Not many are eager to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Jack the Ripper murders in London, but fortunately, The City has Thrillpeddlers to step up and take action.
The zealous performing arts troupe unleashes "Jack the Ripper — An Evening of Horror, Madness, Spanking and Song" in previews this week at the Hypnodrome in The City.
The show is part of Shocktoberfest 14, an annual performance that links classic Grand Guignol one-act plays with revivals of other works, both old and new. The more spine-tingling and erotic, the better.
"Putting together sex and death for people onstage, completely unapologetically — well, it's a thrill," says director-producer Russell Blackwood, who has been a creative force in Thrillpeddlers since its inception. "They are the true taboo subjects brought together and celebrated, really."
This year's extravaganza includes a classic Grand Guignol thriller ("Jack The Ripper"), a world premiere one-act play ("The Wrong Ripper"), the opening scene from a Victorian Spanking drama — yes, you heard that right — and a gaggle of other big surprises, including "Salome" by Scrumbly Koldewyn. It's a musical take on Oscar Wilde's classic.
"I think the mission of Thrillpeddlers, in some respects, has become broader and broader," Blackwood says, commenting on the group's longevity and success.
Thrillpeddlers spawned the first Shocktoberfest back in 1999 at The Exit Theatre. Over the years, the ensemble eventually made the Hypnodrome its unforgettable lair in the SoMa district. Outfitted with a guillotine, strobe lights, a thunder sheet and some secret doors to boot, the venue has become one The City's most inventive "horror theaters."
While the performances are, at times, outlandish, plenty of hard work unfolds behind the scenes. In fact, to date, Shocktoberfest has revived more Grand Guignol plays than any other producing association.
When asked what he appreciates most about having participated in such an iconic bit of theatrical revelry over the years, Blackwood is candid.
"I am always drawn to the fact that we're bringing these plays out from the distant past and that, in a way, our predecessors maybe weren't quite as naive as we imagined them to be; that some of these Grand Guignol plays can get mighty grisly," he says. "You know, when your ancestors can shock you ... well, it makes me feel that those before us were a little less jaded than we thought."
IF YOU GOShocktoberfest 14: Jack the Ripper — An Evening of Horror, Madness, Spanking and Song
Presented by Thrillpeddlers
Where: Hypnodrome, 575 10th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, plus additional Halloween week performances; closes Nov. 23
Tickets: $30 to $35