A couple of years ago, we had the opportunity to chat at length with, and about, the absolutely fabulous and ever-so-outspoken Sister Dottie S. Dixon. --- At the time of that interview, actor Charles Lynn Frost had just recovered from a battle with the dreaded swine flu, which came in the middle of some performances and forced a postponement. But after a nearly a year and a half of time away from the stage, this sister is back.
DOTTIE: The Sister Lives On! is a brand-new production set to debut tonight, being held at the Salt Lake Acting Company under the directing skills of Robin Wilks-Dunn. The play features Dottie herself in a new set of adventures and discussions about love and loss, right and wrong, religious ridiculousness and a few surprises that take even Dixon for a loop throughout the production. Today, we're lucky to be joined again by Frost as we discuss the direction his life and the character have taken over the past year and a half, along with a preview of the new play and thoughts on where Dottie may be headed.
Charles Lynn Frost
Gavin: Hey, Charles. First thing, how have you been since the last interview?
Charles: Life has been amazing, full of so many joyous things. Doug and I got married, September 15, 2012, in New York City. We’ve been together as a couple for almost 10 years now, a great 10 years. We have four beautiful granddaughters and two grandsons. Our children are our adult friends, and that makes living an authentic life really wonderful. We enjoy some tremendous friends from all spectrums of life. We travel, sometimes to distant places, sometimes on long weekend road trips, and we always have a great time enjoying this phase of our lives together. Little Deacon, our Westhighland White Terrier, just passed away. We knew it was time and so did he. He gave us wonderful, unconditional love and companionship for 14 years. Once the play is over, I will properly grieve and celebrate him. I’ve written a brand-new play with my best friend of 26 years, Dr. Christopher Wixom: DOTTIE: The Sister Lives On! I have been doing some other theater, as well, with local theater companies, coaching, consulting, designing, and just started a new full-time position at The Utah Pride Center as SAGE program manager. I am now focusing on two wonderful spectrums of the queer community -- over-50 SAGERS during work, and the young and vulnerable queer populations with the work I do with Sister Dottie S. Dixon. I am honored to work with people and in an arena where my passions thrive and take active flight. I have my health, my passions, my talents, my family and friends, my age and wisdom, my journey; I am a blessed man.
Gavin: Aside from the play we'll be talking about here, what else have you been up to over the past year and a half?
Charles: My life is BIG. At times, I choose it to be that way, other times I wish I hadn’t designed it to be so big. I am a certified coach, consultant, employee, activist, SAG/AEA actor, father, grandfather, husband, pet owner, home owner, writer, playwright, gym attendee, committee member, advisor, social networker, host, guest, partier, traveler, chef, oenophile, gardener, leader, texter, AT&T’s most valued customer, speaker, friend, volunteer, movie lover, book reader, music aficionado, blogger, podcaster, fundraiser, humorist, facebooker, SAGER, conversationalist, humbled award winner and recipient, coffee drinker, lunch-goer, meeting holder and participant, cocktail hour respecter, NBC Nightly News devotee, patient/client/customer, truth-teller, philosopher, news and media whore, and so it goes and so it goes. Hope that gives you a peek of what I do during most typical weeks.
Gavin: Both yourself and Dottie have earned a lot of accolades during that time -- City Weekly awards, Pride Parade grand marshal, UAF Mayor's Award, just to name a few. What's your take on receiving this level of recognition from the city and organizations?
Charles: I am honored and sincerely humbled. Sister Dottie’s work has made such a tremendous impact, in organizing, galvanizing, fundraising, opening contextual conversations, offering love, hope, and a better way to be as human beings. That is rewarding, I must admit. She has taken a lot of my time in the last three years, but it is time where I have had the great opportunity to meet some glorious and lovely people. The time I spend preparing, writing, appearing, doing X96’s Radio From Hell with Kerry, Bill and Gina, as well as just remaining fully aware of what and how Sister Dottie should be informing, is a huge and important responsibility for the queer as well as straight community. The Salt Lake First Unitarian Church awarded me its “Fairly Free Thinker” award in 2011, as well, and I must say I was, and am, touched and extremely proud of this recognition. The Rev. Tom Goldsmith wrote a personal message on the award, which I read every day while working at my home desk, and it inspires me to live up to the meaning. “Charles Lynn Frost, Actor, Playwright, Activist, 5th Annual Fairly Free Thinker Award. His work on the theatrical stage, as well as on the world stage, brings joy and redemption to all who witness. Although an actor by profession, his warmth and generosity are real, bearing testimony to his commitment to equal rights for everyone.” I am touched every time I read it, and it is a powerful mantra to uphold. Rev. Tom told me the evening I received the award that I had one more profession in my life before I was done, and that was to be a preacher. Hmmmm -- who knows? It’s out there now, and the challenge came from an amazing man. My take in being recognized is this: I have always felt the mother of all principles is HUMILITY, and that being the case, the father, in my humble opinion, needs be INTEGRITY. Without both, a person can lose perspective, relevance, and balance. I do my best to be grateful, abundant, and honestly thank and share all my honors with everyone who supports me and makes receiving them even possible; again, a daily FOCUS.
