you're sitting back and enjoying this Thanksgiving weekend (or more
likely are getting trampled at some Black Friday sale), we've taken a
moment to post up an interview with a local icon that's been speaking
on the ideas of friends, family and faith (which the holiday should
be about) and focusing on the troubling and sometimes chaotic
times... with the voice of a sister.
Sister Dottie S. Dixon has emerged as a fixture in both the local theatre and radio circuits, as well as becoming an active voice for the GLBT community overnight. With a radio show, a play, an animated book and a spoken album all in the mix, that voice has transfixed the community and in many ways broke open dialog about the taboo subjects of homosexuals and the LDS faith, that have rarely been uttered in public before. I got the opportunity to have an extensive and thoughtful chat with the man behind the glasses, Charles Lynn Frost, about his life and career in Utah, the creation of and all things Dottie, thoughts on local theatre and community matters, and a number of other topics to be held. (Pictures via David Newkirk)
Charles Lynn Frost
Gavin: Hey Charles! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Charles: Born and raised in Spanish Fork, a Utah native all my life. Love the geographic diversity of the state. The sociological/cultural lack thereof? Not sa much. I’m a boomer—born smack dab in the middle of the 50s. An atomic child, who ate nuclear snow and did “duck and cover” exercises in grade school. Raised in a blue collar, hard-working, staunchly Democratic household, by two salt-of-the-earth parents. I was the baby of five children. Mother had me at 40, and denied I was a “mistake” until the day she died at 82. My dad had told me in my early teens that I was right, and that was always our little joke on my mom. Born gay and raised in a town where if you weren’t into rodeo, little league, or boy scouts, you pretty much got the shit kicked out of you. I learned to fight early—bloodied many a nose of smart-asses who thought they could shove me around. Never back me into a corner—a lesson several have learned the hard way throughout my years on this planet! Dad worked in a steel mill. Mother worked in a sewing factory and as a school lunch lady. I was extremely proud of them both. Loved them both. Miss them both. The were both tremendous examples of character, courage, and caring. My oldest brother was my hero. Twenty years older than me, he was in the Navy during the Korean War when I was born. He and his friends in their Navy whites were the first memory I have of being fascinated by men with muscles. Thinking, just thinking (Nothing gay of course. I was fucking 4 years old!) that when I grew up I wanted muscles just like all of them. He was my second dad—taught me how to camp, fish, cook, garden, plant, grow, and be an all inclusive type of man when I grew up. I went to BYU, on a scholarship in Theatre. Became a teacher, taught fourteen years in Utah schools. I was named Outstanding Educator by Governor Bangerter and the Utah Arts Council, Outstanding Educator by The Deseret News/Sterling Scholar Program. Took Regional Drama Championship 13 of the 14 years I taught, State Drama Championship eight times, had three State 1st Place Sterling Scholars, and took five shows to the prestigious International Thespian Festival. I was married for 19 years, have four wonderful adult friends as children, five grandchildren, and the perfect partner—Mr. Douglas Lott, an Idaho cowboy, who looks like the Marlboro man. Survived 1994 when I divorced, left the LDS church, left education for the business world, was excommunicated, came out of the closet, and my mother died. Almost killed me that year. I’ve often thought that if I made it through 1994, I can make it through anything! Have worked in the business world for many, many years. I have degrees in Education, English, Instructional Design & Adult Learning, Film & Theatre Directing, Psychology, and am a certified life, career, business coach and consultant. Have worked in multiple industries. I am a SAG and Equity Actor, LGBT activist, director, certified coach, business leader, writer, and civic volunteer. I was just awarded Best Theatre Performance, by City Weekly’s 2009 ARTYs Awards, as well as Best Original Play with Co-Author Troy Williams, for the May 2009 production of THE PASSION OF SISTER DOTTIE S. DIXON which was also named Best Production. Originated the role of Alex McCormick in Carol Lynn Pearson's FACING EAST for its two Utah runs, as well as a month long run Off-Broadway at The Atlantic Theatre Company II, and Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco. I was named Best Actor by QSaltLake, and was honored with the other cast members as Best Ensemble by Salt Lake City Weekly for Facing East. Have been seen in The Laramie Project, and was awarded "Best Actor 2001" by Salt Lake City Weekly. I’ve been seen regionally in productions of Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, The Foreigner, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Semmelweis, directed by Ed Sherin, The Imaginary Invalid, Ah, Wilderness, Prisoner of Second Avenus, and Harvey. I live in downtown Salt Lake City, with Doug and my querulous West Highland Terrier, Deacon. Meyers-Briggs=INTJ, Color Code=RED/Blue. Taurus the BULL in every way! I believe firmly in the laws of Attraction and Allowance. Live by the governing values of gratitude, creativity, hope, courage, action, quality, abundance, justice, inclusion, authenticity, and of course integrity. I use the 7 Habits as a life operating system—go with my head first, then heart and gut. Groin is in there somewhere too! A flag-waving, screaming, bumper-stickin’, unwavering liberal! Just survived H1N1 and pneumonia, and a week in ICU—very thankful and happy to be alive. Gratitude is ruling my soul big time right now.
