Drama Talk & Drinks: An Interview with Thrillpeddlers Founder and Director on Losing Their Performance Space

The DT&D team has a soft spot for local San Francisco theater. We love the quirky, innovative, and rule-breaking companies that make our theater scene unique. So when we heard that the Hypnodrome, home of the Thrillpeddlers (and their classic Halloween-tastic show Shocktoberfest), was going to close at the end of February we wanted to know what was up. We asked Russell Blackwood, The Thrillpeddlers Company Founder and Director, to give us the scoop.

Thrillpeddlers Amazon Apocalypse

Brittany: We were so sad to hear about you losing the Hypnodrome space. The work you do is so unique and truly San Francisco.

Russell: I arrived in San Francisco in ‘89 and I remember in my first year here meeting people and saying “you’re the kind of person I came to San Francisco to meet”. Those experiences got me thinking; How do I become the kind of person that people came to San Francisco to meet? How do I make the kind of art people come to San Francisco to see? I think Thrillpeddlers has been a reflection of that without a doubt.

B: From hearing the story of how you got the Hypnodrome space originally, it sounds like a little bit of Bay Area love and luck went into starting the space. Can you tell us a little more about that?

R: Yeah, the space was offered to my husband within 5 minutes of meeting the gentleman that owned it. In the spring of 2004, my husband Jim Toczyl, was working the first day of his new mail route in Los Gatos. He was wearing a Thrillpeddlers “Sissies Stay Home” T-shirt under his open USPS shirt and struck up a conversation with one of the homeowners on his route about our theatre and the daunting prospect, even then, of renting a theater space in San Francisco. Right on the spot he volunteered; “We have building in San Francisco where you could do a show.” As it turned out, the space did make a perfect theatre. While the offer was just for 2 years originally, we’ve been able to stay for 13. I’ve gotten 11 years beyond what they offered so I’m happy with that.

B: Any ideas of where Thrillpeddlers will go next?

R: I believe that there are rental houses in town that would suit Thrillpeddlers well, and I believe that there are a few companies where a co-production might be a possibility in the future. We’re still assessing our options. As I watch rehearsals for Amazon Apocalypse (the final show slated for the Hypnodrome) I realize how – wow, well I might as well say it – smutty and rarefied our aesthetic might be and how it might not play to every subscription based company in the Bay Area.

B: Tell us a little bit about Amazon Apocalypse?

R: We’ve just added 3 more shows to the run. It will be a semi staged concert version of the show we had originally planned to produce in full in April. The show is set in Brazil over the period of about 100 years. The premise is that there is a prophecy that if the devil could come to earth, and enter the body of a human being, and put himself in a position to cum 7 times, there will be a thousand years on earth without conflict. So the show takes us to all kinds of locations in Brazil, through all kinds of periods in history, as the devil is entering the body of everything from an Italian opera singer, to an abortion doctor, to a children’s television superstar. It’s a nod to Brazilian sexuality, but also to the fragility of the rain-forest and the importance of that environment to the health of the earth. So it has both the touchy-feely and really raunchy going on simultaneously. This is a chance for our audience to get behind the work and hopefully see it to fruition at another venue eventually. This is also a great opportunity to workshop the piece.

B: The Hypnodrome is such a cool space, your sets and costumes are awesome. I heard you’re doing a rummage sale as you close down the space. Do you have any particular pieces that you are excited to see go to a new home?

R: Yes, there is very little that we are hanging on to, but I will confess to you now that we have made a decision to hold on to the guillotine, which is probably the one high ticket item that people have been inquiring about. Other than that, there is a lot of theatrical decor and fashion and special effects to be picked up. There are some severed heads that are particularly beautiful, and there are certainly some outlandish costumes from Cockette shows. Even ones that were designed and built by actual Cockettes. We have acquired a lot of things, much of it through the generosity and the altruism of others, so passing those things back out into the world at an affordable price is adding to the flow of karma that we have enjoyed for so long.

B: Aside from coming to the shows and to the rummage sale, is there anything else that people can do to help support Thrillpeddlers?

