Charles Lynn Frost Channels His Mother to Become Dottie S. Dixon
With the successes of two radio shows and the debut stage performance of The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon last spring, it seems necessary to finally learn ‘who is Dottie S. Dixon?’, especially with the fall opening of her updated show The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon: Second Helpings. Her creator, Charles Lynn Frost, shares (rather intimately) the intricacies of the woman he says is a “tribute” to his own mother.
Tony Hobday: Without giving too much up, describe in some detail how this new production of Dottie is different than last season’s?
Charles Lynn Frost: It’s more timely, relevant and considers many of the events that occurred over the summer since the original play was produced last May. There is a new video called Dottie’s One Minute Mormonism where she quickly explains, to the best of her somewhat confused abilities, the structure, eccentricities, unique qualities, no-no’s and fun facts about “We Marmons.” The show addresses the ongoing dialogue, or lack thereof, between the Gays and the LDS Church more pointedly.
Dottie evolves more so in this production. Her character arc is more carefully drawn from an Accidental Activist to an Experimental Activist to an Empowered Activist. She is more courageous and definitely more zany, cockamamie and fun! There is new music, new scenes, new facts and other surprises that everyone will have to come find out about.
TH: How did the concept of the Dottie character come to be?
CLF: Troy Williams came to me four years ago and asked me to conceptualize and create a character for his 30-minute weekly LGBT program Now Queer This on KRCL. We’ve been friends for many years, way back to the Provo Theatre Company days, when I was the Artistic Director and he was an actor by evening and a real estate appraiser by day. So much water has gone under that bridge including both of us coming out, leaving the LDS religion, moving to wicked Salt Lake City, changing professions and most importantly, becoming strong advocate voices in the Human Rights arena.
I initially told Troy I was hesitant to create a weekly character, that the listening audience might tire of the character. Plus it was a lot of work creating a weekly episode, recording it, editing it and then playing it on the air. I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and then had a bit of an epiphany. I thought, ‘we do need comedy in this half hour, and it needs to come from someone that no listener expects it to come from, a Mormon Female Hetero Housewife Mother!’
I went to my past as all writers are told to do, and found my mother, Zelphia LaVern Frost. At first, the very idea scared the hell out of me. But then the more I thought about it, I realized she was the perfect voice. An opinionated, strong, Mormon woman from Spanish Fark, Utah, who had a gay son, a wonderful husband, and a solid testimony of her religion. She is wise in the ways of the world, but not educated, has improper grammar and has more stories to tell than anyone I have ever known.
So I created Sister Dottie S. Dixon, happily married to Don D. Dixon for 34 years, and has a gay son Donnie P. Dixon, she loves and adores him more than anything in her world. She doesn’t even think about choosing between her church and her child, her child immediately wins. So, I fashioned her after my mother, and all her funny and wonderful lady friends that I grew up with as a little gay boy in Spanish Fark, where if you didn’t do scouting, rodeo, or Little League, you were pretty much up shit creek! She was immediately loved by the KRCL listeners, and when Now Queer This went off the air one year later, the listeners clamored that Sister Dottie remain. So she continued with her own show, What Not, What Have You, and Such as That with Sister Dottie D. Dixon.
TH: Other than it’s popularity as a radio show, what do you think has contributed to the success of Dottie? And why do you think so many LDS people have taken a liking to her?
CLF: I think she is accessible and universal. Everyone has a mother, everyone can identify. Mormon, ex-Mormon, non-Mormons who see the Dottie’s of the world around them daily. She is real, honest and tells it like it is. No brushing around the issues, she nails them and exposes them in a hilarious approach. I think people want a Dottie Dixon in this state, in this world, in their lives. She has 2,700 Facebook friends, and not a day goes by without some loving soul (usually a young gay naive man) says, in all sincerity, something like “I wish you were my mother,” or “I wish you could sit down and talk to my mother,” or “You are the mother all of us gay boys need.” I sit there and think, ‘C’mon, listen to her voice; that’s mostly a baritone you’re hearing.’ But they so badly want to believe in her sincere goodness, acceptance and unconditional love that they believe she is real. That is a sincere compliment, and a huge responsibility for us when we write her Dottiesodes for KRCL, or the play, or when she appears live.
TH: Describe the writing process of Dottie’s story, especially in your collaboration with Troy Williams? How did you overcome your differences, if any, in how Dottie should be portrayed?
CLF: Troy originally allowed me to create and characterize her. He had to learn Spaneesh, which is an entirely different language. He learned fast, and pretty soon was writing her as good, if not much better than I. We will create drafts of the Dottiesodes, or scenes from the play, or whatever, and throw them over the wall to each other. We collaborate, debate, sometimes really fight and argue, but in the end we always come back to the big questions, such as ‘what would Dottie do?’ or ‘what would Dottie say?’ or ‘how do we balance her honesty and forthright character with any messages we want to share with our audiences?’ And it works. She has grown into a much bigger phenomenon than either of us had ever imagined. New plays, tours, television, YouTubes, etc. are all in the planning phase. And an entire line of Dottie merchandise.
TH: Who is Dottie, really? What drives her to tell her story, what message is she sending?
CLF: She wants to bring the Mormons and the Gays together at the same table, to seek understanding of one another, to allow and celebrate differences, to hopefully find a way for there to be acceptance of both. Troy and I are both outspoken, loud voices in our community. Leaders as well, both of organizations and underground organizations. And we are very careful not to allow our thoughts, ideas, philosophies drive Dottie too much. That is the fine line we walk every time we put a word down for her to say. It is a very challenging thing to do, to not get on a soapbox and rant; we keep her centered in her belief that there is hope.
TH: How far of a stretch is it, in terms of personality and relation, to play Dottie?
CLF: She is my opposite: a woman, a Mormon, a mother, a heterosexual, but I find her by channeling my own mom. She is really Dottie. Not exactly alike but pretty damned close. My mother had a keen sense of humor, loved everyone, and was a great mom, wife, neighbor, cook and church-goin’ lady. She was an extrovert, I’m an introvert. I find her by borrowing many of the physical characteristics of her friends, their lives, their stories.
I remember I gave my mother hell as a child. I was the baby, eight years between me and the next sibling. I was a mistake child that she had at 40 for God’s sake! I used to confront her about it, which she denied to her death. “You were planned and wanted” she’d loudly say each time I cornered her on the fact. She loved me so much, and I her. Doing Dottie is a tribute to that woman, who was the most courageous and strong woman I have ever known. Orphaned at 3 and 5 by both parents, tossed throughout her childhood from relative to relative. Pretty much unwanted. She married during the Great Depression to the first love of her life, my father Darrell Jarvis Frost. Someone to finally care for her, and she could care back like she was so capable of doing. She had her first two children on my Grandmother Frost’s kitchen table, delivered by a midwife and my grandma. I am more and more like my father every day I age. He is also deep inside my DNA, just like my mom. Dottie, The Passion … all of this, for me, is to honor and pay tribute to the ideals she lived her life around. She knew integrity, and her values and actions were always aligned. So from those two strong parent examples I am what I am: proud, authentic, and attempting to be real and living in the now every single day like they, particularly she, taught me to do.
The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon: Second Helpings runs Oct.–25 at the Rose Wagner Center. Tickets available at arttix.org or 801-355-ARTS.