By Troy Williams
On behalf of myself, Charles Lynn Frost and Pygmalion Theatre Company, we want to thank all of you for making The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon a smash success. We enjoyed a wild run with sold out shows, added performances and fantastic media coverage. We were overwhelmed by the amazing response.
It’s exciting to see a project emerge from
nascent concept into a fully manifested reality. Three years ago I
approached Charles and asked him to create a character for my radio
series on KRCL. I knew Charles was a phenomenal actor and I was
anxious for the opportunity to collaborate with a performer of his
caliber. I sat down at his kitchen table as he pulled out a series of
notes. “Her name will be Sister Dottie S. Dixon and she will host a
show called, What Not, What Have You and Such as That”. We were off
It took awhile for me to grasp Dottie’s syntax and “heavy regional dialect”. Charles had to teach me “Spaneesh.” Not your typical south of the US border Spanish, but “Spaneesh” from Spanish Fork. It was tricky but Charles was patient. And after awhile I caught on “ril good!”
Charles and I approached the character from two different perspectives. He was channeling his mother, who raised him in Spanish Fork – as well as her many friends who comprised the sisters from his ward. I was always channeling those courageous women in Mormon history who were excommunicated for challenging authority – Sonja Johnson (who supported the Equal Rights Amendment), Fawn Broadie (who wrote No Man Knows My History) and Lavina Fielding Anderson (who documented cases of ecclesiastical abuse).
Charles grounded Dottie’s basic humanity and gave her a soul, while I constantly threw her into outrageously uncompromising situations. After two years of Dottie on the radio, we decided to take her to the stage. One of the elements that Charles and I deeply agreed upon was the need for the gay community to shift our narrative. It is time we collectively change our story.
Think about it. When you
survey gay cinema, theatre and literature, it is almost always
associated with violence and death. AIDS, gay-bashing, suicide and
parental rejection comprise what has become a gay victim
meta-narrative. The world hates gay people and look how we suffer!
This is the story that we tell over and over. And I’m really done with
When Charles and I sat down to write The Passion we were very clear that we were going to celebrate how awesome it is to be gay. We were determined to invert the classic narrative of parents rejecting their queer kid. What if Dottie, as a Mormon mother, championed her gay son, even at the risk of her own membership? That was the driving force. From the very beginning I was determined that Dottie was a latter-day Joan of Arc. She was a visionary who would come into conflict with her Church leaders. Her actions would culminate in her trial and ultimately she would be “burned at the stake center.” Yet no matter the trials we put her through, Dottie would always remain true to her Mormon core.
When you create a work of art, you never really know which parts will be well received and which might fall flat. There were many surprises along the way. Perhaps due to a glowing review in The Deseret News, The Passion drew in a large number of active Mormons. Every night I would look out across the audience to see seats plum-full of “Dotties” – brave Mormon moms unafraid to laugh at our cultural idiosyncrasies. And perhaps due in part to Dottie’s following on KRCL, there were many nights when our straight audience far outnumbered the queers.
BYU professor in attendance told us that, like Dottie, he was asked by
his employers not to talk about his gay child. Another LDS mother took
me by the hand and with tears in her eyes told me how she was a Dottie
and she had invited her 18 year old son to see the show in the hopes
that he would finally come out to her. I heard back later that night,
There are many Mormons, who in the shadow of Proposition 8, are standing up for their gay family members. They are loving and embracing them just as they are. Things are changing for the better.
For far too long, the Mormon leadership (and the Born Again Christians and the Republican Party, et al) have tried to control the gay narrative. They have marginalized our lives, disparaged our love and actively worked to eliminate our rights. That day is over. Our identity will no longer be defined by others. We will no longer internalize their fear and enmity. We are crafting our own stories and rewriting a new ending.
And it feels damn good, doesn’t it?
As Dottie says, “Heavenly Father sent a gay baby into our lives as a
blessing.” We want every queer person in the world to believe that.
We want every parent of a gay child to know what a beautiful gift they
have been given. We are not sinners, we are not defective, and we are
most definitely not burdened by an affliction. “The Mormons have great
lessons to learn from their gay children” says the Giant Box Elder Bug
wearing the Jacqueline Smith sweater set from KMarts, “Why do you think
they have so many!?” Indeed.
The world is changing. The story is shifting. You are part of that. All of us. Every time you come out, every time you raise your voice and defend the “marginalized and miniaturized people of the earth”, every moment that personal authenticity informs your next choice. This is the work that Dottie invites us to engage, “to heal a world that is ailing from too much suffering.”
May that be the passion that consumes our lives. I’m grateful for Sister D for sharing with us new possibilities and new stories. Inthenameofjesuschrist – AMEN!