Gavin: For you, how was it growing up in Utah?
Charles: Pretty much like any other kid, I guess, who comes from a rural, small, narrow-minded, bigoted, prejudiced, myopic, homogenous, unchallenging, brutal little town. I learned how to be funny—the clown, fake it, pretend to be dumb, make people laugh, get tough when needed, be extremely quiet when needed, and to hide deep inside a closet thinking I was the only gay kid in the entire world. It was a big closet however, and my imagination filled it with grandeur. I was at a party once, and was asked, “If you could change just one significant thing in your life, what would you choose?” Everyone thought and thought and thought, and I finally said “I’ll go first.” And I said I would choose to have not been born Mormon. That single thing has shaped me, limited me, and made me frightened more than anything else in my entire life. Everyone was stunned. I smiled and was glad that I went first. Grade school was tedious at best, junior high school a nightmare, high school (with the exception of the arts) utter boredom. College? A literal exercise in common identicalness. After a “real life education,” I learned to learn, read, experiment, grow, travel, explore different perspectives and philosophy, and from there I broke out of my concrete prison. Fatherhood was, and still is, amazing and the hardest thing I will ever do in this lifetime. I learned in Utah around age 40, that choice and change are constant principles, and that I am in charge of both of them. My reactions to the events I encounter in life are mine. I learned to love to own them. So Utah then became a great place to live. I also became the challenger, the opinionated, the difference-maker, the truth-teller, which has brought me both some of the biggest enemies and the greatest friends I shall ever know. Life is good, rich, full of joy. Life is to be engaged, embraced, and a person is to prosper—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually! “GROW or GO” is my motto now—a solid and strong self-standard, but also applied to others I encounter. I have no time for those who dwell in victim behavior and language, negativity, scarcity thinking, limitation, fear, shame, guilt, judgment, ignorance, and most importantly a lack of real self and love for others.
Gavin: How did you originally get involved with local theatre?
Charles: It began in high school and community theatre, and then I majored in theatre in college. I directed for Payson Community Theatre and founded, and was artistic director for, Provo Theatre Co. for twelve years. I pushed the envelope at times, which was easy when you had quality productions to back you up. At other times, one of my ultra-conservative partners at Provo Theatre Co. got in the way and stopped growth. I eventually decided it was simply time to just move it all to Salt Lake City. I recall while moving to SLC, thinking that there will come a day when SLC would seem too small as well. At times have felt that, but I love Utah, SLC, and living on the “front lines”. Musicals were the typical bill of fare at Provo Theatre Co., but I did have the opportunity to direct other wonderful plays too—by Neil Simon, David Mamet, etc.
Gavin: What was your time like while at Provo Theatre Company, and what changes did you make while holding position there?
Charles: It was a love-hate relationship. The founding partners were myself, Judy Ball, and Richard L. Hill. We, along with hundreds of wonderful, dedicated volunteers, renovated the old Christian Science Church in downtown Provo with a huge lump of money I personally got Tye Noorda (the wife of Novell founder, Ray Noorda) to donate. It was a total labor of love, and we all worked very, very hard to make it happen. The end result was an intimate and wonderful 80-seat theatre, which the community embraced and loved attending. A very proud accomplishment for all of us. Tremendous pride! I, personally, wanted to provide shows that paid the bills, so we did Joseph and that damned Dreamcoat a lot. I also wanted to push the envelope other ways with shows like Oleanna, The Boys Next Door, Lost in Yonkers, Godspell, and Lend Me A Tenor. Those shows were as widely attended because we had built a very loyal audience base. I was, however, somewhat too hopeful that Provo, and greater Utah County could continue supporting more progressive, possibly even liberal theatre. I initially wanted to call the company “Theatre 100”, because it sat on the intersections of 100 E. and 100 N., but we went with the more traditional “Provo Theatre Company”. That was just a small example of how my vision was never fully aligned with one of my founding partners. Three of us founded Provo Theatre Company. Two of us are still best friends. The other—who had promised to never meddle in artistic affairs, but be the major producer—eventually meddled very heavily, so I decided to just attract something else in my life. I just let it go, with very little sadness really. I moved to Salt Lake City and began acting—another talent which I had ignored for many years—and found the liberal and progressive opportunities I had wanted in Provo. Utah County is what it is. I have no hard feelings, either for the county or the initial founding partner, but I will admit—whenever I cross the point of the mountain—I get anxious and cannot fully describe the uneasiness in my entire soul. It just occurs. Enough said.
