Flashback to 1969, the year the performance artist known as Hibiscus founded the Cockettes, a theater collective that requires not just one adjective, but several, to fully describe its aesthetic: avant-garde, psychedelic, hippie, genderfluid and glitter-covered, among others. The Cockettes’ history is brief but glorious: performing regularly at San Francisco's Palace Theater, their show became a must-see experience of the city’s gay scene. After a disastrous attempt to break into the New York theater scene, the group disbanded in 1972.
Their influence is visible in David Bowie’s glam, in the musical kitsch of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and in the careers of former members Sylvester and Divine. And the Cockettes themselves didn’t fade into history. That’s thanks in part to San Francisco’s obsession with all things Summer of Love, a 2002 eponymous documentary and the local theater troupe Thrillpeddlers’ recent revivals of Cockettes plays, including Pearls over Shanghai and Vice Palace.
On Jan. 4, remaining members of the Cockettes and “special guests” reminisce, re-enact and revel in the 50th anniversary of the legendary group’s founding. Befitting their penchant for all things glimmering and bedazzled, that’s a golden anniversary. –Sarah Hotchkiss