It was great when it all began, we were regular Frankie fans. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a pop culture reach like no other. Every Friday or Saturday night for the past 44 years, social outcasts and weirdos of all ages have filed into midnight showings of this cult classic film, to lose their “virginity,” blow off steam shouting obscenities at the screen or just let their freak flag fly in what we now call “safe spaces.”
A motley crew of 25YL writers and editors plus friends of the site gathered to discuss the timeless appeal of Rocky Horror, moderated by Staff Writer Rachel Stewart, and including TV Editor Cat Smith, “Twin Peaks” Managing Editor J.C. Hotchkiss and Staff Writers Natasha BC Smith and Brien Allen, along with special guests Kerry D. and Laurel Detkin.
It’s just a jump to the left….
Rachel: Alright, so when did everyone first see The Rocky Horror Picture Show? My story is pretty standard suburbia and Bible Belt-ish: I saw it senior year of high school, on VH1. And—this will date me—it was Pop Up Video style. Of course, I was obsessed and bought it on VHS soon after because, sadly, there were no showings or shadow casts [in my town]. We had a few random Halloween showings, but at one some dude showed up with a 10-pound bag of rice and threw it THE WHOLE TIME. So, yeah, lame.
Cat: I started going to one near me the summer after I graduated high school. No shadow cast or anything, but shouting at the screen was fun. One time, a couple of friends dressed up with me and we performed it for our own fun. Anyway, sometime later that summer, I went to see it in NYC. I wore my costume because I assumed that was what people did, even if they were just the audience (my earliest Rocky Horror memories were from the movie Fame). Suddenly, a guy comes over and says “Have you played Magenta before? Are you good? Do you want to go on tonight, because ours didn’t show up.”
I faked my way through the show that night, they liked me, asked me to join the cast. I jumped at the chance, and it owned my life for the next three years or so, mostly as Magenta—I did a six-month stint as Janet when I was dating a Brad.
This was when Sal Piro was still hosting the show regularly. I have fond memories of performing Saturday nights, but coming down Fridays anyway, so we could sit in the lobby and talk about Thursday’s “Twin Peaks.”
Natasha: Oh man, Pop Up Video! I was introduced to Rocky Horror in sort of a weird way. I was staying with a friend when we were 13, and her mum had a soundtrack of a production of the play, but instead of just the songs, it had all the dialogue as well. We got obsessed with it and when I left my friend copied it onto a cassette for me. I listened to it over and over the whole summer. I think at the end of the summer I finally saw Rocky Horror on VHS at home. Later that year, I saw the play for the first time. About three years later I first saw the film with a shadow cast, but they only did half of the show (shadow casts aren’t much of a thing in the UK where I grew up). I finally got to see a proper American shadow cast when I was 20, seven years after my Rocky Horror obsession began!
Rachel: I mean, the music is what drew me in, too. The songs are so good. Richard O’Brien knows how to write a musical or two. “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen” from Shock Treatment is like the greatest country song of all time. (We’ll come back to that in a bit.)
Brien: Heh, I was in college, went with two buddies. They were short a member of their shadow cast, and literally, we’re recruiting out of the audience. Asking each one of us if we looked like a rocky? Like we had any idea what that meant.
Rachel: Man, did ya’ll get pulled into the fray?! What did you do?
Brien: We stayed pretty quiet, we had no idea at the time what was going on. But by the end, we were hooked and started coming every weekend.
Rachel: Nice! I was also deathly afraid of live showings because I heard they did weird things to the “virgins” so I made sure I knew some weird stuff to shout at the screen when I went to my first screening. I also dressed up like Janet.
Cat: Oh man. I made my dad come to the show once (I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me), and Sal Piro devirginized him with “Sal’s pelvic thrusts.” My poor dad. he was a very good sport about it.
Brien: Yeah, we went in cold. This was Colorado Springs, kind of a small town and small theater for it. They were doing it because they loved it, they weren’t really putting on a big giant show per se.
