It was way back in 2007 that the idea to reenact old Golden Girls episodes with SF drag queens took shape, with Heklina and some friends doing the first performances in someone's Victorian parlor in the Western Addition.
Fast forward through a decade and a half, and a pandemic that pushed the show online, and we are back to having this ever-popular live drag-queen theater phenomenon for the holiday season in San Francisco — complete with photo ops after the show. It's all happening at the Victoria Theater this year, and the shows start the day after Thanksgiving, November 26.
Noting that 2021 is the 15th year of doing these shows, Heklina (who always plays Dorothy) tells SFist, "It really started as just a thing for friends to come to, and just for us to have fun. Little did we know that it would turn into this huge San Francisco tradition."
She adds, "But we are so grateful, and doubly grateful to be able to do it after the non-year that was 2020."
Oasis owner D'Arcy Drollinger joined the show playing Rose and serving as director in 2015.
"I had seen the show many times before being in it and was fully aware of the phenomenon," Drollinger says. "Being part of it and watching it continue to grow has been amazing. So it doesn’t really surprise me that it’s still going. We understand what it means to people. I can see a future where we're all doing this together well into our retirement."
Each of the queens in the show now has their character down pat, and the format is the same — two episodes with a brief break in between — but the episodes change every year.
Matthew Martin, who's been playing Blanche since the beginning alongside Heklina's Dorothy, says, "My favorite thing about playing Blanche is that she is so deliciously salacious and a hilarious, self-absorbed Southern belle to play." Martin adds, "Of course, performing with a cast that I have known and loved for many years plays into the comedic chemistry we have onstage for sure as well."
"Of course all of the women from the Golden Girls were amazing, but I have a special affinity for Bea Arthur," Heklina says. "Her comedic timing was incredible, and her character of Dorothy Zbornak fits me to a T." She adds that Arthur's signature, long and flowy outfits on the show "were ridiculous but brilliant, nothing that you can find in off the rack in a store." And over the years she says she's had to up her costume game and get things custom made, as the audiences have grown.
Holotta Tymes, who's been playing Sophia for seven years, says, "Sophia is totally me, I love her mouth and straight-forward attitude. I get to deliver the best one-liners and then leave."
Playing Rose is a treat for the always versatile Drollinger too, who just finished a stint as Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show at Oasis.
"Getting to play the dingbat is so fun," Drollinger says, noting that she and Betty White have the same birthday. "I have to make her larger-than-life for the stage. Physical comedy is my favorite."
And even though the actual Golden Girls only ever included two Christmas-specific episodes in its seven-season run on NBC, the SF drag version has made holiday-themed fun out of many beloved episodes.
"We take the regular episodes and 'Christmas-ify' them," Heklina says of the script-tweaking process. "For instance if a family member is coming to visit, it’s written in that they are now coming to visit for the holidays, etc. You put a Christmas tree on stage on top of that and boom! It’s a holiday show."
San Francisco's drag-queen Golden Girls phenom "inspired" another, similar drag reenactment series that has regularly happened in Los Angeles in recent years, starring Jackie Beat, Sherry Vine, Drew Droege, and Sam Pancake.
When asked if she gave her blessing for the LA version, Heklina says, "Um, no. This has been a bit of a bone of contention in the past between me and Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine but we’ve moved past it." And Heklina concedes, "Nobody really owns the concept or idea. And Jackie Beat is the world's biggest Golden Girls fan."
Drollinger also says you can't really "own" a parody, and she adds, "I am proud of our production as I believe it is the largest and most unique."
Because some people are still skittish about attending live events in crowded rooms, even if everyone is masked, Heklina says that they plan to film one of the nights' performances to use for a video stream, after last year's live streams on Oasis TV were so successful.
"It felt even one step closer to the actual series," Drollinger says of the multi-camera set-up and TV-style set that they used.
After the show, there's a tradition of having the four "girls" up on stage so that audience members can take commemorative holiday photos with them, and that will of course continue. Heklina says she doesn't mind how long this often takes. "It’s gratifying that people love the show so much," she says.
The show also includes vintage ads that get projected during "commercial breaks" and some carol sing-a-longs.
"This year, people will have to sing through their masks," Drollinger says. "But the bottom line is that they’ll be together. And they’ll still be singing."
'The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes' runs from November 26 to December 23 at the Victoria Theater. Find your tickets here.