Gavin: What eventually brought you up north to Salt Lake City and how was it for you adjusting to it?
Charles: My job ultimately brought me to SLC. Covey Leadership Center merged with Franklin Quest, and the headquarters were in SLC, and no longer in Provo, which was great. It made the decision really much easier. Easier to let go of Provo and Utah County and all that past, but it also made the attraction to SLC much greater. I bought a big home in Holladay, in a gated community initially. Still had kids living with me. After they moved out, we moved to downtown proper to a townhome with my partner of eight years, Douglas Lott. Downtown beats the hell out of the burbs, even Holladay! Lots of rich ex-Mormons, and lots of staunch Mormons—doesn’t make for a good mix. Plus people who live in gated communities are scared, really scared, of the world out there, particularly people who’re different from them, and queers are pretty close to the top of that list, I assure you. We had some wonderful neighbors at the end of my cul-de-sac, and have remained great friends with them. But other than that—have to say I’d never do that again! Downtown is dark and deep blue, where it is happening, where you are in the loop, on the front lines, able to spring into action, be alive! Love it.
Gavin: How did you end up getting the weekly show on KRCL?
Charles: Troy Williams and I are long time friends. I’ve known him for years—since he was an actor for me at Provo Theatre Company over a decade ago. He then decided to get a degree in Film Directing at the University of Utah and moved to Salt Lake City. He became a producer at KRCL, and created RadioActive among other shows. One of the 30-minute format shows he created was Now Queer This, which was a weekly show about queer news, events, theory, philosophy, etc. He asked me at the outset of the show to create a humorous character for the show, since it was all pretty serious and heavy, and needed a lighter, upbeat moment at the end to attract and keep listeners. At first, I did not agree, but after prompting, he convinced me to conceptualize and create a character that would appear weekly on Now Queer This. I thought of numerous character types, but eventually went to my very distant past, to find Sister Dottie S. Dixon, a Spanish Fork mother of gay son, a proud Mormon, a happily-married woman, president of the Spanish Fork PFLAG. In other words, I did what all writers are told to do—write what you know about. I had distanced myself so very, very far from my childhood as a gay kid and I found it time to re-explore those times with Sister Dottie and her grounded, sage, worldly wisdom. I also found it releasing to go back and explore the small little town where I had grown up, and see if I could find the inherit dark humor that it was fraught with and that I had blocked out of my mind for almost thirty years.
Gavin: What was the process like for you in creating Dottie S. Dixon?
Charles: As any artist, writer, actor that would eventually be performing the character—there had to be a blend and a fit for me to pull her off. She is basically my mother, who is deceased now, and all of her wonderfully delicious collective friends that I recall very vividly from my childhood as a gay little boy growing up in Spanish Fork. The relief society meetings, DUP meetings, club, thousands of telephone conversations, live visits, trips to the beauty parlor, etc. But at her core is my mom. Dottie has a great sense of humor—a real tongue at times—is a stalwart Christian, is perhaps the most devoted mother in the world, an extrovert, loves to talk and meet people, and is not shy with her opinion. She is not educated as far as tremendous schooling, but she is vastly knowledgeable about the world, life, growing, people, raising children, living on a tight budget, loving, caring, cooperation, collaboration, getting the job done and done right, and cooking, etc. I/we at times twist her a bit with cockamamie situations, malapropisms galore, recipes that are over the top, and maternal instincts that have run amuck. At her core is abundance thinking, love, doing unto others as you would have done unto you, letting people soar and be their best, celebrating all of life’s phases and victories, compassion and caring, being the best and most wonderful neighbor and Mormon, showing by example, sharing her opinion and ideas on issues, being an accidental advocate for all people who need her voice—those she calls the “minoritized and miniaturized peoples of the world.” She is a firm believer in justice and equality for all, and advocates rights for “women, gays, the homeless, them Specific Islanders, and all those illegal Hispanish immigrants.” She loves them all—she really, truly does! She is the exact opposite of me in most ways; a woman, a wife, a mother, a heterosexual, a Mormon, an extrovert, institutionally uneducated, untraveled, and she loves living in a very small town. Our values are the same, however, and at our core are the same principles, otherwise I could not write her or channel her at times and understand the alignment necessary to play her. People have said to me who knew my mother, “You are her on that stage,” or “The physical mannerisms are spot on.” I see that I guess, but like I said, when in doubt, we always ask ourselves, “What would Dottie do? How would Dottie say it? What does Dottie think about this?—rather than what Charles or Troy thinks.
