Compton's Cafeteria at 50: Daughters of a Riot Traces Queer Lineages to 1966

The Stonewall Riot has entered the popular consciousness as the dawn of the LGBT riots movement, and although the film was widely panned (and boycotted) for rewriting history, President Obama's move to incorporate the site as a national park will only solidify its position.

However, as San Francisco's LGBT community knows all too well, the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria Riot in the Tenderloin preceded it by three years. To commemorate that moment of near-antediluvian queer history, VivvyAnne ForeverMORE!'s long-running Work MORE! project presents Daughters of a Riot, a two-night show at the Brava Theater(May 27-28, tickets here) that splices drag performances with video narrative to provide a better context for that summer uprising and for modes of political resistance “based on drag and presentations of gender variance.”

“It's the 50th anniversary of Compton's, so it's special to us,” ForeverMORE! says. “For me, it's significant because its a bigger show than I've ever put on before, with nine cast members.”

“I hate this word, but it’s 'educational,' ” she adds. “It's been a much bigger research project involving primary sources and interviews before we could create the performances. That's not normally the way you do a drag number.”

[jump] Presented in collaboration with the Queer Cultural Center (QCC) and the National Queer Arts Festival, Daughters of a Riot involves four principals (Vivvy herself, plus Dulce De Leche, LOL McFiercen, and Honey Mahogany) as well as performers like Laundra Tyme, Phatima Rude, and Trixie Carr, plus video from filmmaker Aron Kantor.

“It’s a theater piece with drag numbers,” ForeverMORE! says. “All the musical numbers in the theater piece are drag and there’s narrated sections about moments in history. We’re using typical tropes of drag: spectacle, lip-synch, live singing.” 

It's “drag on steroids,” she adds. (Or maybe anabolic hormones.) And there is a risk that the erasure of Stonewall's prime movers and shakers could happen to Compton's as well, so these queens are eager to provide the full context. 

“I think what people know about Compton’s was that it happened and there was a riot,” ForeverMORE! says. “There's not a lot of knowledge abut the culture that existed around Compton’s and why there was a riot. People thought it was a queer uprising, but it was really transwomen of color who threw a brick.”

It didn't happen in a vacuum, either. There were queer organizations that self-policed, to adapt to the homo- and transphobic ordinances governing what people could wear in public.

“The fact that the clothing laws that led to the riots were made in 1863 to police Chinese people and women, it’s more complex than 'there were queers and the police.' We're interested in why that spark made a fire, as opposed to all the other times a cop laid their hands on a drag queen.”

Noting her place in the well-known House of More — as in Glamamore and Juanita MORE! — VivvyAnne ForeverMORE! emphasizes that Daughter of a Riot is, at heart, about the ephemerality of queer lineages.

“I grew up in the shadow of New York City, and at age 10 started wearing a purple T-shirt and too many necklaces,” she says. “There was a moment where I was like, 'I’m not from where I’m from.' When I was 18, I snuck into a bar in the city and was surrounded by punks and queers and drag people and thought, 'This is where my lineage starts.’”

“That's the genesis of the project,” she adds. “Where do we come from, given that our lineages aren’t through our blood or where we were born. They’re from this cultural alignment, oral histories. There’s a way in which these social constellations — however loose or temporary — can have a really long-lasting impact, the way a blood family member could.”

Work MORE! 7: Daughters of a Riot, Friday and Saturday, May 27-28, 8 p.m., at the Brava Theater, 2781 24th St.

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