During the twelve and a half year run of Trannyshack, the San Francisco nightclub made (in)famous for its unusual, provoking and edgy performances, founder Heklina said she saw “pretty much everything” happen on its stage including vomiting, animal acts and a drag queen who had to be rushed to the hospital after the hot plate she strapped to pop popcorn from the top of her head gave her third degree burns.
“I’ve seen people set off explosions onstage,” she said. “And [during the last performance at the club] somebody had two people urinate all over them during their number.”
“When we were invited here, I said, ‘I don’t think this would go over in Salt Lake City,” she said.
Although Utah’s more conservative laws prohibit just about all of the above from happening onstage, four of Trannyshack’s drag queens will nevertheless perform a scaled down show at Gossip during the week of the Sundance Film Festival. The show is one of many that the ladies have taken on the road since the club’s official closure in August, 2008 to such venues as San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair and numerous Gay Pride Festivals.
“One number will have a little bit of pyrotechnics in it,” said Heklina. “One of the others will have a little bit of faux nudity — it won’t be actual nudity.” And to top it off, she will be debuting a parody song written for her by superstar drag queen Jackie Beat. Although the show will be shorter and more scaled down than some of their others (thaks to the difficulty of traveling with back up dancers and large, elaborate props), Heklina is confident that she and fellow performers Rentecca, Kim Burly and Princess Kennedy — who now lives in Salt Lake City and helped set up the show at Gossip — can give Utah “a little sampler of what Trannyshack is like.
And what is it like, exactly?
“I think that they [the Salt Lake City audience] should expect the unexpected,” said Heklina. “Nontraditional drag, high brow art and very low brow trash. It’s a mixture of the two. It’s essentially a drag show but we take the performance part very seriously. I think in a lot of the more traditional drag shows the performance is secondary to wearing the gown and wig, but that’s not how it is for us. What really matters is being on stage. People should expect to be entertained and possibly shocked a little bit.”
When Trannyshack began in 1996, Heklina only intended on entertaining and shocking audiences for a few nights, and certainly no longer than two months. At the time, Heklina says was “dabbling in drag” when the owners of the Stud Club in San Francisco asked her if she would like to do something with their open Tuesday night slot.
“It was only expected to last for two months, because who goes out on a Tuesday at midnight to see a drag show?” she recalled. But Trannyshack’s provocative “shock drag” quickly earned it a reputation as a hotspot of the city’s nightlife. Throughout the 2000s, the club drew in large crowds which included several celebrities. And over a decade later Heklina came to a realization.
“I thought, ‘This could completely go on forever,’” she said. But twelve years on stage had drained Heklina of inspiration for the project, and she said she felt the need to challenge herself further. And so, with much fanfare, Trannyshack ended its run as a nightclub in the sultry summer of 2008 with a “kiss off” party featuring prominent drag performers from across the country and a crowd of 2,000 people. But by then, Trannyshack had been featured on E! Entertainment and other television programs, and its fans just would not hear of it going away completely. Between now and March, the Trannyshack ladies will perform at a number of events in their home city and Los Angeles (including a Lady GaGa tribute night and look-alike contest) and at events in Seattle, Portland, Oreg. and Hawaii.
And while the road can be tough on the ladies’ hair, nails and nerves, Heklina said that she prefers traveling and is excited to bring the show to Salt Lake City, which she has wanted to do for years.
“I hope we get a Salt Lake City welcome when we go there,” she said before jokingly adding: Just don’t try to convert me to being a Mormon. It’s not going to work.”
Trannyshack, the “quintessential San Francisco Experience,” will perform at Gossip, 579 W 200 South, on Jan. 15.