Gavin: Since she is your creation, in terms of relation, how close or far apart do her views run to your real views?
Charles: Well, you’ve hit on the big cross-section. As I said earlier, Sister Dottie and I share values, viewpoints, and verve. Our politics are similar too, but she is a devout Mormon, and there our paths go separate ways. I, Charles, am pretty much a spiritualist—believing in self, self-power, self-awareness, self-direction. I follow the Laws of Allowance and Attraction to guide my life, not relying on a god or deity to intervene and guide me. I believe in the Universe, and believe that every human being has a connective power within that allows him or her to tap into greatness, expression, and contribution. I guess you could say where Charles is, is where Dottie’s journey takes her in the play The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon—not in every single way, but in many, yes, many ways.
Gavin: What was the initial reaction to the show after it started hitting the air? And what did you think of the fan base that was slowly building up in support of her?
Charles: They liked her! She was the difference and variety that Troy Williams had predicted she would be. Initially, I wrote her exclusively, then after Troy learned “Spaneesh,” he began writing her too. Our episodes in Now Queer This were five minutes, but when she got her own show "What Not, What Have You, and Such as That—with Sister Dottie S. Dixon", we had to go to a 3-minute episode format. That is hard—really hard. To find the crux of what you wish to say in three minutes, give it variety, arc, climax, and a button? All very difficult to do in three minutes. It usually means just one page of copy, and we do a lot of cutting and editing, even after recording, just to fit it in. People find her accessible—everyone has a mother! People find her hilarious, even unbelievable at times. A day does not go by when I don’t get a friend entry on Facebook, saying something like “I wish you were my Mom,” or “I wish you could talk to my Mom,” “You are the best mother,” etc. That still blows me away, really makes me nonplussed. I think I am a baritone, and so is Dottie for the most part. This is a guy acting/portraying/performing a female character. But I guess that attests to the hope people have that there is a Sister Dottie in this world. I have to admit they love her, and she loves them all; her radio listeners, nearly 4,000 Facebook friends, audience members who have attended performances. It is humbling, and a lot of fun. A lot!
Gavin: Does it feel strange to know that there is a strong LDS support of her, or more satisfying that you've been able to reach out to people that way?
Charles: Not strange whatsoever, surprising perhaps, but never strange—a very delightful outcome and surprise. Why wouldn’t Mormons like her? She is them! She is their ambassador. She is a collective messiness of everything they are as a religion and people, especially rural Utah Mormons. I believe many LDS members identify with her—caught between their church and their real lives on this or that issue—particularly the GLBT issue. Sister Dottie says, in her humble and humorous way, how they feel, and they appreciate that voice and character out there speaking their thoughts, feelings, and expressing their opinions. I know they hope the Elders and others of influence are listening. If not, they are certainly happy to have someone express it the way it is, and someone who calls people on the shit that needs calling.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to do an on-stage performance?
Charles: That was Troy’s idea! I was happy allowing her to remain a radio character. I had never thought about taking her to a physical dimension. He wanted a play, and when he had such sincere passion about The Passion, I said, “Let’s go for it!” Up to that point, Sister Dottie had appeared only via video at certain events for The Pride Center, Utah Aids Foundation, and The Pride Celebration. I had told Troy that she doesn’t show up everywhere. She doesn’t emcee events at bars. She never appears unless it is an important event for an important organization! He agreed. Once the play premiered in May, and she was so warmly received as a full-blown character—physically, emotionally, vocally, facially, etc., I have been more willing to have her appear here and there. She’s appeared on X96’s Radio From Hell when they are live at a particular location. And now she is appearing for book signings of The Mormon Kama Sutra all over the place. She appeared live at Pride 2009 twice; to give the opening prayer, and to introduce Paula Poundstone. It is an event-by-event choice for me, and as I said, the purpose of the event has to be important. She’s done organizational fundraisers, and will continue to do so in the future. It is no easy feat getting ready to be Sister Dottie. I am always hesitant to commit because of the time and effort it takes just to physically create her, let alone write scripting, getting there, dealing with the crowds, etc. But it is worth it pretty much most of the time.
Gavin: What was it like in writing and creating this show with Troy? And was there any reservation on your part about doing the play at all?
