Originally Published in 2016
TREVOR originally started life as a one man play, Word of Mouth, by Celeste Lecesne and after filmmakers Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone saw his production they asked Lecesne to adapt it into a short film. Little would the trio know that their funny and touching short film about a young boy trying to understand his sexuality would lead to the creation of The Trevor Project, a national LGBT suicide prevention hotline in the US.
Hey Celeste, thanks for talking to The New Current, it is 22 years since Trevor premiered in 1994, hows does it feel to see that the film has stayed the test of time?
Frankly, I’m amazed. TREVOR has taught me the true power of story, how far it can go, how it can inspire change and how it can literally save lives.
You originally created Trevor as part of your one-man show Word of Mouth, what was the inspiration behind the character?
One morning in the early 90’s while sitting at my desk, I heard a news report about how suicide was the second leading cause of death. And a young person who identified as Gay or Lesbian was three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than his or her heterosexual peers. I was appalled by this fact, and shocked that nothing was being done to prevent the loss of what I considered our greatest natural resource – our youth. Instinctively, I turned to my old journals and I began to read. For the first time in years, I was reminded of just how confusing it had been for me as an adolescent, how painful and lonely. Here was my story. I then wrote the first few lines of a story about a 13-year-old boy who confides to his journal.
I called him "Trevor".
After the success of the play had you given much thought to turning it into a film?
It was the brilliance of Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone to envision TREVOR as a live action short film. They approached me and asked me to consider writing the screenplay, which I did. And it was their faith in me that inspired me to write it.
What was it about meeting Randy Stone and Peggy Rajski that convinced you that this could be possible?
They were both much more in touch with the Hollywood community than I was, and so I think they instinctively knew that the time was right for a story like "Trevor". The public was ready for it. Peggy’s vision as a director turned what might have been a story about a boy in a panic over being gay into something more universal. She expanded it so that it became the story of anyone who ever felt like they didn’t fit in no matter how hard they tried, the story of what it feels like to be gloriously and inevitably yourself.
Are there much differences between the play and the film?
When I adapted the play into the film, it was running a little short so Randy and Peggy asked me if I had any ideas about extending it by a few minutes. I recalled the humiliating experience of being told the facts of life by my local priest when I was about 13 years old, and I recreated the scene and the conversation as closely as I could. It was a personal triumph for me to sit in the theatre and listen to uproarious laughter during that scene. Proof that I had survived. Also, having Ellen DeGeneres introduce the film on HBO was a great thrill and did much to draw attention to the film at the time and allowed it to reach an audience that the play could never have done.
Did any of your own experiences growing up help shape your writing of Trevor?
Well, that experience with the priest certainly had an impact. But then, so much of my own experience is folded into Trevor. I had a passion for Diana Ross when I was a kid, and many of the events in the film were lifted directly from my life. But that’s what we writer’s do. We try to be as honest as possible, while still managing to entertain.
Tell me a little bit about Trevor what was the biggest challenge you faced turning your play into a film script?
The show had been a big hit in New York City, Eve Ensler (of Vagina Monologues fame) was the director and the show was presented by Mike Nichols and Elaine May. I played the character of 13-year-old "Trevor" in the show, so when it came time to hand "Trevor" over to an age-appropriate actor, I had some trepidation about whether he’d be able to deliver. But Brett Barsky was so brilliant, and so much of what he did was so instinctual and perfectly right for "Trevor". It was an opportunity for me to trust the writing as much as Brett.
Together they made movie magic.
Trevor went onto win the Oscar for Best Short, what did it mean to you to get this type of recognition for the film?
It gave me hope that the world could change. When I was growing up, a kid in New Jersey, being gay was considered a crime, a mental disease and a sin. I knew in my heart that this wasn’t true. To have the film accepted and celebrated so publicly was an indication that things were changing and perhaps we might be able to stop this tragic and unnecessary loss of young life. That was what inspired me to write the film; and the recognition meant that that might just happen. 18 years later, we are still at it. And I will never give up that fight.
When did you start thinking about creating The Trevor Project?
Even before the film was made, we had discussed using the film as an educational tool, and so we had already applied for status as a non-profit. But it was when HBO agreed to show the film that Randy, Peggy and I realised that we had a unique opportunity. We thought it would be a good idea if we put a telephone number at the end of the broadcast in case there were kids out there who identified with the character of Trevor and needed somewhere to turn. That first night, August 8th, 1998 when "Trevor" aired for the first time, we received over 1500 calls from young people around the country!
The Trevor Project is still a unique service for LGBTQ youth, looking back did you ever imagine your play, and then film, could trigger something salient?
Of course, I hoped that it would do some good in the world, but I never could have predicted the huge impact that this sixteen minute story would have on successive generations of young people. The Trevor Project introduced the idea that it’s not only okay to ask for help, but that it’s actually an essential part of being a human being. And we’ve been able to provide a means for young people to practice asking for help by just picking up the phone, or chatting online with a counsellor, or joining the 200,000+ members on Trevor Space, or texting TrevorText in an emergency. No one ought to go through their dark days alone and with nowhere to turn - especially if they are a young person.
What are you hoping a new generation who finds Trevor to take from his story?
The message of "Trevor" has always been the same - be proud of who you are. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about being yourself. And though you may be unique in this world, you are not alone. This is a message that never gets old, and every new generation of young adults needs to hear it.
Looking back would there be anything you'd do differently?
In my life? Plenty. I wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to get love from people who weren’t equipped or willing to give it.
In the film? Not a thing. It’s perfect.
"When I was young and starting out, I just wanted to get noticed, be famous, make money, the usual."
How much has your approach to writing and performing changed since your debut?
I’ve learned to trust the work to tell me what it wants and needs. When I was young and starting out, I just wanted to get noticed, be famous, make money, the usual. But as I’ve gotten older and more experienced I value the process of discovery much more and it’s the great big mysterious and, dare I say it, mystical gifts that come through the work that I’m looking for.
Is it difficult let go of your work once you've completed them?
Only when the work doesn’t quite measure up to the hope I had for it.
What advice could you offer the LGBTQ youth today?
Be yourself. Tell your story. Read a lot. Learn about your history; it’s been an amazing time for LGBT people. Be patient with yourself. Spend time with the people who like you. Trust your life.
And finally what do you hope people will take away from your body of work?
Some kind of crazy faith in the human condition; we’re a species worth considering.