Welcome back, lieblings. Slide on your lipstick, and let’s get back into it.
So the year is 2004. A young woman laces up the corset she bought for a Shakespeare production and the red velvet skirt she found at a thrift store. She is 17, and her friends are younger; several are as young as 14. She drives from house to house, picking up scantily-clad jailbait. They drive in a remarkably well-maintained minivan to Harvard Square. The time is 11p.m. and it is Saturday night.
Parking is miserable, and the young woman is not experienced in parallel parking, but she finds a spot and gets into it as best she can. Holding hands, giggling excitedly, the group makes their way to the small, labyrinthine AMC in Harvard Square which has been hosting “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for years and years at midnight on Saturday.
Everyone in line is in costume. Some of these people–most, really–are very intimidating to young, naive teens from the suburbs. These are the people with piercings looped with chains, with tattoos not only on their ankles but on their faces, who cross-dress unapologetically. One man has giant angel wings. One is in pleather lined with so many zippers, it is hard to know whether you should really call it pleather or just call it “metal.” But all of them are in a good mood, because they’re going to do something that is just for them.
The performers work the line. The dominatrix-type woman who will be running the show banters with all the attendees, and draws a scarlet “V” on the foreheads of all the newbies, including the young woman and her friends. Breathless now, they clutch the paper bags full of props that they have been handed and mount the stairs to the theater.
They don’t secure seats in the front row (“Fuck the back row!”) nor in the back row (“Fuck the front row!”). They are instead in the middle of the theater. They watch a young woman with duct tape over her nipples instead of pasties perform burlesque. They watch the man who will later represent Rocky in a choreographed dance to the very graphic song, “Soccer Practice.” They are absolutely thrilled.
The young woman gets pulled onstage. A red balloon is placed between her legs and she is instructed to bend over. At this point she has no idea if she is going to be spanked, and hard, by the female “Frank” running the pre-show. Instead, she shrieks as the balloon gets popped from beneath her. She no longer has her cherry; she is no longer just a Rocky Horror Virgin.
Finally the movie starts up, and the shadow cast takes its place in front of the screen. They move and mime along with the actors, but silently, and all body types are represented. From around the teenagers, voices shout in chorus, the most hilarious, vulgar responses to what is happening on the screen. Soon, without quite knowing what it is they should be saying, the teens join in.
It is movie magic at its finest. It is just what a musical, a piece of theater, a piece of subversive art should be. As the young woman puts her hands on the hips of the random man in front of her and feels strange hands support her from behind during the “Time Warp,” she knows that this is for her. And for a night, in the dark, surrounded by people most others would avoid in the daytime, she feels like she is a part of something.
The spell doesn’t even break when her minivan turns out to have a parking ticket at 2am because it is an inch too far from the curb.
That’s my first experience with “Rocky Horror,” my friends. Over the years, I have introduced many other people to Rocky, in Boston, at college, and now in Chicago for Underscore’s yearly fundraiser. It’s a hell of a good time, and our second annual production opens tonight. There’s more information at http://www.chicagorocky.com.
I’ll be doing the Time Warp again tonight. I’d love it if you’d join me.