A&E

The ‘Rocky Horror’ phenomenon turns 40

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Frankie’s Favorite Obsession (top row) and Science Fiction Double Feature (bottom row) keep the 40-year-old Rocky Horror tradition wonderfully weird.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

With a red “V” drawn in lipstick on my cheek, I nervously approached the front of the theater. The scarlet letters identified about 20 of us as “virgins”—those who’d never seen a live cast shadow The Rocky Horror Picture Show—and before I knew it, we were being “devirginized” in a massive, dry-hump orgy.

It was quite the jolting start to my first viewing of the 1975 cult classic. But by the time Tim Curry’s “Sweet Transvestite” Dr. Frank-N-Furter strutted out, I was happily one of the freaks. “Don’t get strung out by the way I look,” he sang. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” As a timid gay teen still very much in the closet, these words resonated with me. Looking around the audience, at the crazy spectrum of style and sexuality, I felt a sense of belonging. I might not fit in, I thought, but neither does anyone else. How genius.

September 26, Rocky celebrates 40 years of spreading its messages of acceptance and tolerance, sexual liberation and experimentation, and being yourself no matter what. “Don’t dream it, be it.” Damn straight.

In honor of the milestone, Las Vegas’ shadow casts—Frankie’s Favorite Obsession and Science Fiction Double Feature—mused on the Rocky Horror phenomenon.

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Alex Coville as Eddie, Science Fiction Double Feature

Didn’t the movie tank in its original release?

It did really badly, and some brave theater manager in New York decided to try showing it at midnight, and that’s where it took off. Gayle Charette (Frank-N-Furter, SFDF)

Why has the tradition of the late-night screening endured?

This is one of the only movies where the audience is 100 percent involved in the show. They get to do the callout lines; we get to go out and sit with the audience, sit on the audience (laughs), pull them onstage and do things with them. You’re not going to go to Star Wars and have that happen. Don Charette (Criminologist, SFDF)

It becomes an event that’s something that you have to do. When you hear the shout-outs and everyone’s having a good time, that energy just makes it fun to be there. Patrick Harris (Dr. Scott, FFO)

Preshows are part of the tradition. What's your favorite?

It was based off of The Wizard of Oz; it was called The Wizard of Denton. Basically Dorothy, who is Janet, stumbles into Oz, which is the castle, and Brad is Toto, and of course the witch is Frank-N-Furter. … They ask [the Glinda character] if she’s a good bitch or a bad bitch, and we just sort of play with it and kink it up a bit. Cory Wayne (Brad, FFO)

How did you get devirginized?

Make an orgasm sound like Chewbacca. It’s hard to do. Jonathan Ruggiero (Criminologist, FFO)

I was devirginized by getting spanked a lot. And I loved it. Mikey Hartman (Riff Raff, SFDF)

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Prudence Tramont as Frank-N-Furter, Frankie's Favorite Obsession

They sang the happy birthday song, which is “Happy birthday, F*CK YOU!” And the entire theater flipped me off at the same time. It was amazing, and I never missed a show after that. Prudence Tramont (Frank-N-Furter, FFO)

I’d been a cast leader for a year, and I got caught, that I hadn’t. And I had to eat a pie off of somebody’s crotch. I had to find all the cherries inside, and I was Janet that night and had whipped cream all over my hair. It was amazing. Jen Batson (Dr. Scott, SFDF)

I think I had to deep-throat a Twinkie. Cory Wayne (Brad, FFO)

They made me hump my sister to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Niki Gratton (Magenta, SFDF)

What motivated you to join the cast?

I had never seen anything like this before. I didn’t know that shadow casts even existed. I just love the enthusiasm of the audience and the cast members. Izzy Gallegos (Magenta, FFO)

I’m an accountant, so everything is very black and white typically, professionally, for me. So it’s just kind of a creative outlet. I love being on the stage. I love the energy from the audience. It’s just a lot of fun. I sit up there and laugh, basically, the whole time. Kari Kampf (Janet, FFO)

Do you play your favorite character?

I’ve been doing Rocky Horror since 2002. A friend of ours from the haunted house that Don and I volunteer at brought me to a midnight showing, and that night I joined cast … I have played every character at least once, but I played Columbia for two years before I even moved on to a different character. So I knew Columbia inside out and sideways. And then I moved on to Janet and then Magenta and worked my way up to Frank. Gayle Charette (Frank-N-Furter, SFDF)

Brad probably is my favorite character, because I guess I kind of resonate with him more. I grew up kind of clean-cut and preppy-ish, sort of naïve in a way, but always questioning a darker side of sexuality. Cory Wayne (Brad, FFO)

I really liked playing Frank last show. … It’s just really fun to be the person taking charge. I feel like when I played Frank I got to be a really different person. Columbia is more my alley. She’s a happy-go-lucky person; but Frank, he has this attitude and I definitely don’t have that in my day-to-day life. So that was really fun to get into. Alicia Foote (Columbia, FFO)

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Kayleigh Roman as Janet Weiss, Science Fiction Double Feature

I have been playing my favorite character, which is Rocky, because I don’t like clothes. I don’t want to wear clothes. I just like prancing around. I’m not good at playing dumb, because I’m actually smart, but I’m working on trying to act dumber for the part. Andrew Romanelli (Rocky, FFO)

Part of the fun of shadowing the film is that you can transform an old Nintendo gun into a wondrous prop.

