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Featured: The Cockettes (1969-1972) San Francisco, USA

The Cockettes were a psychedelic queer troupe founded by Hibiscus in the late 1960s in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood.

On New Years Eve, 31 December 1969, at the Palace Theatre in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, Steven F. Arnold let the Cockettes perform as part of his “Nocturnal Dream Show”, a showcase of underground films, in exchange for free admission. The show soon became a “must-see” for San Francisco’s hip community. Combining LSD-influenced dancing, set design, costumes and their own versions of show tunes (or original tunes in the same vein), the Cockettes took to the stage every 6 weeks, performing prior to the Saturday midnight “Nocturnal Dream Show”. Show titles included Gone With the Showboat to Oklahoma, Tinsel Tarts In A Hot Coma, Journey to the Center of Uranus, Smacky & Our Gang, Hollywood Babylon and Pearls Over Shanghai. Word quickly got out that nothing like these shows had ever been seen before, and within a few months the Cockettes were getting enormous attention from the media. Not only hippie magazines, such as Earth and Rolling Stone, wanted stories on the Cockettes, but also mainstream magazines such as Look, Life and Esquire were anxious to do features as well.

David Ferguson, who went on to become a notorious Punk Rock impresario, worked with The Cockettes on a number of different projects including producing one of their most famous shows on New Years Eve 1971. Even against the tolerant backdrop of San Francisco, The Cockettes’ bawdy antics presented PR issues. A number of anecdotes made the rounds recounting the tactics Ferguson used to sneak the troupe and its outrageous stage behavior by wary club owners:

“For nearly 20 years, Mr. Bimbo [Agostino Giuntoli, owner of Bimbo’s] had presided over his lavish and busy supper club five nights a week, and he was nervous about renting the place out…In fact, he was so nervous about that prospect that he asked David Ferguson to sign an affidavit of sorts—on the back on an envelope—swearing that he would allow no naked women to perform onstage. It was only after seeing the show that Mr. Bimbo got the joke and realized how funny his prohibition was. ‘David,’ he said, as he approached the table, laughing. ‘I can see that I have to be careful with you. You promised me no naked women, but you said nothing about naked men.”

After the group disbanded in 1972, various Cockettes continued to perform, often as solo performers, but more often as a group, although no longer billed as The Cockettes.

Core members of the Cockettes were Link (aka Link Martin, aka Luther Cupp), Gary Cherry, Rumi Missabu, Tahara (whose parents had been rodeo clowns), Goldie Glitters, “Johnny Cockette”, Sweet Pam (aka Pam Tent), Martin Worman, Scrumbly Koldewyn (who wrote tunes to Link’s Martin’s lyrics), Fayette Hauser, Daniel Ware, Dusty Dawn, Linden, Brent Jensen, Pristine Condition, Reggie (aka Anton Dunigan), Miss Harlow (who had been an original Plaster Caster) and Kreemah Ritz (originally known as Big Daryl) and Chris Kilo. – Wikipedia

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Caden Manson is a director, media artist, and teacher. He is co-founder of the media ensemble and network, blog, and publisher, He has co-created, directed, video- and set designed 18 Big Art Group productions. Manson has shown video installations in Austria, Germany, NYC, and Portland; performed PAIN KILLER in Berlin, Singapore and Vietnam; Taught in Berlin, Rome, Paris, Montreal, NYC, and Bern; the ensemble has been co-produced by the Vienna Festival, Festival d’Automne a Paris, Hebbel Am Ufer, Rome’s La Vie de Festival, PS122, and Wexner Center for The Arts. Caden is a 2001 Foundation For Contemporary Art Fellow, is a 2002 Pew Fellow and a 2011 MacDowell Fellow. Writing has been published in PAJ, Theater Magazine, and Theater der Zeit. Caden is currently an associate professor and graduate directing option coordinator of The John Wells Directing Program at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.

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