THERE ARE DIFFERENT shades of red, such as scarlet, crimson, vermilion, burgundy and carmine. There are also various intense emotions associated with this particular primary color – courage, love, anger and passion.

And then there’s The Red Shades: A Trans Superhero Rock Opera, a one-of-a-kind event slated for its world premiere this month at the Mission District’s Z Space. Part musical theater, part rock concert and fully trans celebrating, the show incorporates live music, actors, songs and a storyline that focuses on San Francisco’s transgender history — and its superheroes.


“The Red Shades: A Trans Superhero Rock Opera” will be performed Wednesday, Oct. 19, through Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at Z Space, located in the Mission District at 450 Florida St., San Francisco. 

Previews are scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 19, and Friday, Oct. 21, and the show will then run from Saturday, Oct. 22, through Saturday, Nov. 5.

Each show starts at 7 p.m. and lasts approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets can be purchased online.

Says Adrienne Price, writer and co-composer of “The Red Shades,” “I was trying to find a metaphor for when marginalized people kind of transcend the circumstances that they’re in and transcend their bodies and the obstacles of the world that they’re existing in, and I just thought, ‘Well, I guess ‘superhero’ kind of captures that in some kind of way.’”

Price, who currently resides in Oakland but has also lived in San Francisco and Berkeley, describes her creation of “The Red Shades” as an unexpected and somewhat accidental process that came together piece by piece.

“When I moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast seven years ago, I started recording some ideas for songs without really knowing why or what project they would go in. But over time, it became clear that these songs were trying to tell a story, so I was trying to figure out what that story was.”

Trans-formational moment

During her composing of those songs, she was also discovering more about the Bay Area’s trangender history. She recalls attending a talk by Felicia Elizondo that was called “Cruising the Tenderloin in the 1960s.” 

As Price explains, “That was the first time that I learned about the Compton’s Cafeteria riot and just that whole milieu of the queer Tenderloin in that era. And I just was so blown away by her story and that time period and those events, and I realized this has to somehow be woven into whatever I am creating here with these songs.” 

From the songwriting and those learning experiences came “The Red Shades,” an opera-esque rehashing of the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot that occurred in response to police mistreatment of trans individuals and drag queens, and the coming together of the LGBTQ+ community to protest such discrimination and injustices. Set in the Tenderloin District, “The Red Shades” tells the story of trans teenager Ida, who has moved from Nevada to San Francisco. She meets other trans individuals in the city — superheroes — who become her family, as well as sources of inspiration.

Mizz June (left) and Tommy Clifford-Carlos perform onstage at Z Space during a July 2019 workshop for “The Red Shades.” A new cast will take part in the upcoming 2022 shows. Says the show’s writer and co-composer Adrienne Price, “Our cast is incredible … they’ve really blown me away at every turn.” (Photo by Tristan Crane)

Price says, “Ida is a character who has a very kind of dramatic arc from very humble and difficult circumstances in her adolescence … and then discovering her own superpowers and how to use them and how to fight back against the oppression in that place. So it’s quite a transformation. I think that she embodies a kind of resilience, as well as kind of a wide-eyed wonder, and then mixed into all that is a kind of rage and a righteousness about the unfairness of the world.”

Years in the making

As with so many events and shows, “The Red Shades” — originally scheduled for an August 2020 premiere — was postponed due to the pandemic. There’s gratification, though, in finally seeing it “come to life.” 

“The Red Shades” writer and co-composer Adrienne Price said that through her work she became more knowledgeable about Bay Area transgender history. (Photo by Tristan Crane)

Remarks Price, “Our co-directors, Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe and Rotimi Agbabiaka, have been with us since 2019 and have been working to shape this. I think our team is really incredible, and our cast is amazing. … It’s so thrilling to see them embody these characters that have been in my mind for so long and really take it to a whole new level.”

Years in the making, the show is a go for Oct. 19 through Nov. 5 on Z Space’s Steindler Stage, its behind-the-scenes team, musicians and cast ready to present this significant trans-centering story and its relatable themes.

Price notes, “If I had to sum up this project in one word, it would be ‘community’ — the importance of community for creating chosen families and the kinship networks, and for resisting oppression and supporting each other.”

Considering another takeaway from “The Red Shades,” she adds, “And just transcending your own limitations — what seem like these really solid boundaries around your life. There’s moments where you discover that those boundaries are movable and you can actually shift them and be a part of changing not only your own life but [also] the world around you.”

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