Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Return to Rocky Horror

The Fangoria Radio stint was fun. Too short, though. I had at least an hour of brilliance I could have expounded. Debbie and Mike Gingold must have plugged everything we were ever involved in and I had a nice moment with Dee Snider when we realized we both hate Kubrick’s version of The Shining. Since I’ve actually gotten death threats (true!) over my opinion of this “classic”, I felt moderately vindicated.

Saturday, on a whim, we went to see Rocky Horror, playing up at the Oaks Theater. This would be our first RHPS screening in at least three years—if you count an aborted attempt to check it out with Ryli Morgan and Mark Baranowski at a showing in North Carolina. As most people know, Amy and I met at Rocky Horror—a frightening fifteen years ago. I started going on a strict weekly basis when I was still in high school, way back in 1990, when it was shown at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, just outside of Pittsburgh. By ’91, I had joined the cast—then known as “The Unnamable Dread”, under the direction of Terry Thome—and began playing primary roles by the end of that year. Including the immortal Frank N. Further.

By 1992, my friends Justin Wingenfeld and Bill Hahner had joined the cast, and we brought aboard the rest of the members who would eventually take over the troupe and rename it “The Junior Chamber of Commerce Players” (most casts name themselves after a line in the movie—which isn’t hard when you’ve memorized the entire movie, movements included, as well as the full script of ever-evolving audience call-backs). Also like most casts, the J.C.C.P. was comprised of a bunch of very frustrated creative types who were desperate to avoid having any real semblance of a life. We were mostly social misfits who were drawn to the misfitery of the movie and the family atmosphere of the regulars. At RHPS, everyone is welcome, gay, straight, bi, undisclosed or undecided. It’s all-inclusive. At least for a while, before the cliques inevitably form.

We were also under the delusion that we were stars somehow, and that the audience was there to see us. This delusion is perfectly understandable, by the way. We worked hard, we were creative, we utilized off-the-wall costumes that deviated from—but still fit in oddly enough—the strict RHPS guidelines set forth by the movie. We had Muppets—particularly a Muppet that Bill Hahner built of Charles Gray’s Criminologist Narrator character, dubbed “Chuckie” that actually went on to international fame thanks to Sal Piro’s Creatures of the Night book series. We used bizarre props. We dressed one of our Rockys in a Chewbacca costume and Riff shaved him with a giant razor halfway through. We used a mannequin as Janet for one catastrophic show. And with all of this, we were playing to roughly the first three rows.

es, we’d get recognized on the street and people applauded wildly when we took our bows, which all led to our delusions of grandeur. Because, and this was proven a number of times, that the audience would show whether we performed—mimicking the movie—or not. And gradually, as we got older and more involved with our education and our oncoming “real life”, we started to realize that we were outgrowing what was really a safety net. We got to perform every week, so we were still actors, right? And would make props, so we were still effects artists and designers. And organizing who played what each week, that was producing. And we’d film the performances, so we were still photographers and filmmakers! And every week, we’d post fliers all over town so that people would come to the show, and make money for the theater owners, and then we’d stay to help clean up and since they were letting us in for free to do all of this work, it was only fair, right?

Amy was a regular, starting on a big Halloween show, where we sold out the theater. She sat in the front row with her friends and started coming on a regular basis after that. We became friends and got together at my 21st birthday party, where I was introduced to medicinal marijuana. Two weeks before, at another party, she’d made me my first drink and, thereby, corrupted me forever. By the end of our first year together, the Hollywood had closed, Rocky moved across town to a theater that was ill-equipped for our blocking and despised the late night clean up. The crowds didn’t follow us. By this time, there was so much in-fighting among the cast that we’d basically given up altogether. I’d already been performing on and off for over five years so I was happy to get the hell away from it.

The friends I made during that time are still, for the most part, some of the closest friends I’ve ever made and people with whom I will continue to work as long as they’ll work with me. There are some folks I met there, of course, who I hope I’ll never see again, but they’re by far in the minority.