Natasha: I was scared of the virgin sacrifice, too! I managed to avoid it through a loophole. The UK cast I saw didn’t do a virgin sacrifice, then when I saw a full US cast I was no longer a virgin since I’d seen the UK cast. I’ve seen Sal Piro at a couple of cons but that’s about it.
Cat: Sal’s the greatest. I’m in his second book, “Creatures of the Night II.” He was running the fan club out of his apartment, and we would go over and stuff envelopes and watch “All My Children.” We all went to the UK for RockyCon ’92, and when I came down in my costume, he shrieked “everyone, this is MY Magenta!” I just missed the group photoshoot for the first book, but I’m in the second a couple of times. So is Kerry, with her Shock Treatment cast.
Kerry: I became acutely aware of Rocky Horror when MTV did coverage of the 15th anniversary in 1990. It took me a year to find a theater close enough to where I lived: Westfield, NJ, in the fall of 1991. I don’t remember the name of the theater, because it was torn down years ago.
Here’s a funny thing: I vaguely remember seeing “Entertainment Tonight” do a quick segment on Rocky Horror for its 10th anniversary, and they showed the Time Warp and then Frank chasing down Eddie with the axe. I thought it really was a horror movie, and I was afraid to see it! Flash forward five years, and the coverage highlighted the fans and their intense love for their interactions with the movie and the audiences. The comradery I saw was what sparked my interest.
J.C.: When I was a freshman in high school, I was in a show called “Charley’s Aunt”. It was a decent-sized cast and when we went to the cast party, someone yelled “Put in the tape!” And that tape was Rocky Horror. And I was hooked. Like a moth to the flame. So I found out it was a cast party ritual and ever one after it was played. I was Columbia once for Halloween. I could do Little Nell’s voice like nobody’s business.
Laurel: I was 14 years old. My best friend at the time was OBSESSED with Tim Curry and told me about this weird movie-musical he was in that she wanted to watch at a sleepover one day. We watched it and decided to look it up on the internet (I had just gotten my first laptop) and discovered the AMAZING community and incredible resources. We watched the movie over and over again religiously, practiced callback lines, and listened to RockyPod (one of the very first podcasts ever) – we even called in and made friends with one of the hosts! We preached the gospel of Frank-N-Furter to our friends and soon converted them as well.
Rachel: So who all have been in a shadow cast? And if so, who’s your go-to character? I’ve only done cosplay—Janet and Magenta-ish for one-off showings. Shadow casts are beyond my skill.
J.C.: Sad to say I was never in a shadow cast. But part of me always wanted to play Frank or Riff.
Kerry: I belonged to two separate casts, probably about two years each. Even though I was a theatrical girl at heart, I was too shy to ever audition for shows before Rocky Horror. My first night seeing Rocky Horror at a new theater, (and probably only the fourth time I had gone overall), the Magenta had not shown up so I volunteered. I had so much fun I ended up auditioning and getting the part. There was no holding me back at that point.
Laurel: I started attending my local cast (Bawdy Cast in Menlo Park, what up!) every month. I volunteered as a Virgin Sacrifice SEVERAL times until they started to recognize me and they wouldn’t let me up anymore. I was in Diabolical Chickens for two years. After I graduated college, I took a break for a while and then I joined NYCRHPS in September 2017 and have been performing in shows regularly ever since!
Natasha: I was on Sins o’ the Flesh in L.A. for five years. I always wanted to play Magenta, but ended up as a Transylvanian instead and then just sorta got comfortable doing that, so I stayed as a Transylvanian for the whole five years.
Cat: I didn’t play [Magenta and Janet] at the same time. Janet was just those six months, and the rest of the time was Mags. I subbed in for Columbia once, but I wasn’t very good at it. Kept making Magenta faces. Sadly, it happens far too often that your casting is affected by whom you are dating.
Brien: I married my Janet, but that’s a long story. I’m proud to say I’ve been in five shadow casts nationwide. Started out as Riff in Colorado Springs then changed to Brad in Spokane, San Antonio, and Austin. Then one summer during college, I played with the Columbus Ohio cast, probably as Riff but I can’t remember anymore.
