In 2016, Ben Schatz was planning to retire from his drag a cappella group, The Kinsey Sicks, a "beauty shop quartet" that's been putting on irreverent, politically charged shows since forming in San Francisco in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. Then, on a flight to a gig in Boise, Idaho, he connected to airplane wi-fi and found out that Donald Trump won the presidential election. Schatz quickly realized that his work was not over.
"As a member of a community that was deemed at best dispensable—and a group who had prejudice against us exploited for political gains—I can’t separate myself from the others who are being viewed as dispensable and exploitable," he says of Trump's anti-immigrant and misogynistic rhetoric.
The Kinseys emerged from a dark time in American history. Schatz, a graduate of Harvard Law School, moved to San Francisco in the '80s to work in the emerging gay rights movement at a time when HIV and AIDS were ravaging the LGBTQ community. (In the 1990s, he served as the director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and sat on Bill Clinton's Advisory Council on AIDS.)
The Kinsey Sicks formed in 1993 after someone approached them at a Bette Milder concert, where they were dressed in drag as the Andrews Sisters, and invited them to perform at an upcoming event. All four friends happened to have musical theater experience and got to work that night. Since then, they've produced several critically acclaimed shows that fuse campy drag and a cappella singing, dirty jokes and political satire—including a hit Off-Broadway production in 2001. The group was so successful that it became Schatz' full time career in 1999.
The Kinsey Sicks' 25-year-anniversary show, Things You Shouldn't Say, comes to San Francisco's Marines' Memorial Theater on Oct. 5-6. It'll also likely be Schatz' final performance in San Francisco; he says he'll soon retire from his role as Rachel and continue behind the scenes as the group's lead writer.