Charles: No real reservations, just apprehension about taking her to the stage. We collaborate very unusually. Sometimes working together side by side, other times writing drafts and throwing them over the wall. We wanted the play to be sensitive, hilarious, positive, and to take Sister on a real journey. We also wanted to hopefully inspire, cause tremendous laughter and introspection, and create a play that would lend context for people to talk about the complex and varied issues of Mormonism and homosexuality. It accomplished all of that and much, much more, so we are pleased. Troy and I are both strong personalities. Anyone who knows us knows that. This question is probably the one we are most frequently asked. We also respect and love one another. This is not to say we have not disagreed, and disagreed passionately. We have. But we typically work out our final decision based upon what progresses the play the best, or what would Sister Dottie really do? What Would Sister Dottie Do? Now there’s an idea for a television or radio talk show!
Gavin: What was your reaction at the end of the first run to the success the play brought both you and Pygmalion Theatre Company?
Charles: Elation. Gratitude. Thankfulness. Exhaustion. I think none of us expected the play to be as universally accepted as it was. To that end—I was very, very happy. And the partnership with Pygmalion was our (mine and Troy’s) first initial idea. Pygmalion’s mission is to produce theatre that focuses on women and women’s issues. The collaboration once again proved our intuition was on point, and that this character and play was being guided by the Universe and somewhat out of our control—which is really cool when you think about it. Allowing it to be what it needs to be for those who saw it, participated in it, and became part of the Sister Dottie S. Dixon phenomenon.
Gavin: Was it a foregone conclusion to do a revival of it, or was it something you had to be talked into?
Charles: It had been hinted at during the first run, but the devil was in the details. Revising the script, making it work financially for both parties, filling seats for twenty-one performances, and riding the Dottie roller coaster that had been launched with the first run, which had grown and grown throughout the summer. Making the show bigger, better, more vital and relevant—all really important (and scary) things to take into consideration. The trust had been established, however, between Pygmalion and the writers from the first run. Laurie Mecham had a lot to do with that, being a co-director for the first show, and Fran Pruyn just grabbed it and carried it into the second contract. It is a great match, and we have a lot of fun with the show. Mutual respect is very high, and very important.
Gavin: Before the bout with H1N1, how was the second run going for you, and what changes had you made compared to the first?
Charles: The show was running extremely smoothly to mostly sold-out houses. We were soaring. I was taking care of myself, in a very strict self-enforced routine. Napping, working out, taking Airborne and vitamins like crazy, eating right, sleeping well, no bars, no Cloves, etc. And then it got me, and got me terribly. Within 48 hours I was in ICU for a week, H1N1, and pneumonia. It had affected my liver, lungs and heart. Bad shit—no warning, no reprieve, just fight, fight, fight and hope it doesn’t get you! All the while in quarantine and people dying in other rooms who were younger than I am. Scared me badly, scared Doug badly, scared everyone. However, the love and support was overwhelming, and I am sure that the collective energies of everyone rooting for me and Sister D. helped out tremendously. Changes from the first show included new music and opening, vastly expanded multi-media and sound, a new opening monologue, a new video at the beginning called Dottie’s One-Minute Mormonism (for those who were not Mormon, helping them understand Mormon structure, organization, beliefs, doctrine, and history). We also changed one of the dream sequences, added a rally scene that Dottie is invited to speak at, and a lot of one-liners and jokes that made the show topical for the fall of 2009. We also added new costumes, wigs, set painting, lighting effects, blocking, delivery, and pacing.
Gavin: What's the plan from here on the rest of the shows, and will you be doing anything differently?
Charles: We are bringing the show back for three performances January 17, 18, 19, in the larger Jeanne Wagner Theatre, which seats five hundred. Most people exchanged their October seats for January seats, which we really appreciated. We still have many seats that will be open for sale, and hope that this will give people the opportunity to come and see the show if they haven’t already. Call 801-355-ARTS for tickets. And with the recent events between the Mormons and the LGBT community, there will be some new lines, some new jokes, some new meaning. There will be a new opening and monologue as well. We are investigating traveling with the show, possibly to Park City, Los Angeles, and even off-Broadway New York City, but all that will take a task force and funding to occur. Again, we are leaving some of this up to the Laws of Attraction and Allowance to take Sister Dottie where she is supposed to go—send Sister on a mission as it were. “Sister in a Suitcase!”
Gavin: In the meantime, you and Pat Bagley co-wrote The Mormon Kama Sutra. How did that idea come about, and what was it like writing with Pat?
