Heklina and Drag ’Golden Girls’ Close Out 2012
Well, the world didn’t come to an end as predicted, and for good reason. San Francisco’s beloved theater drag production of "The Golden Girls" television series hasn’t finished its very popular Christmas run. "The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes," now in its seventh season, has become a must see for everyone, gay or straight, during the holiday season in the Bay city.
Originated by San Francisco drag legends Heklina (Dorothy) and Cookie Dough (Sophia), with the addition of Matthew Martin (Blanche) and Pollo Del Mar (Rose), the drag stage production captures all the heartfelt comedy of the original series, including the ever-so-cheesy 1970s commercial breaks. Selling out show after show at the historical Victoria Theater, "The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes" is an excellent way to end the year and to bring the seasonal spirit into 2013.
I had an opportunity to visit with Trannyshack creator Heklina to talk about this drag phenomenon and how it has grown over the years, how much longer will it last, how it has become important to the gay community during the holidays, and why the production went from two yearly runs down to one.
BeBe: As I looked around the audience when I saw this Holiday season’s production of ’The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes,’ there were a lot of faces I was not familiar with. So, it does appear as if you continue to draw new audiences even though you are in your seventh year of doing this show. That leads me to believe there might be a lot of people out there not familiar with how this idea of doing a drag stage production of ’The Golden Girls’ came to be.
Heklina: It is crazy that it has become this big thing because it started in, gosh, 2002. A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to play Dorothy (Bea Arthur) n a production he was doing of ’The Golden Girls’ in his loft space South of Market (SOMA). Shockingly I wasn’t a big ’Golden Girls’ fan at the time, but I did play the part. I watched the show and started getting an appreciation for the actresses (Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Estelle Getty).
Then we decided to relaunch the show at Mike Finn’s house (in a Victorian parlor space) four years later (2006). I started watching the show more and more, and I became in love with it. Obviously, others are in love with the show because it was a hit right away. We had to keep moving the show to larger and larger venues. We, also, used to do the show two times a year for Pride (June) and Christmas (December); but we decided to just focus on Christmas.
BeBe: I’ve wondered about that (eliminating Pride shows). Is that primarily because of the holiday season? And number two - that show is about alternative families, which in the gay community we are all so familiar with?
Heklina: Well, there is so much going on during Pride, which was one of the reasons we decided to drop the Pride episodes. But also, I think there is a real need for people that you are referring to - people who aren’t getting along with their families or people who have had to create their own families - to have somewhere to go during the holidays.
I’ll speak for myself, when I first moved to San Francisco (in the 90s), there were three or four sort of campy Christmas shows to go to every year. Then one year there weren’t any. There was real need to be filled there, and I think ’The Golden Girls’ has done that. And, for people who are getting along with their families, it is a show they can feel safe bringing their moms to. It’s not a show where they’re going to see Heklina rimming somebody on stage (both laugh). I’ve gone out of my way to try and make this show family-friendly.
BeBe: It definitely is family-friendly. The demographic of the audience is all over the place. There are little ones and there are grandmas. It’s kind of cool to see that. It’s great to see grandmas in the audience since the show features some cool grandma characters.
Heklina: Some many people come up to me (after the show) and introduce me to there moms, aunts and so on. (Former SF Supervisor) Bevan Dufty is bringing his daughter. You can bring your kids and parents, and they’re all going to relate to the show.
Show has legs
BeBe: You mentioned earlier that the show has moved several times. It started n Mike Finn’s parlor, then you went to Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, and now you are at the Victoria Theater which houses something like 450 people. The night I went they had to add extra seats because it was sold out, so there definitely is a huge interest in the show.
Heklina: It’s crazy how popular the show is.
BeBe: This was my first time of experiencing the ’Golden Girls’ since the move to the Victoria. It is now such a big production with the stage and props, and stuff. Makes you feel as if the show has arrived as a part of the theater. But, having experienced the show back in its heyday, I couldn’t help but notice the loss of some of the intimacy the show had with the smaller venues. Do you miss some of the intimacy at all by performing the show now in a large venue?
Heklina: No (some laughter)! I like the fact that we are on a bigger stage, and that we are not sitting directly under the lights and sweating our balls off, you know. I like the fact that there is a lot of room to move and breathe on stage. I feel like when people are sitting in a proper theater they act like they are at the theater. When we were at Mike Finn’s parlor and other spaces, the people were always talking and a little bit disruptive. We don’t really get that at the Victoria. People are there for the theater experience.
BeBe: Yeah, I did notice that there were so many people throwing out the lines before you say them. I guess, as you say, there is that theater respect.
BeBe: Now that your stage production of ’The Golden Girls’ has entered it’s seventh year, you now have lasted as long as the television version which only had 7 seasons. Any thoughts about that?
Heklina: I don’t know. There is so much material to work with there we can go on and on forever doing the show. As long as people love the ’Golden Girls’ and as long as we love doing it, I think the show has legs.
BeBe: Well, you have been doing some changes, or editions I should say, each year to the show. I don’t know if it is to keep it fresh for the cast. But, it also keeps it fresh for the people who year after year continue to come back and see it. Even though the episodes may tend to be the same, there always seems to be something different in how you present them. This year, in particular, you added for the first week some local celebrity guest stars with small parts to make a cameo in the episodes. I’m sure that Sister Roma (Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s Most Photographed Nun in the World), Marga Gomez (stand-up comedienne) and Fernando & Greg (997 Now radio morning show hosts) jumped at the chance to be a part of the show. But, I’m a bit curious to know if there were some people you did ask to guest appear that said no?
Heklina: There were some people that wanted to think about it, but we just didn’t have time to wait. We had to get an answer for press reasons. I know that we wanted Peaches Christ (filmmaker at Backlash Productions, Midnight Mass) to do it, but it didn’t work out. We definitely have a lot of room for guests to be a part of the show. I think every year we will try and have different guest stars. We obviously don’t want to give them too big of a part.....
BeBe: (Interrupting) You don’t want any upstaging! You guys in the cast go through enough of that as it is amongst yourselves in the show.
Heklina: That’s true.
BeBe: Of ’The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes’ that you have done, which one is your favorite?
Heklina: Well, there was really only two real Christmas episodes they ever did on the television show. So, we’ve had to take other episodes and make them Christmas. Of the actual Christmas ones, my favorite is the one we are doing now with the crisis center and the girls getting stuck in Miami during the storm. The one in the soup kitchen, I never really liked it because it was a little bit too corny (both laugh).
BeBe: With Betty White being the only remaining Golden Girl from the TV series alive, has there been thought to reaching out to her to appear in one of the drag versions as a guest for maybe a benefit for one of her charities?
Heklina: We’ve never thought about that, but it is a great idea. We’ve always hoped that one of them would hear about the show and come to it, but since we started doing the show Bea Arthur passed away. Then Rue McClanahan passed away.
BeBe: As you say there were only two original Christmas episodes from ’The Golden Girls,’ and you’ve had to rewrite other episodes to make them holiday-related, if you were totally write an original script using the ’Golden Girl’ characters, what kind of story would you tell that hadn’t been told during the series?
Heklina: I think we would do a remake of ’A Christmas Carol.’ And have Dorothy play Scrooge with the Golden Girls play the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Maybe we’ll do that.
BeBe: That’s a wonderful idea.
Heklina: The problem with trying to write one is that the actual writing of the original ’The Golden Girls’ was so good you’d have to make sure that the writing was up to par with the real episodes.
"The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes" continues in its final weekend through Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012 at the Victoria Theater in San Francisco. For more information go to www.Trannyshack.com and for tickets go to www.eventbrite.com/goldengirlssf