The older, funny, daffy props people notice and go, “Oh, that’s so weird, they incorporated the Psycho knife into killing Eddie,” and I think it really incorporates that almost grindhouse, midnight theater aspect into what we’re doing. This isn’t the Met. This is like the Texas Chainsaw freaky weird transsexual alien family of fun. And that’s what I love about it. Niki Gratton (Magenta, SFDF)

What’s essential to the art of the shadow cast?

You aren’t saying anything, so it’s all based on your physical movements, and I think it’s a lot more interesting for the audience and for me to perform it with a lot of facial expressions and putting a little bit of yourself into the role. … I think from an outsider’s point of view they kind of look at us like the bastard cousin of real theater (laughs), but once you start doing it you realize there’s a lot more to it, because you’re not making your own acting choices—you’re mimicking some other acting choices someone else has made. And I feel like that’s more difficult. Rachel Blakely (Columbia, SFDF)

Favorite callout line?

The first time I came to the show nobody told me there were callout lines, and I was getting pissed at the audience. I was like, “Would somebody shut up?!” And someone whispered in my ear, “They’re supposed to do that.” And I felt like a total dick. And then I’m listening and I’m listening and I’m like, oh, that’s hilarious. And now I just love them. … My favorite part is when Frank’s talking about her satin-draped frame and somebody shouts out, “It’s polyester! You don’t know your fabrics, bitch.” Andrya Day (Brad, SFDF)

There’s a line in “Over at the Frankenstein Place” … One of the people in the back said, “Where do you keep your Justin Bieber records?” and then [the line] was “burning in the fireplace.” Prudence Tramont (Frank-N-Furter, FFO)

During the floor show Rocky is introduced, and the curtains come up and you see RKO Picture Show, and the music kind of builds up and you yell out “Sega!” It’s the same build in the music when you turn the Sega box on. Patrick Harris (Dr. Scott, FFO)

When Columbia is yelling at Frank right before the floor show and the audience yells “Oh sh*t, what a bitch! Quick Magenta, flip the switch!” right before [Columbia] gets turned into stone. Izzy Gallegos (Magenta, FFO)

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Izzy Gallegos as Magenta, Frankie's Favorite Obsession

When I’m doing floor show and everyone goes, “Yay, butt floss!” Not only does that indicate me to do my butt floss, but I’m just anticipating it and I’m thinking, this is my way to please everyone, so I go at it 100 percent. Hump. Boa. Brad Antonio (Rocky, SFDF)

“Buy an umbrella, you cheap bitch” is really funny. Everybody knows that one; that one is from the ’70s. I guess calling the Criminologist a no-neck—“you have no neck”—that one is a lot of fun to scream. Cory Wayne (Brad, FFO)

Anything George Bush-related, back in the day, was my favorite. Of course now you can adapt that to anything Sarah Palin or Donald Trump. “Describe George Bush.” “An accident!” “What do you think about Donald Trump?” “I think we can do better than that!” Jonathan Ruggiero (Criminologist, FFO)

One of my favorite ones is when Riff Raff says, “You’ve arrived on a rather special night.” And the callout line is “Tuesday!” Gayle Charette (Frank-N-Furter, SFDF)

Oh, it’s stupid! When Frank is singing to Rocky and he says, “Oh, honey.” Right before he says that the line is, “What do Irish bees make?” Steve VanMeter (Eddie, FFO)

Frank-N-Furter has bloody gloves and he slaps them and hands them over to Magenta, and the audience member would scream, “Master has presented Magenta with gloves! She is a free elf now!” Val Shrum (Riff Raff, FFO)

Do you think the movie is offensive in this day and age?

I can definitely see how it would be, especially the use of the word “transvestite” so much, now that that’s become quite outdated. … I’ve talked with many [transgender] people who have said that they don’t personally find it offensive because they recognize that this is an older movie, and they also recognize that it was more of an embracement of gender identity and of sexuality. Alicia Foote (Columbia, FFO)

Sometimes people don’t know what they’re getting into, which is weird for a movie that’s been around this long. So sometimes there can be the odd negative response, but mostly it’s absolutely positive. And I think the movie itself—they’re just so out there with using those words—“We’re trannies and we’re from Transexual, Transylvania!” And they put it all out there because they’re not ashamed, and I think that is really important. Niki Gratton (Magenta, SFDF)

How do you keep 40-year-old material fresh?