Charles: In the play, during Dottie’s honeymoon scene at the Romantic Zion Motor Lodge in Panguitch, her younger sister Wendy, the charcoal sheep of the family, sends the original Mormon Kama Sutra along with Don, Dottie’s bridegroom. Both being virgins, the book comes in very handy in helping them explore the beginning meanings of sexual contact with one’s EC (eternal companion). It was a prop we had written into the show, and the positions Dottie mentions from the book always got some of the biggest laughs in the show. Soon audience members were asking where they could buy this book, The Mormon Kama Sutra, (or as Dottie calls it the Marmon Karma Suttress). That really got me thinking! However, I was worried we wouldn’t have the time (two months) to really produce an entire book before the October re-staging of the show. I called Pat Bagley and we met for beers at The Bayou. Pat’s agent, Dan F. Thomas, came late, and asked how I knew Sister Dottie. Pat and I smiled at one another, and we led poor Dan on for about 15 minutes before we let him in on the joke that I was Sister Dottie! He looked at me, as most do, and said “No way!” This usually really pleases me, as well as scares the hell out of me, because most people cannot imagine I am the Mormon housewife Dottie, and they cannot imagine that it is a man playing the character. Fun stuff! Pat is a dream to work with. He is a total Type B—easy-going, fun, extremely creative, and he and Dan helped shape the book tremendously. They are the experts and we followed their lead. We were lucky and very fortunate. I initially asked several “sex-perts” (friends) for positions that might fill an entire book, and they didn’t disappoint. Ideas flooded in. We narrowed them down and had our short list. We initially thought that Troy and I would describe the position, and then Pat would illustrate, but we soon learned that we had to do just the opposite—Pat illustrated based upon the title, and then we added description and little pointers from Sister Dottie herself. We had to create all the original history of the book, since this is the 40th Anniversary Edition. Pat came up with Cami Sue Truman as the original author, and we all then seized upon who she was, and how she came to write the original. Dottie and Pat both had to write introductions to the book. We had to create a humorous glossary, and of course Dottie dedicated the book to her son Donnie, the second love of her life. She divulges in the book which position she and Don were using when Donnie was conceived. Fun project, fun collaboration, still going on, and who knows what sequels there may be in the future?!
Gavin: You've also done other theatre in the past, most notably Facing East. How has local theatre treated you over the years, and what keeps bringing you back as an actor?
Charles: I have been very fortunate and welcomed into the Salt Lake City Acting/Theatre scene. During the first run of The Passion, I personally thanked in the playbill several of those who had given me a chance to act, and show my abilities. People like Susie McCarty, Richard Scott, Keven Myhre, and Jerry Rapier. I am grateful that I have had the opportunities that I have had to be in some powerful and civically-provocative theatre. I think acting is really hard. I have degrees in directing for the most part, and so when I do choose to act, the script has to speak to me personally and I really have to feel concerned personally about the issues and themes that the play addresses to give it everything I have. My friend Anne Decker shared with me an excerpt from Ann Carson’s Grief Lessons during Facing East, and it pretty much sums up my feelings about acting and what actors sacrifice for the greater good of society every time they go down “into the pit.” “Grief and rage—you need to contain that, to put a frame around it, where it can play itself out without you and your kin having to die. There is a theory that watching unbearable stories about other people lost in grief and rage is good for you—may cleanse you of your darkness. Do you want to go down to the pits of yourself all alone? Not much. What if an actor could do it for you? Isn’t that why they are called actors? They act for you. You sacrifice them to action. And this sacrifice is a mode of deepest intimacy of you with your own life. Within it you watch yourself act out the present or possible organization of your nature. You can be aware of your own awareness of this nature as you never are at the moment of experience. The actor, by reiterating you, sacrifices a moment of his own life in order to give you a story of yours.” As I said acting is hard, and I admire actors tremendously. To want to do what Carson explains—and do it over and over again—is either pretty heroic or insane. I prefer to think it is heroic and advocating change, an improved social mindset, increased human civility, understanding, ultimately self-awareness. The theatre—the arts in general—are powerful shapers of people. Superb writing (sequenced words), images/pictures, lighting, sound, movement, characterizations, when combined, engage the head, heart, and gut. All three must be engaged for there to be success in the theatre. I guess that is what keeps bringing me back to wanting to act now and then. I really have to want something to be better, for there to be a new perspective, a new way, a shift—one life and mind at a time—to even dare begin the process. A process which I truly believe is the scariest process a human can encounter, whether it is drama or comedy. It is serious business, utterly serious, and hard, extremely hard, work. If it’s not, then you shouldn’t be doing it. Great opera, great musical compositions, and immaculate dancing can do the very same thing. Brilliance only comes from mind-blowing commitment.
Gavin: How are you adapting to being an almost informal voice for human rights and the GLBT community in Utah?