Gavin: You've also recently joined the Pride Center in a new capacity. Tell us about the new position and the work you'll be doing with the organization.
Charles: Yes, I have recently started a position with Utah Pride, as the SAGE program manager. The program centers around programs and services for the over-50 elder queer community. However, you do not have to be 50 to be involved or serve. It is an exciting opportunity, and one that I am enjoying tremendously. The universe has been sending me the message for about two years now to get involved and serve this demographic within the LGBT arena. I look forward to working with the SAGE advisory team, other Utah Pride staff, and all the wonderful and many SAGERS who are in our state -- kind of a Clark Kent these days: by day, mild-mannered SAGE leader, and by night, my alter ego Sister Dottie S. Dixon takes the stage as SUPER DOTTIE!
Gavin: Aside from the major events and occasional appearances, Dottie kind of left the public eye for almost a year. Was it a conscious decision to put her out of sight for a bit, or just something you ended up doing?
Charles: Dottie and Charles Lynn both took a bit of a break. One must rejuvenate, revive, act other roles, and live your life in all the other wonderful ways you have to give. Dottie always had a tremendous social-network presence, as well as lending her voice and character to worthy fundraisers such as OUTreach Ogden, Utah Pride, First Unitarian Church, Utah Fair Housing Coalition, Salt Lake Men’s Choir, X96’s Radio From Hell, G.S.A./Youth Empowerment Summit, PFLAG, and many others. What was not expected was how Sister Dottie’s character resonated with people both Mormon and others. She has chosen LOVE to be her platform, rather than litigation or legislation; she has chosen the heart over the head. She has pushed universal acceptance and equality rather and separatist thinking. Last and most importantly, she has chosen to CELEBRATE the differences rather than just tolerating people. Those messages are vibrating very heavily right now throughout society in general, and that is why I believe Sister Dottie has been embraced by so many -- those reasons, and her humorous perspective on life, love, and diversity. There are many who really NEED to believe in the principles and values of a Sister Dottie character in this world. She has never been able to really leave the public eye because people want to believe that what she stands for is something we can all hope for.
Gavin: How did the idea come about for you to re-examine the character and start work on a new play?
Charles: As you know, Gavin, Dottie’s reach, popularity, and voice all have become far-reaching. Her fans were begging for a brand-new play, where they could once again follow the life, antics, and discoveries of Sister D. She opens people’s minds, mouths, conversations, and she is a change agent in her very special ways. It was only appropriate to bring her to the stage again, and allow those who have grown to love her the chance to bring others and possibly “convert” them to a more open-mindedness and loving approach to human beings and life.
Gavin: What was the process like for you in coming up with a new concept that both stuck to the original themes, as well as served as a new play?
Charles: It’s all new. Sister Dottie still believes in equality for all, but her journey in this brand-new play centers around gay marriage, parenting in all its forms, facing one’s fears, journeys, birth and death, love and loss, and anti-bullying. This issue is huge in our country, and in Utah, particularly, as targeted towards LGBT people of all ages. Dottie tackles this issue from several approaches. The play is full of lighthearted comedy, but it also plumbs deeper arenas that are much more parallel to real life.
Gavin: When did you meet Christopher Wixom, and what made you decide to collaborate with him on the new play?