R: There is!. By buying tickets to our final shows, and of course donating to us through our website. Also, just by signing up for our newsletter, so we can keep in touch. In the future risking going to a new venue, that you haven’t been before, because we are there will make a big difference. Generally we need our community to keep holding the torch for this multi-generational freak theater company that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

The Hypnodrome closes at the end of February, so be sure to check out one of the Thrillpeddlers’ final shows on their home stage before they go. Amazon Apocalypse will be presented as a semi-staged concert for 7 nights February 8th-11th and 15th-17th at 8:00pm at the Hypnodrome (tickets $35 GA, $40 front row, shock boxes or Turkish Lounge). Thrillpeddlers are also hosting two Valentine’s Day benefit concerts and variety shows entitled Farewell to The Hypnodrome on  Tues. Feb. 14, 2017 – 7:00 pm & 9:00 pm (it appears those concerts are sold out at time of publishing). Finally don’t forget to stop by in the final days to fill your requite costume bins at the Hypnodrome Rummage Sale Feb. 25th & 26th, Noon – 5:00 pm. More information and tickets can be found on the Thrillpeddlers website, where you can also donate and sign up to find out what’s next for the company.


Drama Talk & Drinks: Pre-Show Talk with soon-to-be Bay Area celebrity kid- Tyler Patrick Hennessy

San Francisco is often referred to as Neverland.  It makes sense then, that a kid that grows up in the Bay Area would be a perfect cast-member for the first tour of Finding Neverland, a Broadway hit about the origins of the Peter Pan story based on the 2004 film by the same name.

Tyler Patrick Hennessy, a young Walnut Creek native, is living the stage-kid dream and is currently on the road playing the roles of Jack and Michael in Finding Neverland. When Drama Talk & Drinks learned that we had some local talent on the tour, we wanted to sit down with Tyler to learn a little more about him and the show (so we could legitimately say we knew him before he was a famous).







DT&D: Tyler, How did you first get involved in theater?

Tyler: My three older sisters all did theater first, and it looked like a lot of fun, so I wanted to try it. That’s how I originally got involved.

DT&D: Why should people come see this show, Finding Neverland

T: I think people should come and see the show because it’s a lot of fun, they get to have time to be a kid again.

DT&D: What’s it like to be on tour?

T: It’s really fun. I like all the people in the cast. They’re so nice.

DT&D: What’s the most exciting part of the tour?

T: I had never really been past Arizona before, so when I got to go to New York for the auditions, and then to rehearsals in Buffalo, that was really exciting. I love performing. It’s really fun to do the play in front of different audiences and see their reactions. I’m excited to perform in LA, and in San Francisco for my friends and family.

DT&D: Before you were cast in this tour you primarily did shows in the Bay Area, what are some of your favorite places you’ve performed?

T: I had a lot of fun when I was in Ragtime at Stage 1 Theater [ed. in Newark, California] I also have been in shows at the Lesher Center for the Arts [ed.in Walnut Creek] which I really liked.

DT&D: Do you have a favorite thing to do in SF or the Bay Area when you’re not in a play?

T: I like watching Giants games with my dad. Buster Posey is my favorite.

If you want to check out this soon-to-be Bay Area celebrity, Finding Neverland opens at SHN’s Orpheum Theater on January 18th and runs through February 12th. Tickets are available on their website and range from $55-$125, or if you want to try your luck, they have a limited number of $40 rush tickets available for each night of the show – rush instructions here. Stay tuned for our DT&D review of the show coming soon!


Drama Talk & Drinks: Interview with Lena Hall of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (aka Katie’s new girl crush)

A rock musical about a genderqueer East German singer named Hedwig is coming to town, and we think you should know about it. If you were a moody aughts theater kid like us, you probably saw the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch when it came out about 15 years ago:

What is extra exciting about this tour is the leading actors, Darren Criss (made famous by Glee) and Lena Hall (Tony Award Winner for her role in Hedwig and recent guest star on HBO’s Girls), are both San Francisco natives.