Charles: I, personally, am adapting fine. Having enough time is the real challenge. I have served in several LGBT leadership capacities throughout my life that is not a new feeling for me. However, to observe the sheer power a simple little character like Dottie has as a change agent has surprised me over and over. She is accessible, universal, and grounded. Everyone can relate to her, because everyone came from a mother. That huge responsibility is what frightens me and keeps me ever aware of the importance of our work. Humor is a mighty force when used correctly, and parody and satire are possibly the most difficult types of humor to pull off without being heavy handed or combative. There is a really fine line between comedy and drama. In fact, it is just one single, small step. The writer and the actor both have to know their crafts extremely well to accomplish impact. In addition, a good director is essential for perspective. That is big, really big, and I do not take the responsibility lightly. I have always said, pay the price and it will be on point. So I work, work very hard, pay the price, and use my personal as well as actor’s intuition to guide me and make sure that everything Sister Dottie says and does is congruent so that she is that change-agent for good that we desire her to be.
Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on local theater, both good and bad?
Charles: That’s a difficult question, for which I have an on the record and off the record response! You are getting the on the record response. Sorry. If anyone wishes to ask me personally—I am a truth teller. Every community gets the theatre they deserve. Salt Lake is very, very fortunate and of high quality! As far as most of the other theatre in the state, I refer to a quote from Sister Dottie herself. “Not sa much!” Done, done, and done.
Gavin: What could be done to improve it?
Charles: Lots! Cease and desist orders, funding, the really artistic geniuses moving themselves with their own hand-picked cadre of progressive audience members to invade the ‘burbs, taste—real taste—being cultivated, a revelation to have LDS roadshows halted forever, getting rid of bad junior high and high school drama teachers, people with nothing better to do finding other places where their volunteer talents might serve humankind much more effectively, robust creativity being taught in the schools by truly creative people, censorship being eliminated, homogeneity being abolished, "Les Miz" never being allowed to tour SLC again, paying the good actors what they are worth, critics not being so nice, inclusive, and encouraging—really letting the public know what they are getting for their valuable time and money—mediocrity citations with stiff fines? There are just so many things we could be doing!
Gavin: Delving a little into public a bit, what's your take on the GLBT community and how it’s represented and treated in Utah?
Charles: Tremendous progress has been made decade by decade. I attribute that to Harvey Milk’s solution—"just come out." That one thing has done more to improve and move representation and treatment toward positive outcomes than any other. When I recall how hard it was in the 60s and the 70s in Utah as compared to other large metropolitan areas, I am very pleased with the progress we’ve made. Looking at Utah now, in comparison to other parts of the country, I think we have it much better in some ways—and, compared to other locations, much worse. I think this is a generational issue. When my grandchildren are adults, many of the LGBT issues that seem to be insurmountable today will be non-issues. I truly believe there will come a time in the near future when adults will look back and scratch their heads as to the justification of taking away LGBT civil rights, and think what fools must have lead, taught, parented, and governed at the time. It takes all kinds of activists to make this happen. However, don’t mistake what I am saying. It takes radicals, moderate strategies, more courageous LGBT legislators, numerous straight people, alliances—multi-cultural, gender, racial, and generational voices all coming together in the huge transformational shift of thinking and power that is occurring. Those who are losing their perceived right for power and control and fighting like hell to keep it? They are, and will be, ugly, mean, hideously unreasonable and ridiculous, attempting to control even harder. But they are fighting against a natural principle, and the Universe is not aligned right now for this imbalance to continue. They will lose. They will go down just like the Wicked Witch of the West when doused with water, but they will go down. Of this I am certain. LGBT citizens and their allies are far too determined, optimistic, quickly organized and mobilized, intelligent, networked, strategically smarter, collaborative and cooperative to not win this important and eventual battle. And it is a battle, nothing less. There is a battlefield with some great and some poor leaders, with some advancement and some setbacks, with major and minor wins and losses, but LGBT citizens will ultimately gain their complete civil rights. They will no longer be second-class people—closeted, frightened, hurting or killing themselves—but finally welcomed at the table in full and long-overdue celebration, not just mere tolerance. I hope I live to see this time. I am a realist, however, and fear that I may not.
Gavin: Are there any aspects you wish the LGBT community was more vocal on, or played a bigger role in?
Charles: I wish they were more collaborative and cooperative, rather than subconsciously or consciously attempting to compete, compare, criticize one another, or complain about inequities. I have friends all over the world say, “Why on earth do you live in Utah? How can you stand it? Why have you not moved away from the hatred, myopia and homogeneity there?” My answer is typically, “Someone has to live on the front lines!” And I do believe that when it comes to LGBT issues, we who live in Utah are on one of the main front-line epicenters. There is a huge shift of power taking place on our planet, our country, our state—and those who are into scarcity mindset and control and losing power? It scares the hell out of them. They are fighting, and fighting harder and harder to keep their perceived control, when in actuality no one really has control over any other human being or group of human beings unless that person or group allows it. I would hope that Sister Dottie can be a voice for many varied points of view, and within that voice bring people together in the good fight, the fight for justice, truth, equality, true pride (not just an event), hope, and that we LGBT people can be the voice of balance in this shift that is occurring. Mind you, by me saying this—I am not ungrateful for all the hard work that goes on daily by the numerous organizations and individuals that work for our causes—whether they are gay or straight. I am extremely thankful. However, it really comes down to resources and focus. There is too little of both. Working together is the key in my mind, and working for something greater than individual success, notoriety, or vocal prowess.
