The nine-time Audience Award-winning film “Southern Baptist Sissies,” a theatrical experience of the play written by Del Shores, is returning to movie screens in South Florida after it was the darling of the Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival last year. It will be screened every night from April 11 to April 17 at Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale (503 SE 6th St., Fort Lauderdale) and Cinema Paradiso Hollywood (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood).
“Southern Baptist Sissies,” produced by Shores and Emerson Collins, tells the story of four gay boys who grew up in the same Texas Baptist church, and how they deal with their sexuality and feelings of shame in various ways. Interspersed are witty comedic vignettes between an older straight woman and her gay male friend, whose copious drinking and bawdy humor hide lives of mistakes, hurt and regret. This film is one you won’t soon forget; you will laugh, you will cry, and it will touch your heart.
If you’d like to buy tickets to see “Southern Baptist Sissies” at either the Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood theaters, visit the the Cinema Paradiso website at fliff.com/Films_and_Events, and scroll down to the date desired.
Emerson Collins and Bobbie Eakes play the roles of Mark and his mother in the play. I thank both of them for speaking to me in an exclusive Hotspots interview.
After viewing the film, I felt like I related a little bit to all four of the boys in the church. In your experience, Emerson, do you find that people relate strongly to one character only or do they see themselves in all four characters?
Emerson: I think there’s an interesting variety. I think some people find that one of the characters represents their specific journey. I think a lot of people, like you, find that they relate to elements of each of them. I think that, unfortunately, there are entirely too many gay men and lesbians in the South who can relate to Andrew’s situation. Even if they didn’t arrive completely where he did at the end of the movie, they had the feelings he did…and then they crossed over and became confident members of the community, more like Mark.
Del [Shores] always says that the four boys all represent him, that he is in each of them. I think there are aspects of each of their struggles that most of the community can relate to, and beyond that, straight people can too — everybody has moments where they’ve felt rejected or not included due to some aspect of who they are.
Tell us what it’s like to produce an undertaking like this with a playwright as talented as Del Shores.
Emerson: It’s the greatest blessing in the world when you have someone whose career spans television, film and theater. He not only understands, but he has worked in all mediums as both a writer and a director, so it makes it the easiest thing in the world, because he knows exactly what he’s doing. [His experience] has made it possible [to create] this unique, hybrid piece that really is a combination of theater and film, but with his experience in both, it made it possible to create a project that blends the best of both worlds.
People know you, Bobbie, for your work in soaps, as Macy in “The Bold and the Beautiful” and Krystal in “All My Children.” What drew you to this production specifically?
Bobbie: I’ve been a fan of Del Shores’ work for many, many years. My husband and Del were friends before I met my husband, back in the late ’80s. I think I’ve seen every one of Del’s stage productions, including “Southern Baptist Sissies” when it was first produced for the stage in 2000. It’s one of my favorite pieces that Del has produced. I love the play because, like you said, you’re laughing one minute and you’re crying one minute. You identify so much…even me, as a straight woman, I have family members and friends that I see in these characters, and my heart wept for these characters and the journeys they were going through.
So Del called me and said that they were going to open this up and make it into a movie, and that they wanted to expand the roles of the mothers. Originally, Rosemary Alexander played all of the boys’ mothers in the stage production, and that for the movie they wanted each boy to have his own mother, and would I play the role of Mark’s mother? I said, “Absolutely.” It was a no-brainer.
Surely you’ve known many women like Mark’s mother. Did you pattern your performance after the lives and attitudes of any of these people?
Bobbie: To be honest, yes. I’m not going to name any names, but yes, a couple of people. I grew up in the South and I was raised in a military family, so we didn’t really go strictly to the Baptist Church as much as the base chapel, which was a generic Protestant service.
Growing up in the South, I saw a lot of the same things Del experienced in Texas, and I experienced a lot of it first-hand as well. I think a lot of the people and their attitudes were well-meaning, but in my opinion, misguided. So I felt compassion for Mark’s mother; I think she truly thinks that Mark is going to go to Hell. And then of course, she makes that miraculous turnaround when she witnesses the play’s ending.
How do you feel the South has progressed on social issues since you grew up? What is the one aspect you feel that holds the region back the most?
Bobbie: I think church is one of the biggest reasons why people are held back. But it has changed, a lot. When I was in high school, I didn’t know what “gay” was. I didn’t understand. But the South has changed quite a bit…maybe it’s happening slower than the rest of the nation, and like I said I think that’s due to church, but it is changing. For example, Atlanta is a very progressive-minded city.
Is it difficult for you to act in such an emotional production? There’s a laugh one minute and everyone’s crying the next minute…the cast and the audience.
Emerson: I think it’s one of the great gifts of [Del Shores’] writing, that he can tackle difficult subjects and he doesn’t beat the audience over the head. His comedy is so brilliant and it gives you that time you need to breathe [after the drama].
It’s an exhausting piece to perform, there’s no denying that. But when you’re on stage with brilliant actors across the board, it makes the work easier to do. All of the cast feels that this issue is really important, so you finish the show, and there’s sort of this extreme level of exhaustion, but there’s also this little bit of triumph every single time knowing that once again we’ve been a part of the opportunity to tell this story and have this dialogue.
Bobbie: I have no problem crying at the end of this production every single night it is performed. It is so beautifully-written and so ingeniously-acted. Especially Emerson, with what he had to do every night, taking the audience on this journey…he had so much dialogue and he just pulled it off seamlessly. I was proud to be his mama! [laughs]
I just don’t see how anyone can see this production and not feel these boys’ pain and the struggle that they go through, and at the end, [hopefully they’ll have] a little bit more empathy and understanding of what “being gay” is.
A reader question, to Bobbie: What was it like to work with the late Darlene Conley, who played your character Macy’s mother on “The Bold and the Beautiful”? Was she as larger-than-life as she seemed on TV?
Bobbie: To give you an idea, she has been gone for a number of years now, and that is the number one question I’ve had asked ever since I first met her back in 1989; I really feel like she is still with us.
Yes, she was. What you saw on camera was what you got in person; she was never “off.” She was quite a character and I miss her. I miss her so much. She was so much fun. She made us laugh…she was always flirting with the young men. She was like Mae West reincarnated. I feel really blessed to have worked with her.
For people who live in South Florida, many of whom may be from the North where the culture and attitudes are more liberal and less church-oriented, what do you want them to take away after viewing this play?
Emerson: Ultimately what Del is saying at the very end is that he envisions a world of love and acceptance, and not just one of mere tolerance. I think we’ve all experienced rejection at some point in our lives due to some aspect of who we are, whether it was in school for not being “cool enough” or “popular enough,” or not being good at a particular task. I think that’s something everyone relates to even if they may not relate to the “religious guilt” aspect. The feeling of rejection is something we’ve all shared and we shouldn’t judge each other in that way.
If you’d like to see Bobbie Eakes in person, she will be making an appearance in Central Florida at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant (2425 N. Rocky Point Dr., Tampa) as part of a soap opera fan event on Saturday, May 3. To make a reservation and to buy tickets to this event, call 727.210.5143.