This month the Thrillpeddlers theater troupe lost their strange, cozy Hypnodrome home where they have been producing outrageously entertaining Grand Guignol plays and gender-bending musicals for over a decade.
The theater was housed in the back of an antique store underneath a freeway a half block from Costco on 10th Street. The owners of the building, in a twist on the usual greedy San Francisco landlord narrative, were fans and patrons of the troupe so they offered cheap rent for a couple of years that eventually extended to eleven. In a sad turn, the building was put up for sale at the beginning of this year, and the Thrillpeddlers are suddenly homeless.
So last weekend there was the mother of all rummage sales to clear out every costume, mask, prop, fake blood, glitter, and dildo.
The sale doubled as a going-away party and a fundraiser, and the laughs mixed with tears were plentiful. Theater troupes often become surrogate families, for performers as well as devoted fans and the peripheral characters who enable them such as dressers, box office, graphic artists, scene painters, and stage crew. (Pictured above is writer and backstage dresser John F. Karr, who was collecting money for purchases near the front door.)
Though I have been to plenty of shows at the Hypnodrome over the years, last Saturday was my first venture backstage where the single bathroom for the entire cast and the audience was situated. Like many other male audience members, I always gallantly went outdoors to the bamboo forest surrounding the parking lot for a discreet intermission pee.
Even before their recent demise, the troupe and the physical theater were already being acknowledged as a legendary moment and place in time. Eventually, people will be making movies about the scene.
Anybody who participated gets to justifiably brag about it for the rest of their lives. That includes writer Steve Susoyev above who was helping price costumes on the second floor with Zelda Koznofski, who was so great as the Weimar era emcee in last year's Scrumbly Koldewyn musical, The Untamed Stage.
To be honest, the Grand Guignol shows which were the Thrillpeddlers' bread and butter for decades, were not my squeamish cup of tea, but I always found the group fascinating.
In 2009, the legendary Bay Area composer and musical performer Scrumbly Koldewyn (above right) joined the group for a revival of his reworked 1970 Cockettes musical Pearls Over Shanghai, which was supposed to run for a couple of months and ended up playing for over two years. There were more delirious reconstructions of Cockettes shows, from Hot Greeks to Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma. Scrumbly also wrote two completely original musicals for the troupe, last year's The Untamed Stage and this year's Amazon Apocalypse, which still hasn't been fully staged but is rumored to be another Scrumbly treasure.
Russell Blackwood, above, the founder, daddy, mother, director, ringleader, and singing actor of The Thrillpeddlers has been seemingly inexhaustible spinning the many plates involved in keeping a theater troupe alive, and he deserves respect and adulation for what he and his theatrical family have accomplished. He also probably deserves a rest, though everyone looks forward to seeing what he pops up with next.