‘Rocky Horror’ still accepts you

The movie theater is dark and loud. Dozens of people yell out a question and dozens more yell a bawdy reply.

Then the chant begins. It repeats. And repeats, growing louder with every word until Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania, flings open his cape to squeals and screams from boys and girls alike.

In his premier movie appearance, stage and screen veteran Tim Curry chews his way through “The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s” most iconic scene with uninhibited abandon and fabulous flair – not just in manner, but also in sequined corset, women’s underwear, platform heels, and enough makeup to make any drag queen jealous.

“I see you shiver with an-ti-ci…” Curry purrs, seducing the audience with glossy, crimson lips. The tense pause in dialogue is slight, but the audience doesn’t miss a beat. In unison they immediately cry out, “Thismoviewouldsuckwithoutaudiencepartici  –”

“Pation!” Curry exclaims, both finishing his phrase – and the audience’s.

As he finishes singing, glam-fabulous Frank-N-Furter disappears in an elevator with the press of a button and the theater erupts with applause and high fives.

And there’s still an hour to go.

The movie has grown to cult status mainly due to its audience participation. For 90 minutes, props abound throughout the audience – from rice to squirt guns to toilet paper – and jokes, questions, comments, and yes, even obscenities, are rattled off at near-lightning speed.

“I absolutely think it’s a rite of passage, for all kinds of geeks,” Laine Binder explains. “Theater geeks, especially, know their “Rocky” and other types of geeks know at least some quotes and references and then introduce others to it.”

Binder, 30, received her Masters in musical theater at the Boston Conservatory and is currently appearing in a production of the “Rocky Horror” stage musical at Boston’s Oberon Theatre.

Those who have never borne witness to the movie (specifically with a group of actors mirroring it, called a “shadow cast”) are lovingly referred to as “Virgins” in the “Rocky Horror” community.

In Atlanta, Georgia, between 150-200 audience members attend each screening  at the historic Plaza Theatre, with the majority of each audience in the 16-35 age range. During the month of October, that number easily grows to over 200 and the Halloween show sells out every year.

For the first time ever, Lips Down on Dixie (LDOD), Atlanta’s longest-running and sole remaining “Rocky Horror” shadow cast, has added an additional Saturday midnight show this year to try and accommodate the crowd.

“We are a good-natured, equal-opportunity offender,” LDOD director and nursing student Candace Weslosky, 28, cracks. “But,” she adds, her broad smile quickly giving way to seriousness, “we are a no-hate zone and bullying is absolutely not allowed. We will throw you out.”

“[Halloween] is the time of year where nearly everyone dresses up and it’s a costume party,” the producer of LDOD, Aron Siegel, 42, explains. “It’s even more ok to come out on Halloween – pun intended.”

It’s the phrase of “coming out” that has made the show/experience a trailblazer to many and a stigma to others.

“Rocky Horror” creator-writer Richard O’Brien was himself struggling with his own sexuality and gender role when he conceived the show.

Whether O’Brien intended it or not, his bawdy, glam-rock, train-wreck-you-can’t-look-away-from of a film has now become the “poster movie” for acceptance. Tim Curry said people still thank him for playing the role of Frank, saying  how much the movie helped them accept themselves. Those who have embraced the camp and spectacle don’t see “Rocky,” as it’s affectionately known, as a risqué, taboo film, but rather one big rockin’ party that celebrates freedom and self-expression.

LDOD cast member Nik Waddell, 20, puts it this way: “It lets you come out, show who you are and everyone else is doing the exact same thing. It’s the ultimate night of acceptance.”

But to those unfamiliar with the culture, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is nothing more than a dated B-movie that glorifies decadence and lust, while emphasizing fetishism and homosexuality.

Both the 1975 film and stage musical on which it was based have been banned in places like South Africa and Singapore…and Carrollton, a city about an hour southeast of Atlanta.

The city of Carrollton agreed to let director Michelle Rougier use city-allotted funds to stage the original musical at the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center for shows in this month. Then halfway through rehearsals, Carrollton mayor Wayne Garner pulled the plug after seeing a rehearsal video posted on a cast member’s private Facebook page.