Katie was lucky enough to have a phone chat with Lena Hall before she headed to SF to kick-off the tour. We learned that she grew up in the Haight, was raised by parents who were dancers, attended Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in Diamond Heights, is a fierce supporter of arts for young people and is Katie’s new girl crush.

Lena Hall in her Tony Award winning role of Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Lena Hall in her Tony Award winning role of Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Katie: How have you seen the arts scene change in San Francisco since you were a kid?

Lena: I feel like the arts scene is very different from when I was growing up, in fact I think it’s a lot less (art) than when I was growing up, which is unfortunate. A lot of it has to do with the rising prices of rent. I grew up in the Haight-Ashbury, Upper Haight, and it used to be so colorful and different. Now it’s starting to lose its soul. Part of what made, and makes, San Francisco so great is that it has so much culture; but that culture is starting to get squandered by money. The arts are what makes the city appealing, the arts are what make a city viable and interesting. I hope there will be the desire to focus on that and emphasize the arts in San Francisco.

K: What is making you excited to perform Hedwig here in San Francisco?

L: I’ve never done a big production in SF, so this will be my first big show home coming. I get to perform the role that I won the Tony Award for, which is really cool, but what is really, really cool is that I get to play Hedwig! It’s like the year of the woman, we are just as badass as the guys are and guess what? I’m doing both roles in the same production, and will do both roles on the same day. I’m so in love with this show, and it’s such an honor and opportunity to play both roles. I’m beyond grateful for it.  I’m just so excited to bring it home and do this in our home town.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens next week!  If you want to see some homegrown celebrities rock it in a very San Francisco musical go out and get your tickets now.  Right now there are still tickets on Goldstar for opening night or you can get tickets on the SHN website. Drama Talk & Drinks will be seeing the show and reporting back. If it’s half as great as Lena, it’s going to be fabulous!

*If you want to see Lena make history being the first female to play Hedwig in a major Broadway tour, make sure to go on the following days: Sunday, October 9 at 7pm, Wednesday, October 12 at 8pm, Wednesday, October 19 at 8pm, and Wednesday, October 26 at 8pm.


Your Drama Talk & Drinks Holiday Guide

Here at DT&D we feel like every season is a good season to see theater. But the holiday season, with the relative cold, rain and staycation days, is perfect for getting into some cozy theaters. Katie & Brittany suggest some local shows that you might want to check out. Here’s their report:

[file photo by me]

From gin & tonicah Hanukkah fetes, to ugly sweater parties, to awkward office eggnog-a-thons, your calendar may already be booked through 2015. But for those of you who are looking for a theater fix, or to find a family friendly outing while people are in town, we didn’t want to leave you hanging. Although we normally don’t recommend shows without prior viewing, with holiday parties and cold and flu season upon us, we just didn’t have time to see everything. But that’s no reason for you to miss out. So without further ado, here’s our round-up of what caught our eye this holiday season that we didn’t get to see.

Looking for laughs?

A Merry Forking Christmas
PianoFight’s brand-spanking-new-Kickstarter-funded venue is opening this week! The first show to pop the champagne on its main stage is A Merry Forking Christmas, their reliably funny choose-your-own-adventure holiday sketch show. Go check out PianoFight’s new digs, try their new bar, and forget about your holiday stress. From the mouths of marketers:

The Holidays are the most magical time of the year, unless you’re stuck in the mall on Christmas Eve. PianoFight’s A Merry FORKING! Christmas chronicles the final hours of the Christmas shopping frenzy through the eyes of a pot-dealing Santa and his cookie-stand partner in crime, a mall security guard on his last legs, a bride-to-be deserted by her would-be fiancé, and a bored mortician who’s got nothing to do until people get back to the business of dying once the holidays have ended. The fates of these five characters and whether Christmas can be saved for each is left up to the audience who will vote at crucial forks in the plot to determine the final outcome. This December, with 362,880 possible paths through the show, saving Christmas is up to you. Get your tickets here.