Interview with Darrin Hagen

May 07, 2009

How was the process of writing Buddy different than your process for previous work?
This experience was much more about exploration of the themes than any other play I have written. It actually evolved out of a completely different play, which, again, evolved out of another play. I wanted to explore masculine friendship and I wanted to explore multimedia and it took many tries to find the theatrical world that would allow that to happen organically.
One of the crucial elements to the development of my work is the talent of my collaborators – they teach you what is possible. Buddy (and I) owe a great debt to the collaborative team working on this play.
What inspired Buddy?
In my writing, you often see me working through things, trying to find meaning in events I have lived through.
Existing as an outsider to the world of men, I have always been fascinated by it. I am also interested in what happens when a man who has nothing to gain by protecting the “code” turns his artist’s eye to the world he is excluded from. Is it possible to have an affection for the members of that masculine hierarchy without condoning the very elements that make it what it is? These are questions I have always wanted to address.
What inspired the use of multimedia on stage?
An early concept of the piece involved a “big-brother” kind of video surveillance, with cameras everywhere. As the play changed, the concept for having the cameras onstage changed, but never disappeared. Really, the shift was from cameras being in control of the actors, to the actors being in full control of the cameras.
Buddy focuses on youth, growing up, and coming-of-age. When you were the age of your characters, how did you imagine your life today?
Let’s just say my dreams came true. So did some of my nightmares.
Your work often has a long life after the first production. Do you continue to work on it every time it goes up, or do you consider it “done” after the first opening?
I have always felt that a piece of theatre should grow every time it hits the stage. None of my plays has ever been officially “finished”. The Edmonton Queen is 12 years old, yet I had to rewrite it for the recent “Final Voyage” run at FTA. Tornado Magnet is 11 years old, but I just finished revising it, once for publication (when I thought it would be officially finished), and then a few months later for the shortened Lunchbox version of the play that was just produced in Calgary.
 My plays will stop being revised when I die. But by then I am sure that others will begin to revise them.
What one piece of advice would you give up-and-coming artists?
Be brave when you create. And don’t look for an audience for your work – create one.
If you had to sum up your career in one word, what would it be?
Audacious. No… unexpected. No… inevitable.
What have you not done theatrically that you would like to?
Be dressed as a mermaid as the centrepiece at a seafood buffet – oh, wait, I have done that.
Once you’re been in theatre for a couple of decades, I think it’s natural to eventually desire a chance to direct. I have had that chance a few times now, and it’s very exciting. As with acting and writing, I learned by watching some extremely talented people in action.
Also, I’m jealous of lighting designers. What they do looks like it would be really fun. Sound design and lighting design have a lot in common, I think. I paint with sound – it’s all about tone and colour and intensity and direction – just like light.
 Who or what inspires you?
Music. History. The people I love.
As a well-known, and award-winning television host, what is one question you would ask if you were interviewing yourself?
I would never interview someone as annoying as me. I would never get a word in.
Describe one of the most memorable moments of your career so far.
I could never choose just one.
Being in the opera was a terrifying thrill; the first performance of The Edmonton Queen made me shake; seeing PileDriver! in Seattle with a new cast opened my eyes; closing night of Hosanna (I didn’t want to let that one go); stepping on stage in drag for the first time on January 14, 1983; and having a punchbowl of Life cereal dumped on me while I was in high glamour drag (crown & gown) as I stepped down as Mz. Flashback.
I can vividly remember every opening night of every one of my plays. The first time is always special.
More recently, during this season’s run of The Edmonton Queen, two actors I have watched and learned from and admired came backstage seconds after the show ended, before I had even wiped away the tears. Their reaction to the play, their praise and their fierce intensity as they allowed me to see how the play had affected them – that’s something I will never forget. They know who they are.
I think the most remarkable thing for an artist is how many times you think to yourself, “Ahh – now I have arrived!” – but you never really get there. And then suddenly, you realize you’ve been there all along.