Mouths of Babes (MoB) Theatre Company is offering a series of readings of works-in-progress during the Lumina Festival of Arts at UNCW currently. “We’re trying to develop a new-work incubator or a new-work workshop like what’s seen at the O’Neil in Connecticut and we’re trying to do that but with young people,” explains artistic director for MoB, Trey Morehouse. “The idea is we’re giving folks a look under the hood for the play-making process.”
The first reading, “Out, NC,” was held in the auditorium of King Hall on Friday, July 13. The in-progress script is conceived by Morehouse, Matt Carter, Tony Choufani, Mickey Johnson and Kat Rosner. It is in development from interviews with 22 local members of the LBGTQIA community and has a “Vagina Monologues”-meets-“Laramie Project” vibe. Many interview subjects skew to the younger end of the age continuum, so a lot of time is devoted to the discovery and coming-out process, as it is a fresh experience.
There are a few interview subjects who are living their adult lives in professional jobs, with long-term relationships and speak to those aspects of the gay experience. The older interviewees also bring up valid points about the continual “coming out” process in their professional lives. Does one display a picture of her spouse on a desk at work? What factors go into that decision? It’s such a simple act, but the decision is not taken lightly, nor are the ramifications.
Given the US House of Representatives just passed a measure to allow adoption agencies the refusal of serving gay couples as potential parents, the concern about who one comes out to and under what circumstances is not unfounded.
Presented by Jayden Wingate, Lola Byers-Ogle, Amber Moore, Jeremy Carrera, Jamie Harwood, River Hedgpeth and Elicia, the reading features people sitting on stools, from scripts in hand. On one side, not having any visual signals in the form of costumes or props to follow the interviews is an interesting experience as an audience member. We want to try and follow the story arc of each character. However, removing signposts forces the audience to concentrate entirely on words and not exterior trappings or labels, which is in effect the message of the show. There’s some merit to continuing with the piece as more of a reading and less of a stage production.
As I said, a lot of the interviews skew to the younger LBGTQIA experience (as MoB Theatre’s mission is focused on younger voices). For example, there is a very brief nod to the impact of the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s in the gay community. That portion is recounted from interviews with two older gay men. During the talk-back, one of the young readers commented they had seen the movie “And the Band Played On,” which was the sum total of their knowledge of AIDS. I was hit with two really powerful emotions: One was shocked disbelief that the play only covered the briefest of nods to the horror that ravaged the country and the gay community specifically. The other emotion was an ecstatic relief that, for this generation after me, AIDS was nothing more than a footnote in history.
“It’s like polio for you,” Jock commented later. Indeed it is a good analogy. For my parents’ generation, polio was a silent terror. The week they were given polio vaccines on sugar cubes at local schools was a landmark; it changed the course of all their lives. It really brings tears to my eyes that a generation of young people can come into their adulthood and explore sexuality without a thought for the Sword of Damocles that hung over our heads. Hearing that brought the words, “Dayenu—it would have been enough,” as we say at Passover.
It was the first of the staged readings MoB is offering during Lumina. Next up on July 18 is a reading of an adaptation by Dr. Charles Grimes, Matt Carter, Emily Saffo and Vivian Long-Sires of Euripides’ “Iphigenia.”
“Part of our mission is new works and classics done in a new way,” Morehouse tells me. “We wanted to take a classic work that specifically dealt with young people.”
“Iphigenia” centers around the belief that sacrificing Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigenia, is the only way to make the winds carry the fleet of ships to their destination. “This child is at the center of this political debate,” Morehouse notes. The parallels with children in immigration detention centers or school shootings are easy to draw. “Children sort of stuck in the middle of these adult squabbles,” he continues and points out how the show lets them “flesh out political themes dealing with young people.”
“Wilmington Reconstructed” on July 22 is “the most work-in-progress,” according to Morehouse. It is based around The Daily Record, the first daily published African-American newspaper, which was owned by Frank and Alex Manley in Wilmington. The Manleys became targets during the government coup and racial massacre that was carried out here in 1898.
“I’ve been following a class led by locals John Jeremiah Sullivan [who is writing the Broadway musical about The Wilmington 1898 Riots with Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens] and Joel Finsel,” Morehouse explains. “The goal is to find and preserve articles from The Daily Record.”
The class works with middle-school students in the area to do direct historical research and preservation. “I followed the project and did break-off interviews with folks who were involved following this work—less of a draft and more of a presentation of the voices and ideas we are playing with in the play.”
The final offering in the series, “Stolen Voices” (July 25), is an adaptation—essentially diary entries of young people during war. “Sort of Anne Frank-type stories,” Morehouse clarifies. The piece is adapted by Meghan Kelleher from the book “Stolen Voices: Young People’s War Diaries from World War I to Iraq,” edited by Zlata Filipovic and Melanie Challenger.
“I think there will be four main narratives,” Morehouse describes, “four or five and then one-off monologues from other diaries. They’re coming here to work with actors to try to find the play in the room.” For a glimpse into process, it sounds promising.
Part of what I love about living in Wilmington is the opportunity to see and enjoy original works on stage. The process of creating theatre never ceases to fascinate me. MoB offers to draw back the curtain on the process. By showing us four different pieces at varying stages we, the audience, can develop a much deeper appreciation of the storytelling process as a way of connecting people across boundaries, time and space to find our common humanity.