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June 12, 2006

Grand Old Party

The San Francisco Chronicle (CA):

Twelve years after the Kinsey Sicks' debut performance on a street corner in the Castro, the award-winning "dragapella beauty shop quartet" is making the transition from stage to screen, with a film version of its cheeky ode to the GOP, "I Wanna Be a Republican."

After its June 21 premiere at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the big-screen version of "I Wanna Be a Republican" will take a lap around the country's gay film festival circuit and, in the process, bring the Bay Area-born group's far-left-leaning blend of biting camp wit, raunchy sex jokes and politically charged ha-ha to some of the so-called "red states."

Other groups might have chosen safer material to use to introduce themselves to audiences in these more conservative parts of the country. But founding member Irwin Keller, a.k.a. Winnie, argues that "I Wanna Be a Republican," in which the group's drag alter egos host a Republican fundraiser, is a perfect introduction for newcomers to the Sicks' sense of satire.

"I'm really proud of this show," says Keller, who, in a previous life, was the lawyer who authored Chicago's gay rights ordinance. "Besides, we've performed in all those scary places, and you'd be surprised how well we're actually received. Sometimes people get up and walk out, but no one heckles us. We're way too scary to heckle." The group recently completed a two-month run with their "Dragapella" show at the Las Vegas Hilton.

In "I Wanna Be a Republican," the Kinsey Sicks, sharp tongues planted firmly in powdered and blushed cheeks, have a go at a number of hot-button issues, including the rampant streak of blind patriotism, racism, invasion of Americans' privacy and political corruption.

"Some parts of the show are pretty tough to get through, even for us," Keller says. "I can see people actually squirming in their seats. But I think audiences need to be challenged like that, so we're not about to dumb down our viewpoints to get more people to like us. Don't get me wrong -- we're applause whores. But we want to be loved for the right reasons."

It would seem that any person or topic is ripe for the picking-on by the Sicks, but while the girls in the band admit they enjoy a good scandal and love stirring up you-know-what, they insist that being unnecessarily mean for a laugh isn't in their nature.

"There are a lot of things that are off-limits for us," says Ben Schatz, a.k.a. Rachel, who, before joining the Kinsey Sicks, authored then presidential candidate Bill Clinton's HIV policy. "For example, we avoid misogynistic or racist humor."

"I know it seems like we'll make fun of anything, but we don't want to present any material that is cruel or insensitive," adds Jeff Manabat, a.k.a. Trixie.

"We love to be provocative," says Chris Dilley, a.k.a. Trampolina. "But we bring a lot of heart to what we do. If we feel we're going to a place that's too mean to still have that heart, we don't go there."

That mix of "humor and humanity" is what prompted Ken Bielenberg and Alonzo Ruvalcaba of Burlingame's Eyethink Pictures (see related story on Page 34) to approach the Kinsey Sicks about being the stars and subject of the newly formed production company's first feature-length film.

"After seeing the 'Republican' show, we had the Kinseys on the brain," jokes Ruvalcaba, the former head of production at Tippett Studio. "We sent them an exploratory e-mail via their Web site proposing a short-subject documentary. Ben responded, 'Thanks so much for your e-mail, and for your questionable judgment.' "

A dinner meeting with the four Sicks at a Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles in Atlanta quickly resulted in a two-picture deal. Bielenberg and Ruvalcaba hope to have the second film, an on-the-road documentary chronicling the foursome's most recent cross-country jaunt, ready in time to submit for possible inclusion in next year's Sundance Film Festival. Eyethink also has three other non-related LGBT projects in the works.

"We'd been approached before," Keller says, "but those people didn't really seem to get the subtlety of what we do. They were sort of blinded by the drag thing and the other more obvious elements of what we do. But we could tell right away that (Ken and Alonzo) got it."

"The show, though wickedly funny, is more than that -- it's political activism," says Bielenberg, a former visual-effects supervisor at PDI/DreamWorks. "(Under the current administration), I feel so powerless as an individual. But at least we still have our power of freedom of speech. And, with this film, we're exercising it, baby!"

"The way I look at it is, we're starting a dialogue," Keller says. "While we're entertaining you with these gorgeous songs, we're sort of getting up in your face and making you think. And I think that's really exciting because, nowadays, dialogue is discouraged."

Questions for self-appointed Republican matrons the Kinsey Sicks

Q: Who's the pretty one in the group? The smart one? The funny one?

Trampolina: The pretty one is Paris Hilton. Nicole Richie is the smart one. She's also the funny one. Oh, you mean out of our group?

Rachel: Duh, me!

Q: What's the one thing you never leave home without?

Winnie: A smile for my fellow man (and a bottle of anti-bacterial hand cleanser, in case I am inadvertently touched by my fellow man).

Trampolina: Extra pantyhose. In case we run out of money on tour, the pantyhose go on my head so the people I'm robbing don't know who I am.

Q: Do you have a pre-show ritual?

Rachel: Yes, but I promised both Pat Robertson and the goat that I wouldn't tell.

Trixie: Divorce. Or an annulment. I am always available for marriage after every show.

Q: When you find Mr. Right, will you give up touring to start a family like Celine Dion did?

Rachel: Actually, I'm looking for Mr. Far-Right. John McCain has been coming on to me a lot lately. I'd thought he was a wimp, but his recent sucking up to Bob Jones and Jerry Falwell makes me think he might be perfect husband material.

Q: What are you looking for in a husband?

Rachel: Preferably a mammal, and preferably breathing. But I'm flexible. Oh yeah, and preferably Republican.

Q: Will you be bringing a date to the Castro Theatre premiere of "I Wanna Be a Republican"?

Rachel: No, I'll be stealing someone else's.

Trampolina: No, but I might bring a can of beer nuts, in case I'm hungry. Don't tell the Castro Theatre. They don't allow you to bring in your own food.

Q: Now that you're running in GOP circles, how do you feel about gay marriage?

Winnie: I think it's important for gay people to be represented in all traditionally heterosexual institutions. Marriage and the early bird special come to mind.

Rachel: As long as gay people are filled with shame and self-loathing, I don't care what they do.

Q: You hobnob with conservatives, but you have mouths like sailors. When is it excusable for a lady to curse?

Winnie: It's never excusable, but it is sometimes understandable. Just last week, I spilled a whole glass of prune juice on my antique rug. Well, before you could say "drag," out of my mouth came a foul expletive that begins with "d" and rhymes with "yarn."

The Kinsey Sicks photo also graced (?!) the front cover of the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday entertainment section.

Posted by acapnews at June 12, 2006 9:22 PM