Ah, October… a time for pumpkin spice, cozy sweaters, and dressing up in fishnets to throw toast around and scream obscenities at a screen? Yes, you read that last part right. If this sounds like science fiction to you, you’re a virgin – a Rocky virgin, that is. That’s right, fasten your garters and strap on your stilettos because I’m about to take you on a strange journey to the wonderful and slightly chaotic world of Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is going to be a wild ride.
For all you virgins out there, Rocky Horror Picture Show is a rock-musical that follows straight-laced Brad Majors and Janet Weiss as they stumble onto a house full of aliens. The leader of the group is Dr. Frank N. Furter, a self-described “Sweet Transvestite” and mad scientist, who has just succeeded in creating his own living sex toy named Rocky. Throughout the film, Brad and Janet are both shocked and pleasantly surprised (wink, wink) by Frank’s antics, which are punctuated by songs that will have you singing (and dancing) along.
The show started out as a play in London, premiering in 1973. After the play’s critical success, it was adapted into a movie in 1975, which was significantly less successful. In 1976, a studio executive decided to try showing the film as a midnight screening at a theatre in New York. With this decision, a cult phenomenon was born, and it has continued to grow and evolve to this day.
At a typical Rocky Horror screening, you don’t just watch the film. After all, where’s the fun in that? In a way, you become part of the show by interacting with the screen. You call the characters names (asshole!), yell out double entendres, even throw things like rice, toast, and toilet paper. When I first started going to Rocky screenings, I was worried that I would miss one of the cues, but everything is very fluid. If you’re a little late throwing something, that’s okay. If you want to shout out a joke because you think of it on the spot, that works too. In fact, depending on where you are, the call-outs during the show could be different. When I was in Scotland on exchange, I watched the film with some friends and at one point in the film, we all yelled out completely different things. While there are some call-outs that are pretty universal, others are regionally developed. This makes everyone’s Rocky experience unique to them.
In addition to call-outs and props, another Rocky tradition is the shadow cast, who acts out their own version of the film’s story silently as the film plays behind them. The shadow cast adds to the interactive experience. While a lot of work goes into shadow cast productions, with detailed choreography and blocking, they kind of serve to poke added fun at the film, pointing out its absurdities. I had the chance to be in one of these casts last year, and it was one of my favourite experiences at university thus far. If you haven’t frantically tried to sweep rice off a stage with a broom while wearing fishnets and high heels, I would highly recommend it.
What the shadow casts and audience interaction have in common is that they take what would otherwise be the independent experience of watching a film and make them into a communal experience. As one of my friends said when I told her I was writing this article, “Rocky is one of the best examples of a show bringing together people of all walks of life.” Like many other films, Rocky encourages individual expression, but it does so within a safe, supportive community. Although it sounds cliché, all that’s expected to be a part of this community is to be yourself and be respectful and supportive of those around you. It’s because of this inclusive environment that Rocky Horror has had such a positive impact on so many people and has managed to remain relevant for over forty years.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Rocky Horror Picture Show and maybe even losing your Rocky virginity, the Screening Room will be holding screenings at the end of October. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the audience won’t be allowed to throw anything, but you can yell to your heart’s content. Alternatively, you could always host your own screening with your housemates. That’s what I’ll be doing. I promise, once you try it, you’ll be wanting more, more, MORE and doing the time warp over and over again.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox