our mission. I'd say youth outreach and teen and young adult engagement are kind of the two components.
Gina: But I assume that the stories that you've collected have been from multiple age groups.
Tony: Yes. But one of the big questions that we ask people, no matter what age they were, is if they could go back in time and talk to their younger selves or talk to young people in general, what advice they would give them about coming out and being different. And so even though we have these interviews from, you know, people of all ages, it definitely has a focus on making it OK for younger people to come out and to give them perspectives on what it's like to, to come out and be gay and how to deal with that.
Trey: Creating a mentorship space.
Gina: Who's the oldest person you've spoken to--or how old is the oldest person you've spoken to?
Trey: Good question. I, there's a couple. Um, we always ask age. I know there was one gentleman we asked who just wouldn't answer, kind of made a joke out of it. I think he might be the oldest person. I'm actually, um, you, I'd have to assume 70s? Do you have any thoughts, Tony?
Tony: Yeah, I think 70 is the oldest.
Gina: And the youngest?
Tony: Yeah. 19.
Gina: Now even though you have this youth focus, this is something that would be of interest to people of all ages to watch…
Trey: Yes, even with Diary Play, a lot of the people who came in and enjoyed it were senior citizens, the retired community. We had some high school teachers. So I think the impetus is teen young adult, but this is theater for everybody.
Tony: I just feel like in general this project, I feel like-you were saying about HB2 and all those things-I feel like those things come about because people are scared of what they don't understand and they don't understand LGBT community or you know, the lawmakers who passed HB2 didn't understand transgender people. So I think that this, the most important thing about this play is that it gives human stories to these issues so people don't have to be afraid. They can see that their neighbors and their friends are part of these communities. And they're just like everyone else. I think my hope with the play is that, not that it's going to push these issues down people's throats or try to convince people thatLgbtq rights or like the most important thing-but that they will want to support those rights because they'll see that these are human issues and these are real people who are just like everyone else. They just want love and compassion and respect. They have real struggles and that it's not so scary. They're just like everyone else.
Gina: Are either of you gay?
Tony: I am gay.
Gina: I never asked that question. That's the first time I've ever asked that in an interview.
Trey: I identify as an ally so I don't identify as LGBTQ. When I first started off with this project, I sat down with a mentor, Dr Katie Peel at UNCW.I was just expressing like some, I don't know, anxiety about taking on a project where I wasn't necessarily a part of the community. And her advice I thought was really good, which is that, well, you know, the “A” is for ally and don't forget that's the important part [LGBTQIA]. I think it's an important component that's been kind of my personal, like rallying cry in some way is to just remind myself that. And I think that's a great reminder for anyone who feels so moved to be involved in any particular issue, no matter what they are. Being an ally is a really strong thing to be.