For the “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” part, I’m always finding new ways to play with Janet’s boobs. My first show I was shaking them like maracas; another show I was throwing grenades; another show I was pretending to be shy; another show I was being a boxer and that was like my boxing bag. Brad Antonio (Rocky, SFDF)

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Brad Antonio as Rocky, Science Fiction Double Feature

It’s new every time. The movie is not, but there’s new people playing new characters all the time. There’s new themes all the time. There’s a new audience every time. There’s always something new going on in society of what’s popular and we play off of that. And it just makes it new every time. Kayleigh Roman (Janet, SFDF)

It’s always evolving as culture evolves. So as society changes, the show will change with society. It’ll always have this kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink about it for future generations. Mikey Hartman (Riff Raff, SFDF)

Fox announced it would air a Rocky reimagining. What do you think about that?

Every time I hear that I roll my eyes. … We already survived the Glee episode. That was already a royal screw-up in itself. Jonathan Ruggiero (Criminologist, FFO)

They’re going to make it too PG. … It’s kind of like making a new Ghostbusters; I’m nervous about it. But I think it’s also good to release it, because it will bring awareness—it will create a whole new generation of kids that are going to see this movie. Kari Kampf (Janet, FFO)

Do you really play sax?

I do! Well, I did, back when I was 12 years old. I was in band; I did play tenor sax. Now it’s just strictly a prop. Steve VanMeter (Eddie, FFO)

Do I look like I know what I’m doing? Because I don’t. I’m a drummer. Alex Coville (Eddie, SFDF)

Any memorable stage injuries?

During kick-line once in the “Wild and Untamed Thing” scene, when I kicked my heel up it got caught on the strings of the person next to me’s corset. I. Ate. Sh*t. (laughs) I was like, ‘Well that happened,’ and just popped up and kept going. Rachel Blakely (Columbia, SFDF)

If I come home without a bruise I didn’t do it right. Kayleigh Roman (Janet, SFDF)

Are the crowds as diverse as the casts?

Gothic people, preppies, ravers, surfers—everybody. Nobody cares. They’re just happy to see you, and you get along. That’s something you can share and connect with other people about in a strange way. Nobody cares what your background is, nobody cares where you work or what your views on life are. … When you’re here, you’re equal to everyone else. Andrya Day (Brad, SFDF)

How much does being part of the show infiltrate your life?

There’s a lot of things people do for Rocky Horror. I won my third costume contest as Frank-N-Furter, and I went and got this. It’s Frank’s tattoo, and it’s screen-accurate. Gayle Charette (Frank-N-Furter, SFDF)

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Val Shrum as Riff Raff, Frankie's Favorite Obsession

The costumes and makeup are things of gloriously weird beauty.

I actually come from a nursing background, and I have that reputation at the hospital of, “Oh! There’s leftover fingernail polish,” and “He didn’t get all his eyeliner off—he had a show.” I’m known as the Rocky Horror nurse. … In my heels I’m over 7 feet tall. And nothing sounds better than when you just hear mass quantities of leather panties squeaking. Costume changes sound like an orchestra. Mikey Hartman (Riff Raff, SFDF)

Those gold lamé shorts are short. Do you ever get shy onstage?

To be honest, I want to go out and be a slut. I just want to slut it up. And I feel that the audience plays off of that better—if he’s comfortable, I’m comfortable. Andrew Romanelli (Rocky, FFO)

What is Rocky’s message?

It’s just acceptance. Weird is not bad. In high school I hung out with the jocks and the cheerleaders, and now that I’m older I highly regret it, because they weren’t really that cool! And I’ve always had a little bit of a freak flag, and that’s why I do Rocky now. A lot of people don’t get it, but it’s just a place where you can totally be yourself and not be judged. Kari Kampf (Janet, FFO)

I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and I started doing it because it’s somewhere where you can feel accepted, and not judged for if you’re not the right size, you’re not the right color, you’re not the right gender. Nobody cares—they’re having a good time. And it really does become a family. Jen Batson (Dr. Scott, SFDF)

I think that it speaks to everyone who does not fit in. There’s always going to be that oddball, or there’s always going to be that normal person who has like a secret side to themselves. They can go to the show and just be themselves. Val Shrum (Riff Raff, FFO)

There’s a lot of people who feel like they’re outcasts in their own community, with their own people. You know what? We’re all outcasts, we’re all hanging out together, we’re having a great time. The only way you’re gonna have a great time, too? Come join us. Don Charette (Criminologist, SFDF)

Anything dressed up in a corset and a pair of women’s underpants, and it’s socially acceptable every conceivable way because it’s Rocky Horror. In today’s culture, it’s nice to see that it doesn’t have to have Rocky attached, that it’s becoming more socially acceptable to just be yourself, which is what the film spent so many years trying to push. Its cultural impact is more about creating social change than a movie about a weirdo. Alex Coville (Eddie, SFDF)

Frankie’s Favorite Obsession First Saturdays, 10 p.m., $10. Regency Tropicana Cinemas, 3330 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-248-7469.

Science Fiction Double Feature Second & fourth Saturdays, 10 p.m., $9. Sci Fi Center, 5077 Arville St., 855-501-4335.

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