“There’s that phrase in writing: the specific point to the universal. This is the play where I learned that the more specific I get, the more universally people take it… Everybody who sees the show and comes up to me after says, ‘I didn’t live in a trailer court, but I know these people. I know all of these people.’ Or they did live in a trailer court and they recognize the terminology and the experiences. It’s not really about growing up in a trailer court, it’s about growing up white trash on the prairies. That’s something we all have in common.”
That’s Darrin Hagen – playwright, sound designer, and star of Tornado Magnet – Darrin’s homage to his time growing up in a trailer court in Rocky Mountain House. Premièring at the 1997 Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival, this production at The Roxy on Gateway marks Tornado Magnet‘s 20th-anniversary – a kind of homecoming after the show has toured around Western Canada over the last 20 years.
In Tornado Magnet, SuperMom Dotty Parsons battles “mobile home-ophobia” by addressing and explaining the key elements of life living in a trailer court – how (and where) to set up your mobile home, how to furnish and decorate one’s trailer, privacy and intimacy in a trailer court, and more.
Darrin first approached Theatre Network‘s Artistic Director, Bradley Moss about presenting Tornado Magnet in the Roxy Performance Series next year as part of Guys in Disguise‘s 30th season, but originally proposed that another actor – potentially a woman – play the lead role of Dotty Parsons. However, Bradley came back to Darrin with the offer to open Theatre Network’s 42nd season with the show, but rewriting the script to age Dotty – the Dotty we meet in today’s Tornado Magnet is now a grandmother (as opposed to the mother audiences met in the original production written in 1997). Darrin was excited to take on this challenge, “I realized this play has changed every time I perform it – there’s a new joke, or a new prop, or I change my costume, so I thought it has always changed – the look of Dotty has changed the play has changed and we’ve never had a chance to park it in a real theatre, build a real set and do a real run. It’s always been we’re loading in, we’re loading out and we’re off to the next city. So, I thought yes, let’s do a real production of this.”
Darrin says in a lot of ways, Tornado Magnet stays true to the original script but updated to reflect today’s world. “Dotty steps out of the old material to kind of update you a little bit. Suddenly we get to talk about what happens when your entire town disappears – because that’s what trailer courts are – they’re like a small town. We’ve got these lessons of Slave Lake and Fort McMurray and High River and all these places that have been destroyed, wiped off the map basically. That’s what the people at Evergreen Trailer Court must have felt when they showed up [after the 1987 Edmonton tornado] and there was nothing but matchsticks left of their homes. It’s a different world now, so we get to accommodate and embrace that.”
While updates have been made to the script, Darrin says Dotty Parsons, who is based on his mother, remains “my favourite character that I’ve ever written, she’s so much fun to inhabit.”
At its heart, Tornado Magnet is an homage to Darrin’s time growing up in a trailer court in Rocky Mountain House. Darrin says, “I grew up in heaven. It was this idyllic little place to be a kid, we got to roam wild – it was still in the days when you could let your kids play down at the creek all day unsupervised and not have to worry about them… The other thing that had a marked impact on me as a man and as a human being was that it was a real female-dominated society – it was all about the women. I watched these women who were so tough and didn’t take shit from anybody and they ran that place. I grew up with some really strong female role models who were not only omnipresent, but they ran the show… In a way, it was a bit of a commune because everything was shared. When you had a potluck, it was for everybody – there was no one who didn’t get invited because there were only 17 trailers in the trailer court, so you invited everybody. Or if you ran out of something, someone else was right there with the cup of sugar or whatever you needed. Or if someone was down on their luck, everyone would bake for them and all band together.”
“This is my way to be able to pay homage back.”