Mouths of babes aims to give teens, young adults a voice through theater – news – wilmington star news – wilmington, nc

Young people speaking their minds has been in the news lately. The teenagers David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez rose to national prominence in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, adding their voices to the debate on gun control and, some would say, leading the discussion.

The powerful words of these young people likely comes as no surprise to Trey Morehouse, artistic director of Wilmington’s newest theatrical group, Mouths of Babes Theatre Co., or MoB. The company, which formed in Raleigh in 2014 and which Morehouse brought to Wilmington in 2017, is focused on giving teenagers and young adults a voice through theater.

On Thursday, April 19, Mouths of Babes will open its second full production when "Hamlet" takes the stage at the DREAMS Garage.


Morehouse will direct, and true to the company’s forward-thinking spirit, the title role will be played by a woman, Em Wilson.

Having a woman play Hamlet is nothing new, of course. It was even done in Wilmington more than a decade ago by the since-disbanded Guerilla Theatre troupe. But Morehouse does see casting a woman in the title role — and casting women in some of the play’s other roles traditionally played by men — as helping tie the power structure "Hamlet" depicts to the power dynamics targeted by the current #MeToo movement, which has been characterized by women taking power back, or in some cases getting it for the first time.

Morehouse is setting the play in modern-day corporate culture — the villainous King Claudius, played by Tony Choufani, has been reimagined as a malignant CEO — and he wants to give his "Hamlet" a moody vibe similar to USA’s trippy TV show "Mr. Robot," about a cyber-security expert who becomes a hacker.

On April 16 and 23, MoB will bring the first of its "Shakespeare in School" workshops to Williston, Virgo and Trask middle schools. Morehouse works as a tutor at Williston and Virgo, where students have been working on the writer John Jeremiah Sullivan’s project archiving of surviving copies of black-owned paper Wilmington Daily Record. Many of the papers were destroyed during and after the Wilmington massacre and coup of 1898, when the Record was burned and whites killed dozens of blacks while forcing others out of town.

Morehouse and Mouths of Babes are working with students to develop a documentary-style play about the events titled "Wilmington Reconstructed." Jennifer Barfield teaches at D.C. Virgo, and she said the students there, especially the seventh graders she teaches, have been involved with making transcripts for the play from guest speakers and others. Since the project "may not come to fruition this school year," Barfield said, she hopes the project helps students returning to work on it next school year see what a long-term commitment producing a piece of theater can be.

In May, MoB is partnering with Ashley High School to put on a 10-minute play festival for teen actors. Unlike most new theater companies, Mouths of Babes has not gone the traditional route of announcing a season and then plowing through it. Rather, Morehouse said, he wants outreach to young people and other groups to be such an integral part of the company — he calls it a "central pillar" — that it’s just as important as performances.

In March, MoB presented "Out, NC," an in-development-play about the experiences of LGBT people coming out in different eras, as a staged reading at the Cameron Art Museum. Morehouse, Choufani and others interviewed various people and wove their words into a script. Jeff Mills, 70, and his partner of 26 years, Ed Adams, who both moved to Wilmington about five years ago, were among those interviewed.

Because royalties of existing plays can be expensive for a young company, Morehouse has been exploring the idea of doing original work in the form of devised or documentary plays, similar to "The Laramie Project" or the works of Anna Deavere Smith.

Mouths of Babes made its Wilmington debut in November as part of the Cucalorus Festival’s "Stage" series with "The Diary Play," constructed from the real-life diaries of four teenage girls growing up in different eras. And documentary-style work will figure heavily into the four — that’s right, four — pieces MoB will have at UNCW’s Lumina Festival in July. The company will present a work in progress of "Wilmington Reconstructed" (the 1898 play), as well as an updated version of "Out, NC" titled "Out in the South." They’ll also do a yet-to-be-determined classic Greek play directed by Mouths of Babes board president and UNCW theater professor Charles Grimes, and another diary-style work titled "Stolen Voices" being put together by MoB’s New-York-City based co-founder, Kristina Auten.