Charles: I met Christopher, or as I call him, "Topher," when he walked into my high school drama class as a freshman years and years ago. He was bright, talented, and theater became an outlet for him during high school. He was the Utah State Speech & Drama 1st place Sterling Scholar, valedictorian of his class, went onto medical school, and graduated top of class. He is a best friend and little brother to me. We have traveled a lot together, have been teacher and student, mentor and protege’, director and actor, and now gay brothers. We are like two old shoes, comfortable and easy, and cannot see one another for months and get into an on-point conversation with nothing more than a hello. He is funny, as well; came from a Mormon heritage, has a similar life philosophy as I, and we love to write together. He helped me create Happy Valley, the show that opened Provo Theatre Company many years ago. We write a lot together, without drama, ego, or constant conflict. We wrote this brand-new play together in several face-to-face sessions, on Skype, on cell phones, texting, e-mail, and it was a pleasure to do so. Doug and I visit him in San Diego often, and he is a guest in our home many times each year. I’ve left Doug to him in my will, and they are both pleased with that decision. Ha! Topher and I have sat by one another through hundreds of amazing theatrical offerings, and there is always a very stimulating conversation to be shared directly after each one. When Doug and I move to San Diego, the main reason will stem from wishing to be closer to our dear friend.
Gavin: What made you decide to take the play to SLAC and work with Robin Wilks-Dunn as the director?
Charles: Tremendous artistic opportunity, intuition, new methods, difference, change, decisions, professionalism, growth, perspective, and of course LOVE. SLAC is one of Utah’s theatrical crown jewels, and Cynthia Fleming, Keven Myhre and the entire SLAC staff are abundant, joyous, collaborative people. Robin Wilks-Dunn has a solid reputation as a director in the community, along with years of experience, particularly developing new scripts. She has been invaluable in the project. The SLAC staff along with several of the core TEAM DOTTIE folks that I brought to this production have made it it exactly what is was meant to be!
Gavin: How has it been for you putting the play together onstage and working out the flow and process?
Charles: Working on an original play is often like going on a journey into the wilderness without a really solid map. You have a sense of where you are going, but the discoveries and the creating are happening for the very first time. That’s very cool! As a team, you have the script, but it is not frozen; everything is up for grabs and potentially changing. That’s very frightening! As an actor, as well as a co-playwright, you are constantly wearing two hats during the writing, refining, rehearsing, and polishing. Then you must let go and trust the script, the choices, the direction, the designers, the arc of the message, and most of all, you have to trust yourself as the actor and the character. It has to work, it has to be viable and relevant, it has to entertain, move, and speak to the audience. That’s very fun! Ultimately, everything has to be set, and with comedy, everything has to be open and spontaneous. The bridge between comedy and drama is one simple step, and you have to be able to take that step and bring your audience along with you. That’s very challenging and a wonderful opportunity.
Gavin: The play is called Dottie – The Sister Lives On! What inspired the title, and without revealing too much, tell us about the play itself and what people can expect to see.
Charles: The play’s title connotes journeying, phases, next chapters, evolution, wisdom and humor, and not taking oneself so seriously -- living and letting go. Sister Dottie shares herself for those who may not have seen her live before, as well as catching up dear fans who know her well through exposition. She meets some wonderful, new, life-changing people as her life and story moves on. The play certainly is grounded in themes of safety for all, equality for all, learning, loving, leaving, and hope. The play, properly and theatrically defined, is still deeply rooted in comedy – but let’s just say that Dottie digs a few new ditches and goes to new places in her heart, soul, thinking, and understanding; just as we all do as we grow or go, learn and turn, see and accept.
Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night, and what do you expect over the next few weeks?
Charles: Opening, attraction, allowance, abundance, gratitude, teamwork, joy. Lots of laughter, some tears, fatigue. Performing ART that makes people smile, think, self-examine. Making a difference! Closing.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and Sister Dottie over the rest of the year?
Charles: More legacy, hopefully. Adding value to all I am involved with. Spending time with those who I love the most – family, friends, peers, and others. A period of respite, a temporary period of relief. Loving the seasons, loving life. A lot of what Springsteen says: "We take care of our own."
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Charles: Tickets are still available for the initial three-week run, but going briskly. Thanks to those who are supporting and have already purchased tickets to see this new comedic play. For those who haven’t yet – you can still get them by calling (801) 363-SLAC or going to their Website. Thank you, Gavin for all you do for our greater community, your passion, voice and contribution.
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