Denise Hale Attends “Pearls Over Shanghai”

March 27, 2010

Since I was playing Scrumbly Koldewyn’s jazzy percussion sidekick “Hung Lo” in this evening’s performance of Pearls Over Shanghai,” I decided to do the pre-show rounds with my camera, and attempt to capture the unique and bustling spirit of my fellow Thrillpeddlers as they put on their costumes and faces in the dressing rooms and other backstage haunts at The Hypnodrome!

Lili Frustrata (Eric Wertz) & Wigs Aglow

I was lingering in the loading dock, hoping for someone in full costume to come or go, so I could capture that amusing juxtaposition (ie: Madame Gin Sling squatting in full headdress, see below). This landing serves as the performers’ backstage passageway, for coming and going for entrances throughout the evening. It was also used as the audience emergency escape route in the notorious flood last December. During the show, the performers open the metal garage-like door, pass down the sidewalk in front of an antique store, and reenter through the main front door or wooden, sliding stage door to make their (memorable) entrance. On a rainy night, with full Cockettes’ makeup, I recall this seeming like quite a challenge the first few weekends I performed. Now it’s old hat, and part of the fun!

Original Cockette Rumi Missabu as Madame Gin Sling

I had just captured a pensive photo of our SM (Jon) taking a momentary break on the loading dock, and was standing on the sidewalk. A very well dressed woman, with sleek, dark hair, pulled-back with a classy band approached me on the sidewalk. She wasn’t the type you normally encounter in these parts. She asked me if or how she was going to be helped up onto the loading dock. I thought she was just jesting with us, in Cockettes’ fashion. I then noticed a large, black limousine waiting on the street, complete with driver and passengers shrouded behind tinted glass. Clearly, this woman preceeded the mystery guests in the limo. “Who were they?,” I wondered.

Lili's Platforms: The envy of ALL!

Perhaps readying myself for the show, and already being a smidge in character, I told her with a degree of sass, and in so many words that part of the fun was helping oneself onto the dock, as many of the characters (ie: Madame Gin Sling, Petrushka, Lili Frustrata, etc.) manage to do it, despite their considerable platform pumps!

When it became clear she mistook this performer’s passageway as the main entry, I shared with her that it was around on the other side of the theatre, and pointed her in that direction.

During the show, as I played my various percussion instruments, I enjoyed observing this woman, as well as another woman with finely coiffed silver hair and stylish yellow and black print blouse, in the comfy Turkish Lounges. Both surely had the finest posture and carriage of anyone I’ve ever seen sit there! Somehow, each smile on their face felt particularly well earned.

When, after the show, from the dressing room we overheard Scrumbly hailed by socialite Denise Hale, it became clear who was in our midst. (I believe the woman I first interacted with was author Diane Dorrans Saeks.) Scrumbly shared that back in the day, when performing at The Palace Theatre, The Cockettes’ also often received socialites and politicians in their audiences, and that they contributed greatly to the overall milieu.

Having “attended Baron Alexis de Rede’s Orientalist Ball in Paris”, and even “slipping semi-incognito into the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Shanghai,” (according to The Style Saloniste link above) Denise certainly knows a thing or two about the real AND fantasy world we conjure up.

“Chang VI” & “Hung Lo”

[UPDATE: SF Chronicle's Leah Garchik made mention of Hales' attendance in her 4.1.10 column, as did the BAR.]

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