Sunday, October 31, 2010
Going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show is a morally repugnant experience. Not because of the content of the film, which features cannibalism and transvestism. Nor because of the sometimes revealing attire of the actors in the "shadow cast" who dress up as the film's characters and pantomime the action in front of the screen. Rather, it can only signal the progress of totalitarianism in our country that audiences have pretty much been banned from throwing hot dogs during the performance.
For all that, however, it is encouraging to see that a new generation of queer kids, theater geeks and other mostly 20-something misfits are still -- 35 years after the musical film was released -- doing shadow casts in cities around the world. (For this year's big anniversary, "Glee" did an episode jammed with Rocky Horror tunes, and a new Blu-ray disc of the film with special features was issued.)
In New York City, where I shot this video, the shadow cast puts on a terrific show. For Halloween weekend, they made special monster-themed costumes, and the host for Friday night, Felipe, got the sold-out crowd psyched up. During the pre-show, "virgins" -- audience members who were seeing the movie for the first time on the big screen -- were invited up front to simulate an orgasm.
As anyone who has been deflowered will attest, audience members are more than welcome to shout out responses to the lines spoken on screen. I remembered the basics -- like shouting "asshole" when the character of Brad appeared on screen, or taunting the criminologist character as having "no neck!" -- but I'd forgotten just how many responses there were. Here's an impressively thorough script of the film with audience responses interpolated. Of course, responses differ over time and from place to place, but after 35 years, many of them have entered the Rocky Horror canon. It's not just words that get tossed about, but actual physical objects -- handfuls of rice during the wedding scene, pieces of toast when someone proposes a toast, and rolls of Scott brand toilet paper for the character of Dr. Scott. Before many theaters started prohibiting it, you'd also spray water during the rainstorm scene. And then there were the days of yore when you could throw the aforementioned hot dogs.
Even without the hot dogs and artificial rainstorms, Rocky Horror is much enhanced by other forms of audience participation, and by the shadow cast.
Actors have fun at it, too. Those I spoke with mentioned how playing in the shadow cast lets you be yourself, even if it's by being somebody else for a couple hours. The actors often rotate among roles. JD, a 10-year Rocky veteran you'll see in the video above, has played every role, male and female, at some point. The actors seem to be developing their own characters by adopting (and adapting) these film characters. But a cult phenomenon of this sort would not just grow up around any film. The story has to support it.
Not familiar with the plot? Basically, an innocent and newly engaged couple (Brad and Janet) get a flat tire during a rainstorm in the middle of nowhere. In search of a phone, they happen upon the kooky castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a self-described "sweet transvestite" who is just unveiling, to the assembled Transylvania conventioneers, his new Frankenstein-like creation -- a muscle-bound sex toy named Rocky, who wears only glittery gold tights. In time, Brad and Janet are exposed to Frank's sexual talents, and just about everybody ends up in fetish-wear before too long. The film also involves space travel, and a dance called the Time Warp. Want more? More, more, more! Go visit the film's fan site, the Wikipedia page, the IMDB page with the trailer, or here again is the New York City show page. Also, check out this video, in which New York City cast member JD does a fab half-and-half drag performance of the duet by the characters of Columbia and Eddie. Definitely worth a look!