Darrin Hagen. Photo courtesy of TelusTV.
Our editorial intern Tamara Aschenbrenner sat down with Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt on December 1 to talk about their upcoming play Klondykes (at the Roxy on Gateway from February 4 to 21). Read the extended interview below and the article in the January/February 2016 issue to learn more about these local talents and their experiences in Edmonton.
WHERE: What do you love most about writing and performing in plays?
Trevor Schmidt: I’ll answer honestly, because I believe that honesty is the best policy. My mother taught me that. I’m a bit of a control freak, so directing and writing mean that I have control over every aspect of it. I very often visualize something in a larger sense from the very beginning, at the conception of the project. So to know that we can control that is of great assurance to me…
Trevor Schmidt. Photo by Ian Jackson.
Darrin Hagen: And we totally understand each other. He talks about control, and it’s interesting because most of the shows we write together, we’re actually on stage together as well, so that control actually extends to the final bow of the final night. Other tours don’t have that. Because we’re on stage together, the script can actually keep evolving as we’re learning more about the pace of the show. And we’re at the point now where, I can hear him take a breath to go to speak for the moments we have to speak together, and we don’t even have to look at each other. We just know when that moment is.
TS: It’s interesting. We worked together for the first time about eighteen—
DH: —thousand years ago.
TS: Really long ago. And I wasn’t a fan.
DH: We didn’t get along.
TS: I was not a fan of his. And then I got asked to do a project with him, and I didn’t really want to do it. I had some preconceived notions as to how it would go. But I needed some money, and I knew they were doing really well at the Fringe. So I thought, I’ll take the money and run. I ended up having a really good time, and since then we’ve worked together constantly. We don’t fight.
DH: We disagree a lot.
TS: When we first started working together, people thought we must’ve been sleeping together or we must’ve been having terrible, terrible fights. And neither of those were true. Darrin has too much respect for me to sleep with me, and I don’t have enough for him. (Laughs.) People think we fight all the time, and we really don’t. I’m lucky because Darrin lets me bully him.
DH: When we first started to know each other, I didn’t like him. And now he’s fine.
TS: I think we trust each other’s instincts very much. We do respect each other.
DH: As a writer, I’ve never met another actor who I can give a first draft to, and Trevor can read it cold and he understands implicitly my rhythms and my timing. When I hand stuff over to Trevor, I trust whatever comes back to me because I know he gets where I’m going. It’s always going to be better. I don’t need to fix it… Directing is relatively new to me. I haven’t directed many pieces. I’ve only directed when I’ve had to, but I’m starting to enjoy it. I’m not as control freaky as Trevor is about the bigger picture. He’s got a really good design eye. He does set design, while I’m more sound design, so it’s a much different approach. But in terms of writing up until the performing, it was something that I was doing before he joined up with me.
W: Have you started direction on Klondykes?
DH: We’re still creating it. It opens in six weeks and we’re still creating it.
TS: We’re constantly changing things, writing things. We even had a conversation this morning, talking about working on this song and that song.
DH: We’re even still researching and finding out stuff about the Yukon at this point… But that’s kind of how we do the Fringe. The show doesn’t really finish until it’s on stage. And even then, we’re still changing stuff.
TS: It was going to be us, so there’s a short character and there’s a tall character. Then along the way, it kind of shifted and we went, Maybe this isn’t a campy comedy, maybe this is something a little deeper.
DH: As soon as there are guys in drag, there’s a statement. So as soon as you pull us out of the cast and decided to go with women cross-dressing, instead of men cross-dressing as women cross-dressing as men, then suddenly that removal completely changed the whole intent of the cross-dressing, of the transformation they undergo. I think camp lives more in the world as men dressing as women than it does in the world of women dressing as men. Even though they’re both a transformation, camp is much more about—
TS: Women dressed as men doesn’t seem as funny to me.
DH: It seems more serious business. Even to the practitioners, it seems like more serious business. I’m generalizing big time. For every person who cross dresses, there’s a different motivation. But Trevor and I have actually done a lot of research on drag and gender… and issues of politics and gender… So this is really just a natural step and maturation of the themes that we’re been working on in terms of men cross-dressing, but now it’s women posing as men. And they’re lesbian characters, too. This is the second or third time we’ve tackled lesbian characters, isn’t it?… Our work, it’s not just about men in dresses. It’s not just about being gay.
W: You mentioned that the intent for Klondykes is different from what you’ve done before. Can you talk more about that?
