Award winning Writer/Director Del Shores is set to take New Orleans by storm bringing his award winning film Southern Baptist Sissies to the Zeitgeist Arts Center tonight at 7:30pm. The film is the screen adaptation of Shores’ play first produced in 1999. It’s the story of four gay boys who are growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, and how they each deal differently with the conflict between the teachings of the church and their budding sexuality. Although written in 1999, the film and its themes about religion, sexuality, and self-acceptance are stronger than ever in today’s society of change. This film—which stars Emerson Collins, William Belli, Luke Stratte-McClure, Matthew Scott Montgomery, Dale Dickey and Leslie Jordan—is a highly stylized, sharply produced live production of the actual play. Southern Baptist Sissies is a laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreakingly provocative film and a must see. VIP was lucky enough to catch up with both Del and Emerson this week while they are here promoting the film and here’s what they had to say:
Del, tell us why you wrote this play?
When Matthew Shepard was murdered, I really started wondering if the crime had been influenced by some of the teachings from the Church. My dad was a Southern Baptist Preacher so I had a lifetime of experience with the rhetoric that happens to boys growing up that way. This film is exactly about that.
You wrote the play back in 1999, how do you think the message resonates today?
It’s crazy because I feel like it is more relevant today. When we made the film, I changed some the lines to reflect some of the pop and political figures of today, but because society is changing, those on the other side of equality are fighting back and just as hard as the gay community is so it makes this battle very relevant.
The relationship between the four boys is dynamic, was it difficult casting the roles?
The casting actually came together perfectly. I had worked with many of the other actors before including Leslie Jordan from Sordid Lives so it wasn’t that difficult to figure out who needed to be in this film. Both Emerson and I came up with the idea to cast William and when we were thinking about the role of Mark, it really just hit me that Emerson was Mark. I originally met Emerson during a production of the play in Dallas, and he is an extraordinary talent as well as a partner in the production company, Beard Collins Shores Productions. He was a perfect fit for the role.
As this is a limited engagement screening, why did you want to bring this film to New Orleans?
First of all, I love New Orleans. It has just the right amount of fun and sin. Also, since we own the film, we didn’t just want to give the film to anyone. We wanted to put the film out in the markets where the experts have told us that our work is embraced and favorably received. New Orleans is one of those places. I have done my one man show here before and the audiences are great. I love and respect the support that New Orleans has given me over the years and hope that everyone will come out to see this film also.
Thanks Del! The film is awesome as are you!
VIP also caught up with the amazing Emerson Collins who plays the lead character Mark in the film and he also wanted to share some thoughts with us.
Emerson, can you tell us what drew you to the role of Mark in the film?
The range of Mark, that we see him from 8 years old to being an adult, is an incredibly exciting challenge to tackle. It’s the most complicated role I’ve ever played, and growing as an actor is the best part of doing the work! More importantly though, the role he serves as the central story line and tying all of the pieces together to share a truly important message about the relationship between so many in the LGBT community and certain kinds of religious people and organizations – that made it a great opportunity, and truly important for me to get it right.
You are amazing in the film and truly embody the character of Mark, are there any parallels between Emerson and Mark?
That’s very kind of you, and their certainly are some! I relate to Mark’s ability to see injustice around him and his frustration with wanting to find a way for his voice to be heard. Beyond that, I was raised in the South, in the Southern Baptist church, so I can relate to aspects of that journey to dealing with the pain caused by this subject. Del just has Mark say it better than I ever could!
The cast of the film are all amazing actors, who were you most excited to work with?
It’s impossible to play favorites; the genius of the veteran actors was absolutely amazing to watch as they worked. I’ve worked with most of them before. I will say it was a special thing to work with Matthew, Luke and William. As the four Sissies on this journey together, I felt very fortunate to be in the company of guys who are great actors and wonderful people.
In addition to being a talented actor, you are also a producer, which is more challenging for you?
They present distinctly different kinds of challenges, and both are incredibly difficult and rewarding in their different ways. It’s kind of a left-brain/right-brain scenario. The real challenge was attempting to play the lead of the film and produce it at the same time, and I was only able to do so because of the incredible crew and actors we had on this journey with us.
What is the message you want the audience to take away after seeing the film?
With the conflict that continues to surround the progress of LGBT equality, the specific message is to understand how damaging the words used by certain conservatives in the social argument are to impressionable LGBT youth. There are kids still hearing in this conflict that they are less than, or unworthy, because of who they are. The greater universal message is that we have all felt rejection, and we should continue to work toward that perfect world where all are loved and accepted for exactly who they are.
We know you are currently filming Bravo’s The People’s Couch, but what do you hope to do next?
Between releasing Sissies nationwide in theaters and the ridiculous fun we are having with Bravo, my plate is full for a bit. In that, I’m excited to find new acting opportunities to continue to grow in and through other roles. So if you know someone with a great part – let me know!
Thanks Emerson, you are the best! VIP really believes in the both of you and this film. I, EJ, as Publisher really appreciate the opportunity to meet and get to know you both a bit and look forwards to helping support this film and your future projects as well.
Both Del and Emerson will also be at the film on Friday April 4th, and Saturday April 5th for a Q&A after the film. This is a Don’t Miss opportunity so Don’t Miss this! 7:30pm, 1618 Oretha Castle Hayley Blvd, Zeitgeist Arts Center. There are no pre-sale tickets, so get there early!