Natasha: I still go to see Sins about once a month (my roommate is still on cast) and they have quite a few cast members who play multiple characters. This week their Brad couldn’t make the show at the last minute, so they had to do this big casting switch around, the Frank had to play Brad instead, so then the Eddie had to play Frank, so then an Eddie that was supposed to have the night off had to come in and perform!
J.C.: You know what’s funny? I used to remember all the things yelled, but I think I need a refresher. I haven’t seen it live in a hella long time and I’m a bit rusty.
Cat: Dude, none of the audience lines are the same! The new kids all yell new shit, I felt very old the one time I went a few years back so my boyfriend could be devirginized.
Rachel: I mean, some of them stick, but politics and disasters are usually the new things. I’m going to a one-off showing mid-October, I’ll report back with what the kids are saying these days.
Cat: I was the only one who said ” a greaser from the freezer like a bat out of hell”. I was sad.
Rachel: I always yell “The last one in the pool has to be in Shock Treatment.”
Brien: I would love to hear a current Audience Participation album. I bet the Trump jokes are amazeballs.
Natasha: There are definitely region-specific ones as well. Here there is a callback about In-N-Out [burgers]. There are still a lot of older callbacks but a lot of us have no idea what they’re referring to anymore, heh.
Cat: “Would you drink three bottles of champagne and then go swimming? Natalie Would!”
J.C.: Funny side story: one of the anniversaries, I can’t remember which one, VH1 had a contest to call in and win and I won a t-shirt, a copy of the film on VHS and a karaoke cd. It was around 1993 and 1994.
Cat: The VHS was released in 1990 or so, and the 15th was soon after that we did a bunch of TV promos for the VHS in various video stores around Manhattan.
Brien: I started in 1988. We had a con bought bootleg VHS passed around and copied many times.
Natasha: [Speaking of contests] J.C., When I was a teenager I entered a competition where you had to write a haiku about Richard O’Brien, to promote his album that was coming out. I won a signed poster of him with my haiku!
Cat: That’s freaking beautiful! Do you remember the haiku?
Natasha: Nope! I know I wrote two, one about the man himself and one about “The Crystal Maze” (one of my favorite childhood TV shows which he hosted).
Cat: I got Richard O’Brien to sign my cleavage once. He wrote it in huge letters, all across my chest, and gave a squeeze when he was finished. Someone took a photo – there was a pic of my signed cleavage on the marquee long after I had left the cast.
Rachel: So obviously, everyone here felt a connection to Rocky—and it sounds like everyone’s life was impacted in a variety of ways; shadow casts, cons, contests, spouses—but what’s the biggest impact it’s had on your lives?
Cat: Lessons in who NOT to date?
Rachel: Fair enough.
Natasha: That’s so hard to answer, I don’t know if I could pick just one thing!
Cat: I think it started me on the road to cosplay. And we all know where that lead.
Rachel: RIVER SONG! (Our favorite Doctor Who character.)
J.C.: I’ve always loved performing, but the way I felt when watching Rocky Horror always made me feel like I could be stronger and just more confident. Tim Curry also made me feel like anyone could wear fishnets and look fierce!
Kerry: I lost my fear of public speaking. All the confidence I learned I brought with me to auditions for other shows. If not for Rocky Horror, I would not have auditioned for the New York Renaissance Faire, which is where I met my husband. I also have several dear friends that are still in my life 25-plus years later because of this movie.
Laurel: A lot has changed in my life since I was 14. I joined my first cast when I was 18 as Columbia (Diabolical Chickens at Sarah Lawrence College) and I am coming up on my 10th year playing the funky little clown. But now, several relationships, careers, and lifestyle changes later, my love of Rocky Horror and the surrounding community remains a constant. I have met the most incredible people and I love knowing that I can go to any major city in the country and find something intense, loving, welcoming, and familiar.
Brien: I don’t feel like it had an impact on my life necessarily, but it shaped me more so. I found my tribe. I was in the Air Force (true story) and moving around a lot. Every town I went right to the Rocky performance and settled in with them in no time.
J.C.: I agree with Brien. You definitely find your tribe with this.