DH: I think if it were to be me and Trevor in the roles, it would have been more spoofy. The nature of drag changes considerably, taken in by the audience. It allowed us to go a lot more into two really fascinating women, and to actually do a real piece of history. Back during the Gold Rush, women were not allowed into the North unaccompanied. They had to be accompanied by a man. It’s really a feminist tale, in a way, because they managed to buck that system to get up there.
TS: About three-quarters of the show is funny and raunchy, a little bit naughty. But at about the three-quarter mark, there’s a change to something that’s emotional. You don’t really get that from a campy piece. This is about real women.
DH: So even if a real woman does a raunchy burlesque number, in a Klondike kind of context, it’s going to be a much different experience for the viewer, than it would be if a guy did it. Because it might be funny and raunchy, but the fact is that she’s a prostitute and her life’s not great… But, again, we’re speculating. It’s less about the jokes, but there will totally be moments of humour… It’s more like an album that tells a story…
TS: It’s a lot about being an outsider, and people pretending to be something that they’re not.
DH: And people escaping to the North. They don’t just go to the North, they escape to the North. My first trip up the Yukon was with my husband, and we drove all the way up there in the summertime, and everyone we met was from somewhere else. They were all going up there to escape something. Our characters are very much like that. Things are not going very well for them in the world of men and the world of cities in Canada, so they decide to stake out into the unknown… Anything is better than where they are. It’s all about escaping… Ultimately, the interesting thing between the two main characters is they get up there, and one of them, this world works for her. The more masculine of the two. She’s in an environment where a masculine woman doesn’t get treated like a freak. The other one, who’s more of a traditional woman, finds it really difficult to be in a place that’s so geared towards the masculine, and immediately starts to question her choices. So ultimately, we get to hit the transgender nail on the head, too. We have a woman who’s cross-dressing as a man, not because she feels like she’s a man, although there’s a bit of that in her already, but because it’s the way she can escape. When she gets up there, you’d expect her to become a woman again, but then she actually she finds that she prefers to be a man, to be seen as a man. So it’s not really transgender, but it’s definitely a view of gender. I do love that Trevor and I have explored, between the two of us, more variations of gender and transgender and cross-dressing probably than any other artist in western Canada. Maybe even in the country. Every year, we come up with a new tweak on it.
TS: It’s a lot about identity, about figuring out who you are, how you relate to others. I think Klondykes particularly questions, “How can I be happy?”
DH: And how does what you present to the world changes how the world treats you. I think that’s something I’ve definitely learned in my career and in my life, starting off as a drag queen in the 80s and becoming an artist of a little more significance. I had to act like an artist before people would treat me like an artist. Even though I thought I was an artist, but I was a drag queen, and I was of sorts. I took it really seriously and I worked hard at it, but it was nothing like the kind of creation you go through when you’re actually creating theatre. I do love the themes of transformation. I love when people play something other than themselves…
W: What do you love most about working and living in Edmonton?
DH: I love this town. I wasn’t going to stay here when I first moved here in 1982. Good things keep happening to me here. Without the Fringe, the Edmonton arts would be a much different thing. [The Fringe] was a great place to take a first step. I look at it like a giant artistic incubator.
TS: There’s a very vibrant theatre community. I think, in many ways, it’s very supportive. Every company is very supportive of each other, but not to the degree that you’re not challenging each other to do better every time. I don’t need people to be nice about my work. I need people to appreciate it and talk about it.
W: What would you recommend to people who are new to Edmonton?
TS: We recommend the theatre scene. There’s something for everyone, no matter what your tastes or your styles are. If they want to try a sample platter, you can contact 6-Pack.
DH: You actually get to sample different shows from different theatres… I would also say to plan your vacation for the summertime because the Fringe is on. The Fringe is spectacular.
TS: There are tons of festivals in the summer. And I’m going to say it, I know it’s not popular, but you have to go to West Edmonton Mall. When you’re from out of town, West Edmonton Mall is pretty great… There’s also a great restaurant scene happening here.
W: Any restaurants in particular that you enjoy?
DH: For me, the Bistro Praha has been my favourite restaurant for about 30 years. Kevin and I had our first date there.
TS: God, I didn’t know that was why you loved it.
DH: (Laughs.) Trevor hates sentimentalism.
TS: I like this small little place called Tapavino. I love Sabor Divino downtown.
DH: I’m talking about Edmonton classics!
TS: I like a lot of this new movement in restaurants.
DH: And I’m a big fan of the classics.
TS: I’m trying to stay young.