Cockettes Nouveau in 'Dirt! Sex! Passion!' - next gen theater revives drag troupe's quirky cabaret

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday May 21, 2024
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Cockettes Nouveau in 'Dirt! Sex! Passion!' (photo: Heidi Alletzhauser Photography)
Cockettes Nouveau in 'Dirt! Sex! Passion!' (photo: Heidi Alletzhauser Photography)

The Cockettes, for those who may not know, were an avant-garde theater troupe which was formed in 1969. The Cockettes performed outrageous musicals and comedy skits, drawing inspiration from silent films, Hollywood of the 1930s and '40s, and Broadway musicals, always dressed in surreal, psychedelic drag.

Nothing like The Cockettes had ever been seen before, and for a few short years they were the toast of the town, playing to packed houses in San Francisco. The group disbanded around 1972.

Now, more than 50 years later, The Cockettes are back. Actually, it's the next generation of The Cockettes, who perform under the name Cockettes Nouveau. They're just as outrageous as their predecessors, and are proving to be just as popular. They recently returned from a sold-out engagement at Joe's Pub in New York City and will open for a three-night stand beginning on May 29 at Oasis in a show called "Dirt! Sex! Passion!"

Cockettes Nouveau's Noah Haydon, Scrumbly Koldewyn and Birdie Bob Watt (photo: Heidi Alletzhauser Photography)  

Lasting impact
In addition to its cast of well-known underground performers, Cockettes Nouveau includes one very important and beloved cast member: Scrumbly Koldewyn, who was a member of the original troupe all those years ago. He credits the 2003 documentary "The Cockettes" with sparking the current revival. Koldewyn is the only original Cockette who is still performing.

In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Koldewyn stated that he never expected to live this long, and is surprised to have had such a lasting impact. Koldewyn also explained why he thinks The Cockettes remain a beloved part of queer popular culture.

"It's about free expression," he said. "It's about busting past the various gatekeepers as queer artists, exploding rigid lines of gender, letting inspiration rule, non-judgmental appreciation of individual talent, eccentricity, and, of course, sexual anarchy. All the good things."

Koldewyn took a minute to remember the legacy of original Cockette Rumi Missabu, who recently passed at age 76.

"He embodied the glamor of the drag queen as an artist, the audacity of presenting yourself as a star, with all the rough edges, as beautiful," Koldewyn said. "A little 'Grey Gardens,' a little Tina Turner, and a lot of love."

Koldewyn is the composer and the pianist in "Dirt! Sex! Passion!" He will also be singing a few numbers and doing vocal backups.

"It's a cabaret review of my songs from The Cockettes and the Cockette revivals," he said. "A bit of recent material and two originals by cast members Matt Bratko and Carl Linkhart. The emphasis is on the dirt, sex and passion of life. We also have a musical travelog, a bit tongue-in-cheek that one, made of the places named in songs of the shows I wrote."

Cockettes Nouveau's Steven Satyricon (photo: Heidi Alletzhauser Photography)  

Steven's perverts, potatoes & pumps
"I've actually known Scrumbly for twenty years now," said Steven Satyricon, another performer in the show. "We've been working on stage together since 2007, so it's forever a thrill just to have another chance to play around. He writes us such wonderful material to work with."

Satyricon, very much a part of the next generation of performers, added that being a part of the Cockettes legacy felt inevitable.

"I've always loved genderfuck, even before I knew the word," he said. "I used to have to explain to people 'I'm not trying to look like a woman, I'm just a man in a dress.' To be a living link in this chain of history is a deep honor."

Satyricon has his own views as to why The Cockettes remain such a legendary piece of gay history. The original troupe, he feels, didn't create bearded drag or genderfuck, but they certainly elevated them, and gave them a platform which allowed them to showcase these artforms on a global scale.

"And John Waters has pointed out that they were part of the progenitors of the punk movement as well," he said. "There was just so much about what The Cockettes did that remains revolutionary and outlaw in certain ways, and that's timeless."

Satyricon will be playing a variety of characters in the new show. He'll be seen as a prostitute, a playboy, a pervert and a potato. He promises that the show will be filled with the kind of raunchy good humor that Cockettes fans have come to expect and love.

"There's only so much that Oasis will let us get away with, but it wouldn't be a Cockettes show without liberal sprinklings of lewd humor, sexual innuendo, and exposed flesh," he said.

"If you've seen us before, come again," added Koldewyn. "More than half the material is new to this series of shows we've been doing. This will be our third show at Oasis. Leave your troubles outside. At the Cockettes Nouveau shows everything is beautiful. And pretty damn fun and funny. Bring someone who needs a laugh and some cheering up."

Cockettes Nouveau in 'Dirt! Sex! Passion!' May 29, 30, 31, 7pm at Oasis, 298 11th Street, $40-$60.

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