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INTERVIEW: Those Thrillpeddlers Are Some Hot Greeks

Russell Blackwood discusses the San Francisco company's new production of the famed Cockettes musical. logo
Ste Fishell, Steven Satyricon, and Bobby Singer
in Hot Greeks
(© David Wilson).
San Francisco's Thrillpeddlers has spent the last several years reviving the shows of The Cockettes, a legendary gay performance group from San Francisco, beginning with its acclaimed production of Pearls Over Shanghai. Currently, Thrillpeddlers are producing a fully restored version of the Cockettes' 1972 musical Hot Greeks at The Hypnodrome.

The show, which is written by Martin Worman and Scrumbly Koldewyn, is loosely based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, and features the Tri Thigh Sorority girls cheering on their teams as Athens University takes on Sparta State in their annual football showdown. The company's artistic director Russell Blackwood recently spoke to TheaterMania about the company's relationship with the Cockettes and this production.

THEATERMANIA: When did you first become familiar with the Cockettes?
RUSSELL BLACKWOOD: A few years ago I read Sweet Pam Tent's book called Midnight at the Palace, which tells the Cockettes' story, and I'd seen the Cockettes documentary by David Weissman and Bill Weber, which is excellent, about a year or so before that. And I actually worked with Scrumbly when he was a musical director on a drag version of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. But Pam's book really captured my imagination -- that there would be this wild company of freak performers who would all work together. And I guess I've always imagined Thrillpeddlers in a similar way.

TM: What happened next?
RB: I tracked Pam down, and within days of contacting her, I was having pizza with her at our theater, The Hypnodrome. Then, a couple of weeks later, we had about six or seven of the Cockettes at our theater doing a talkback and performing some material. I had a feeling too that many of them were waiting for just this kind of a clubhouse. They had some reunions around the release of the documentary, and a lot of them went to Sundance when the film showed there. And then right after this event, they invited my husband and producing partner Jim and I to go to New York with them.

TM: What made you decide to stage their work?
RB: Prior to us doing Pearls Over Shanghai, Thrillpeddlers had been almost exclusively a Grand Guignol horror theater company. And I was looking for another niche we could really focus on -- and one that I didn't see other theater companies focusing on. And the Cockettes, being San Francisco's ridiculous company, were really a perfect match for me and for Thrillpeddlers.

TM: You did a version of Hot Greeks in 2010. What's different this time around?
RB: I think that in 2010, the way we cut the show headed toward something that might seem linear compared to what the show is now in this fully staged version. Back in 2010, it seemed more like a 1940s musical rather a musical psychedelic trip happening somewhere between antiquity and America in the 1940s.

TM: Do you plan on doing any more of the Cockettes' work in the future?
RB: There's not really a full Cockettes show that's waiting in the wings that we have a script for. But to have been able to bring these shows out of the past, and get them in this position where there is a piano vocal score for it and a revised script, so they can be done by other companies, is really a great feeling!

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