The last time Trey Morehouse, founder of Mouths of Babes Theatre Company (MOB), spoke with encore, he was on the hunt for the real-life accounts and coming-out stories of Cape Fear locals who identify across the spectrum of sexuality and gender identities. Now, having received over 60 interviews, performances of “Out, NC” are arriving just in time for National Pride Month and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of historic protests that pushed for gay liberation in New York City.
Similar to other documentary theatre, such as Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” “Out, NC” transforms interviews into scripts to be performed locally. Morehouse, along with his former professor at UNCW, Dr. Charles Grimes, created MOB.
“[We want] to create a contemporary, experimental theatre group that would be geared toward young adult actors and audiences,” Morehouse tells.
Nonetheless, younger voices are not the only ones heard in “Out, NC.” The interview process brought to light a wide range of narratives from sexuality to gender to age. For instance, Bellana Duquesne, who identifies as a transgender woman and decided to retire in Wilmington, shared her story with Morehouse—though late during the interview process. “None of the material from my interviews made it to the final script,” tells Duquesne, who did a test-run of her one-woman show in Wilmington in November 2018.
“I always seek opportunities to perform,” she tells. “[‘Out, NC’] was interesting to me not just because of the play’s themes but because of the opportunity to perform expressing both sides of the gender spectrum.”
Duquesne will portray local drag icon Tara Nicole Brooks, along with two other characters. She is bringing to light both the comfort and discomfort of gender expression in day-to-day life.
“The play touches on multiple aspects of the LGBTQ experience,” Duquesne reveals. “So much of the material is informative, not in a clinical or sociological way, but it lets a viewer see the personal, emotional impact of understanding one’s own gender/sexuality in a social construct that still views a person’s very nature as being deviant.”
Performances are built on coming-out stories, and in many ways universally shared amongst members of LGBTQIA. Whether a performance calls back to the nostalgia of coming-out decades ago or channels the fresh feelings of newly out LGBTQIA folk, Morehouse expresses how the idea of “disclosing” one’s identity is resonant in all instances.
“The idea of coming-out isn’t just a one event thing,” he explains. “There often is a first time or a self-realization, but there’s also just the coming out that has to happen on sometimes a daily basis.”
The diverse narratives featured in the “Out, NC” range from accounts of living through the AIDS crisis to being at the Stonewall Inn during the 1969 riots. Austin Garret, an actor in the play, emphasized the importance of raising awareness to these types of stories. “I like it not only benefits people that aren’t part of the community but also people that are,” he explains.
Alex Pechlivanidis plays three different roles and has welcomed the challenge of portraying real people’s mannerisms and personalities. The experience gave her insight into Wilmington’s LGBTQIA community as a whole.
“I think a big eye opener for me has been the unity of the community,” she admits. “I didn’t realize before how tied in everyone is; everyone understands the struggle and is together.”
Aside from the unique content of the show, “Out, NC” also has a distinctive seating arrangement. In Kenan Auditorium on the campus of UNCW, the audience will sit on the stage while the performances take place in the seats.
“We’re creating a black box type experience on the stage at Kenan to create a very intimate experience for the storytelling,” Morehouse says. “Conceptually, we’re trying to give it a story circle feel.”
Organizations like the St. Jude Metropolitan Community Church and the Frank Harr Foundation have worked hand-in-hand with MOB to put on the event. Similar to MOB’s continued efforts to create safe spaces, these groups work to bring LGBTQIA issues to the public eye through support and education. The Frank Harr Foundation will put on a Pride Picnic that will take place on June 16 before the play.