A new oasis for SF drag
Trannyshack has spent the past twenty years performing in various venues and touring around the world, but this New Year’s Eve, San Francisco’s longest-running drag show will find a permanent home in the SOMA district
Drag star Heklina and her investors are taking over the long-closed Oasis building running along the 11th street entertainment corridor, and she is anxious to tackle this new challenge head on.
Heklina, also known as Stefan Grygelko, created the drag show Trannyshack in 1996 at the STUD bar, where she had been working at the time. Given the usually dead Tuesday-night spot, she expected the show to last only a few months as so many others had. Little did she know that nearly two decades later, she would still be expanding her show as her life’s work, her presence being sought all over the city.
“Trannyshack took off,” says Heklina. “It was a platform for anyone to perform. It happened organically, I didn’t know it was fulfilling this need, but it did.”
A “stunning array of creative mavericks” performed on the outrageous and shocking Trannyshack stage and helped spiral the show into one of San Francisco’s greatest drag events. Held weekly at the STUD bar for twelve years and monthly at the DNA Lounge since 2008, it has won best drag show for numerous years in nearly every Bay Area magazine.
Heklina has also taken the performance party on the road – hosting in London, New York City, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, New York City, Waikiki, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Reno, and Fresno.
Having long solidified her role in the drag community, in recent years it dawned on the creator, promoter, and hostess that she had new goals to leap for.
“I felt like for the past four or five years my career was kind of at an impasse because for the past twenty years I have been doing shows at other peoples venues and it started to feel very limiting and I felt up against the wall,” says Heklina. “It got to be my dream to have my own venue where I could do my own stuff.”
In 2013, Heklina, along with fellow host and performer D’Arcy Dollinger and co-owners Geoff Benjamin, now the venue’s CEO, and Jason Beebout, the general manager, began looking into different venues. The group applied to lease a six thousand five hundred square foot venue just across the street from Oasis, at the still-vacant Paradise Lounge, but the owner decided to go with an alternate proposal.
“Places kept falling through and I started to give up hope that it would happen,” says Heklina.
Earlier this year, the business partners began discussions to buy the Oasis location. Their offer was accepted, but more issues came up. Last year, the city had adopted new rules into the Western SOMA Neighborhood Plan that prohibited the owners to obtain an entertainment license because it was within two hundred feet of a residential district, meaning they would only be able to function it as a bar and not a performance space.
In September, Supervisor Jane Kim’s proposed legislation passed which removed the prohibition and provided an exception for nighttime entertainment uses within two hundred feet of residential areas if a nightclub had legally operated at the location within the past five years, which applies to Oasis.
The six thousand square foot building was sold for $2,850,000, according to RealtTrac’s listings. Heklina and her troupe have work to get done before the grand opening on New Year’s Eve, including bringing the run-down building up to code, getting a fire inspection, fixing the stage, and painting among more.
“It makes me nervous even talking about it,” says Heklina.
She finally has a new home for her cabaret theatre and the resurgence of Trannyshack — although a rebranding of the name is under way because of recent outrage surrounding the offensiveness of the term “tranny” to the transgender community.
A recent campaign led by two board members of GLAAD, a non-governmental media monitoring entity advocating against defamation to the LGBT community, is aiming to make “tranny” a slur in all circumstances. There has been much debate surrounding the word, and Heklina finds changing the name a better alternative to making anyone feel excluded or hurt.
Still being publicized as Trannyshack, or “T-shack,” for now, the official rebranding will move forward in 2015 along with the club opening. The venue first opened up as club Oasis in 1982, and that name, along with its history of high energy and acceptance to all communities will be following Heklina into the building.
Come December 31st, the club will be an open space welcoming to both budding and time-honored drag stars and performers. Being just moments away from the DNA Lounge, Slims, BeatBox and Audio, it seems the perfect little corner for Heklina to set up home for a new era of her legendary show.
“A lot of this is riding on my reputation, I’m afraid of it being successful and I’m afraid of it not being successful,” says Heklina. “It’s do or die.”