Mayor Garner told Carrollton 11 TV that he found the show “offensive” to the community of Carrollton and even went so far as to claim that if "Rocky Horror" was allowed to proceed, “we’d be run out of town.”

Geek Out! reached out to Mayor Garner, but he politely declined to comment. While the Carrollton cast has since found a home at the University of West Georgia for a February showing and even private investors to fund it, the cast is left wondering: When did “Rocky Horror” become “Footloose”?

Rougier believes one of the biggest hurdles “Rocky” faces is its subject matter – not that the material is necessarily inappropriate or deviant, but rather that it distracts the detractors from embracing all the silliness.

“Rocky Horror” is well-documented as paying homage to 1950s rock n’ roll and all the sci-fi and horror B-movies of that decade, especially those from Hammer Films. In fact, much of the film was shot at Oakley Court, a castle that was formerly used as a set for Hammer productions.

“It’s just a silly little farce!” Rougier exclaims, sounding slightly exasperated. “I’m not preaching Stanislavski to my actors and that’s where he [the mayor] messed up. It’s not serious!”

Binder said she was saddened by the ban and she shares Rougier’s opinion.

“Rocky is very tongue-in-cheek. Yes, there’s a lot of sex and violence, but that’s not what it’s about. People think that, you know, liking Rocky says something about you as a person and I don’t think it says much at all, quite frankly.”

“I’m not mad at the city [of Carrollton] or even mad at the reasons, because, you know, ‘perception is truth,’" Weslowski said, "but how could you do that to the kids?”

Kids. With the exception of “I wouldn’t want my kids to see that,” it’s a word not typically associated with the R-rated musical. The irony is that while many adults see a movie that draws deviant, gay fetishists, the kids see a movie that draws people together and unites everyone, no matter their varying background.

Dan Dougherty, a project manager in his early 40s, remembers attending “Rocky” as a teenager and the impression it made on him. The kind of acceptance found at “Rocky Horror” performances is not always pervasive within subcultures of nerds, he said.

“The Goth movement is exclusive. ‘Rocky Horror’ counters that; it’s very inclusive. When I went as a teenager, everyone went out of their way to make sure everyone was included,” he said.

Dougherty grew up in Cobb County, Georgia in the 1980s. He described the area as a conservative place to grow up in and said attending "Rocky Horror" was a fun, harmless way for him and his friends to rebel.

“It’s not the gateway movie into the gay and lesbian community,” he deadpanned.

Even the film’s Hero, Brad Majors (played by Barry Bostwick), and Heroine, “Dammit” Janet Weiss (played by Susan Sarandon), are a virginal, repressed couple in the small, conservative, fictional town of Denton, Ohio. In the movie, Frank-N-Furter is a literal alien from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, but he also serves as a metaphor for the “outside world” which seems “alien” to Brad and Janet.

By the credits, Brad and Janet, for better or worse, have grown and learned and finally experienced life for the first time, thanks to Frank, a sentiment to which Dougherty can relate: “[Rocky Horror] was a connection to the world outside of our small town.”

As for the Carrollton cast, LDOD sees their lack of venue as a chance to increase the size of the “Rocky Horror” family that already extends to tens of thousands of people around the world and numerous message boards.

“The message of the movie is “Don’t dream it, be it.” Frank [N Furter] even sings about it. We try and teach that here with the cast. We give you the opportunity to find your art, your passion, yourself,” Weslosky said.

“With Carrollton, we didn’t view them as our competition. Instead, we invited them to perform the dance that got them banned for our Halloween shows this year. When people show up and have a good time and then blog about or post about how much fun they had, THAT will be justice,” Weslosky adds.

A movie that preaches acceptance, tolerance, and that being you is simply fabulous enough? AND it has Tim Curry in a corset?? What are you waiting for?! Grab a squirt gun and a newspaper and go through a “Time Warp” with 200 friends this Halloween! Again! And again! And again!