Gavin: With your experiences, both past and present, and the stories of families you've encountered, do you believe there will ever be a reconciliation between the LDS Church and those they've kicked out? Or will that always be a divider for their members?
Charles: I would ask what you mean by “divider”? By my definition, yes, I believe there will always be a division. Difference is the Mormon moniker. They were organized and have always touted their peculiarity. They were outcasts initially, and are now identifying and persecuting other outcasts. But this is the one thing that the gays and the Mormons have in common. They both know what is like to be different. Once more, LDS leaders inch toward this understanding, and soon the divide will lessen and lessen. But I do not believe it will ever fully disappear. Progress will be slow. Everyone must be persistent and patient, and everyone must continue to practice “listen-omics.” I am hopeful that the recent support from the LDS church for LGBT rights is just the beginning. That they will eventually realize that we are no threat to them or their holy institutions. All we want are the same civil rights and civil unions that any right and fair-minded person deserves. Everyone gets caught up in language. The word marriage is the biggest example. LGBT people have got to abandon that word as their battle cry and find other when it comes with a 50% failure rate? We are so very unique and different in how our relationships are formed, strengthened, supported, grown, and kept healthy. There are many, many Mormons, however, who are so very tired of the LGBT issue, and they see the injustices that exist. For the first time in history, during 2008-2009, the LDS church lost more members than they gained. The majority of them were members taking their names off the rolls of the church because of this issue. The LDS leaders have got to take action, be precise in their decisions and, with humility, invite others with greater wisdom than they regarding ideas and solutions to their secretive tables. Parents are no longer just sitting back and choosing church over child. They are finding ways to have both. Or, if their LDS leaders insist they choose, they are naturally and healthily choosing their children. That is huge, and the LDS leaders know it is huge. After all, it is instinctively human and certainly Christ-like. Instead of hiring an over-priced Madison Avenue ad agency to change their name from “Mormon” to “Latter Day Saints,” and other ridiculous branding nonsense, they need to be focusing on the shifts that are occurring, and be at the leading edge of those shifts. Not the bleeding edge. They are not organized with their aged patriarchy to ever be bleeding edge, but certainly not the lag and drag example they have been for decades now. Can or will they ever listen and hear this? I hope so. There is always hope. Will it happen easily? Never. Change and choice are the two constants in life, LDS and LGBT leaders both have got to engage and embrace that fact. If the religion can do this then they will choose to lead once again, standing fully and honorably representing the name and heritage. Their church is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So will LGBT people everywhere find their power, strength, and peace of mind and live joyous and contributing lives.
Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year and going into next?
Charles: Some doctor-and partner-demanded recuperation. The holidays with Doug, our families, our children, grandchildren, friends, and our adorable dog. But you can also expect Dottie to be on KRCL with several “Dottiesodes”, on X96’s The Painful Circle once a month with Radio From Hell, and on B98.7 periodically with Todd & Erin. Dottie will be keeping up with almost 4,000 Facebook friends, posting on Facebook, making appearances at book signings for Ken Sanders Rare Books, Barnes and Noble, Cahoots, The King’s English Bookstore, Sam Weller’s, and doing a stint at the KRCL 30th Anniversary party, as well as a 30-minute routine at EVE on New Years Eve. There will be a YouTube video with The Jack & Coke Lady, too. Life, just beautiful life, and whatever else the Universe may drop into my lap. Dottie will continue into 2010, and who knows where she will end up! There will be a subsequent new play in 2012. Performances, tours, books, booklets, calendars, television, radio, maybe a short feature film, YouTube, live speeches, stand-up appearances. Who knows, really—who knows? The desire has been thrown out to the Universe. Let’s see where it takes this whackadazical Sister Dottie S. Dixon from Spanish Fork, Utah. She has plenty of places she can “GO and GROW”! Crimanentlee!
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Charles: Thank you Gavin. This has been a long activity, but a very helpful one in realizing the past, present, and future of Sister Dottie. I would like to promote your blog on Facebook and SisterDottie.com, so please let’s coordinate and collaborate with all of that. Bless you and your work. Be well and best wishes.