"SOUTHERN BAPTIST SISSIES" HITS THE BIG SCREEN:
AN INTERVIEW WITH DEL SHORES
Del Shores is indeed a man who wears many hats. He is a film director and producer, a television writer and producer, and a popular performer in his own right. Shores' smart and hysterical one-man shows prove him to be one of America’s most talented raconteurs. Still, most people know Shores best from his colorful resume of theater work, several of which have become cemented in American GLBT culture. The first play Shores wrote was “Daddy's Dyin': Who's Got the Will?” which debuted in Los Angeles in 1987 and was made into a movie in 1990. Shores wrote the screenplay and executive produced the feature. One of his most popular and well-known plays was his fourth, "Sordid Lives", which debuted in 1996, also in Los Angeles, and is still being performed to this day. Like “Daddy’ Dyin’”, “Sordid Lives” was also made into a film which endures as an LGBT cult classic. In 2008, Shores produced 12 prequel episodes of “Sordid Lives: The Series”, which became the neophyte GLBT network LOGO’s first original series.
“Southern Baptist Sissies”, which was first produced in 1999, may be Shores’ most personal work of all. The play tells 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. The play has been produced by over 30 theatre companies across the country, and has won countless awards. In 2006, a national tour starring Leslie Jordan, Dale Dickey, and Delta Burke played to sold out houses across the country. The long-awaited movie version of “Southern Baptist Sissies” has finally arrived, and its message has not diminished one iota since it was first written. In fact, the film and its themes about religion, sexuality, and self-acceptance are stronger than ever in 2014. This film-- which stars Emerson Collins, William Belli, Luke Stratte-McClure, Matthew Scott Montgomery, and (YES!) Dale Dickey and Leslie Jordan-- is a highly stylized, sharply produced live production of the actual play. Like the stage production, "Southern Baptist Sissies" the movie is alternately laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreakingly provocative.
Del Shores spoke with me about "Southern Baptist Sissies"' road from stage to screen... plus lots more fun stuff!
JR: Hi Del! Congratulations on the long-anticipated release of "Southern Baptist Sissies". The play was first produced in 1999. What was the most challenging aspect of the journey from the stage to the screen?
DS: Getting it made! We tried for so long and finally Emerson Collins, my producing partner and star of the film, came up with the brilliant idea to film the play. I'm very proud of this film: the uniqueness of it, and that I can share the message broader.
JR: While watching the movie, I was alternating between laughing hysterically and crying hysterically. What was it like for YOU to finally see the completed film yourself?
DS: Well, first of all the word "relief" come to mind, because it really does work. I was worried that the stage version wouldn't translate to film. But I must admit, I still laugh and I still cry too. This play just means so much to me.
JR: The movie was created as a filmed theater piece, complete with a live audience. Is there a reason you chose this way to create the movie in this style?
DS: Budget. I adapted the script. Financing feel apart in 2007. Back then, the budget was 1.6. We were able to crowd fund this picture and make it for 180K-- because we all worked for minimum, because of our passion, and because we worked our asses off. We shot this film in 10 days. It would have never been made if we had not done it this way -- and of course, without that amazing cast and my hard-working crew!
JR: Wow! So, "Southern Baptist Sissies" has been described by some as "controversial". Did you ever feel that the play, with its explorations about The Southern Baptists and homosexuality, was deliberately trying to break any taboos or "stir the pot" as they say?
DS: I knew I would. It's in my nature to stir the pot. On my Facebook page, the "about" section reads, "Playwright, director/writer of stage/TV/film, stand-up, gay and human activist, actor, sh*t stirrer. WELCOME - unless you are a hater of humanity!" Sometimes the pot needs stirring, don't you think?
JR: ABSOLUTELY! And I'm happy that you're the guy to do it! So, I am gonna take a wild guess that Mark, the main character and narrator, may be at least partially autobiographical. Am I right?!
DS: You are correct, my friend. He's just younger, cuter and perhaps smarter than me.
JR: (Laughs) So, for those of us who didn't grow up in the Bible Belt or who have never even visited there, it may be very hard to believe that the lifestyles and beliefs of most of the characters in the play and film still exist in 2014. Based upon your experiences, has there been any progress or enlightenment in the Southern Baptist Church since you were raised there?
DS: With some, yes. Putting a face on "gay", so many coming out, mainstreaming us in media, and the march towards equality has helped. BUT, because of that, we also have seen the haters - who know they are losing this war - take to their pulpits and their political platforms... and out of FEAR continue to spew hate in the name of the Lord.
JR: Yes... How sad is that? So, how has the response to "Southern Baptist Sissies" been so far?
DS: AMAZING! We have played 25 festivals and won 15 awards, nine of them being audience awards. We have just started our theatrical release and for the most part, the reviews have been positive-- but more importantly, the audiences seem to love the film.
JR: That's great to hear! So, let's leave off with something fun: As your fans know, you have a very active and playful presence on social media... with both adoring fans and sanctimonious critics alike. What's the most funny... or crazy... or scary... interaction that you've had lately?!
DS: Well, you know I love to answer those who cherry-pick scriptures... and being a preacher's kid, I can fling scripture right back at them, proving I can cherry-pick too. I guess lately, my favorite, which I now read in my standup, was when Cathy from Arkansas wrote me and quoted that tired old Leviticus "abomination" bullshit, then told me I was going to hell. I went to her Facebook page, saw her picture, then quoted a few scriptures on gluttony (she was a large woman): I told her I had no problem with her weight, but the Bible did -- then I quoted 1 Timothy 2:12 "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." I informed her that I was a man, a gay man, but a man and according to the Bible - NEW TESTAMENT - she had no authority over me and was to remain quiet. Then, I added the stinger -- "And if you don't understand that, Cathy, my cherry-picking, sanctimonious, so-called Christian, here's my translation. SHUT THE FUCK UP!" My fans loved it-- and of course, I didn't write it to change her heart, because we know that is probably not going to happen. I wrote it so my fans would be entertained and to show them that I have their back!
JR: (Laughs) Well, it worked! Thank you for speaking with us, Del!
DS: Great talking to you!!!
"Southern Baptist Sissies" is now playing in select theaters. Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/396066143863852/ for locations!