But since the late ‘90s, we really haven’t been back. Rocky Horror was not part of our lives, aside from listening to the sound track on long trips. I still remember most of the call-backs and almost all of the dialogue/lyrics word-for-word, making me wonder what all of that replaced in my brain that I actually needed.

Every now and then I’d hear that a theater was playing RHPS and we’d toy with the idea of going, but nothing ever solidified. Then we met Jordan Palez, who did some P.A. work for us on Splatter Movie. He’s involved with the latest incarnation of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Players. Our friends Tara and Dave were planning on going to the next RHPS showing, so we figured, what the hell. We’d make a fun, nostalgia-filled night out of it.

So this past Saturday night, Amy and I found ourselves standing in line to see Rocky Horror. I remembered the last time I’d stood in line to see the movie: seventeen years ago. I felt very old. So much older than most of the kids in line around us.

The new J.C.C.P. cast members bounced around us, asking if there were virgins among our crowd. Tara was wearing a Columbia costume and we were talking about our JCCP days when they popped up. Then Jordan came by screaming that we were virgins, and I realized that when I was part of the show, he was most likely in grade school, if not kindergarten. My mood was not improving.

Fortunately, the tickets were cheap and there was a kick-ass bar called Steve’s Inn right across the street. Several cheap-as-hell drinks later, my mood was back up. There was two of everything, but at least I wasn’t annoyed.

We ran into an old regular, Ed, and his new girlfriend. And I saw other old regulars in the crowd as we searched the crowded theater for seats. It was very surreal. I was drifting down the aisle like the signature shot in a Spike Lee film.

It seemed like forever before the movie started. The cast had to do the virgin roundup, then the “fake-an-orgasm” virgin sacrifice, then a costume contest, then the Tim Curry videos of I Do the Rock and Paradise Garage (which Amy and I tried to drunkenly dance to, but only the cast was dancing and we felt very, very out of place). Then a “bonus” video of Curry singing from The Worst Witch—one of Amy’s favorites, but something I find to be the aural equivalent of a prostate exam. Then the movie… which was, strangely, a digital projection from a DVD.

And suddenly, I’m having a “back in my day” experience. I was astonished that the Oaks hadn’t arranged to get a print of the movie from Fox. The print rental was never that expensive, compared to other movies, but maybe it’s gone up since I left the game. Since they don’t perform every weekend, I understood why the pre-show was so long and elaborate. Our own, even on a weekly basis, seemed interminable as well.

But midway through, I’m the Grinch, feeling affected by the noise, noise, noise, even when I was contributing to it. When I was a hardcore Rocky fan, I got bored immediately after “Sweet Transvestite”, as did the rest of the audience, who usually took the creation scene to go downstairs to smoke (which was another shock—you couldn’t smoke anywhere in the theater, down or up. Not that I smoke, but wading through a thick haze of nicotine exhalation used to be part of the whole experience). So I was bored immediately again, and immediately after, I started to sober up, which is a whole new horrifying experience.

Ed and some of the older audience folks tried to keep the nostalgia going. There were numerous “Mike Watt” callbacks (“What diabolical plan had seized Frank’s crazed imagination?” – “Oral sex with Mike Watt!” “Any sex with Mike Watt!”) courtesy of Ol’ Ed, but I was stuck in Robert Frost territory, constantly reminded that you can’t go home again.

I love the movie. I love the soundtrack. I loved performing it once and still got a kick out of watching these kids experiencing the whole thing while it was still fresh to them. RHPS is that thing that resonates the deepest with the post-high school, mid-college crowd when everything seems fresh and new. Seeing the whole thing with older eyes—yet I was not, by far, the oldest person in the room—I just couldn’t recapture the spirit of the moment. What I did achieve was screaming myself hoarse and sinking deeper into a curmudgeonly fit of “when we did the show…” Glory days.

The cast was great. The show will always be fun. I will always have rice in my pockets. But it’s not my world any more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess I should be happy to have been in the first 3 rows for one of those "glory days" shows.

However, I'm a bit bitter as I'm still waiting for my payment for appearing in one of Mike Watt's early films.

-- Douglas Fir