Rachel: I mean, for me, generally, it led to a better understanding of acceptance. I discovered Rocky Horror around the same time as Moulin Rouge and Velvet Goldmine. Having been brought up with a whole lotta Jesus, it showed me that well, everyone is fabulous as they are.
Cat: Rocky Horror definitely is a boost in the moxie department. I’ve always been a performer, but Rocky Horror helped me at least temporarily ignore my body image issues enough to run around in my scanties.
J.C: I have my friends who love it with me (and then ones that don’t get the love at all).
Rachel: My parents didn’t understand it, but they’d rather me watch Rocky Horror [on tv at home] then go to stupid high school parties with alcohol.
J.C.: I also repeat lines from it in many situations.
Rachel: It’s incessantly quotable. “Even smiling makes my face ache.”
J.C.: Funny, Rachel my mother loves it too. Which I find incredibly humorous since she’s very straight edge when it comes to many of the scenarios and situations in the movie.
Rachel: I’ve often said I want “I’m Going Home” played at my funeral. It just feels right. “Cards for sorrow…”
Natasha: I mean, even without the community around it, it’s had an impact on me just by being something I love and being kind of an escape through the hard times, as well as helping me to be myself a little bit more.
When I moved to L.A. it had more of a direct impact on things because I met so many people and made connections through it. It led to me meeting some of my closest friends, including my roommate of seven years, I got my apartment because of it, I got a job that I loved and kept for five years because of it, I’ve gotten three pets from it, a boyfriend (though we’re no longer together), so much of my life came from connections through Sins!
I’ve also got to have some amazing experiences, going to cons, performing RHPS at a music festival, all sorts of stuff! Oh, also it’s part of what inspired me to go to New Zealand for my first time traveling on my own, which was a great experience–I wanted to see the Riff Raff statue!
Rachel: Ahhhhh! And New Zealand is the land of hobbits and Heavenly Creatures!
Brien: I’ve never heard of this Riff Raff statue?!
Natasha: The Riff Raff statue is in Hamilton, where Richard O’Brien lived when he was a teenager and where he would go to see all the B-movies that ended up inspiring Rocky Horror. It’s actually really cool, there’s this whole square with all this Rocky Horror stuff around the statue, I was so happy when I went and I kept discovering more little details! They also had my favorite Rocky Horror line written on the wall “The darkness must go down the river of night’s dreaming, flow morphia slow, let the sun and light come streaming into my life”. I have a ton of pics I can dig out if anyone’s interested. They even had Transylvanian lightning bolts on the trash cans!
Rachel, I went to Hobbiton, too. Also, I always wanted the Whole Gory Story (the soundtrack I first heard) version of “Superheroes” played at my funeral, I’d forgotten about that until you mentioned “I’m Going Home” just now!
Rachel: “Superheroes” is so underrated and I hate cuts that don’t have it in.
Natasha: Oh my god, I forgot they existed (cuts without “Superheroes”). It’s one of my favorites.
Cat: Oh, and it bears mentioning that lots of people, myself included, came out as bi[sexual] as a result of this movie and the community.
Rachel: I feel like Rocky Horror was probably one of the first real “safe spaces” for people. I see a lot of that in the cosplay community today, but I think it probably started with Rocky Horror.
Rachel: So for those of you who were in shadow casts, when was it time to leave?
Cat: I think I was still dating the ‘Brad’ when we both decided to quit…I had been running the cast for a while, and it became work, not fun. And then when I broke up with him, he eventually went back to it, but between [other] bad choices in men and just being burnt on the whole thing, I never looked back.
Brien: I think I’ve played every role at least once. We did a lot of change up nights in the Austin cast (Queerios). I do enjoy playing Frank, but I guess I’m a Brad at heart. I had to stop going after I got married to my current wife, she’s not so much a fan.
Natasha: I was on Sins o’ the Flesh in LA for five years as a Transylvanian. Eventually, it got to the point that I was too exhausted to keep up with it between work and writing classes I was taking (one of them on Saturday mornings, which didn’t help). I wanted to focus more on my writing. I didn’t want to feel the obligation to perform every week, even when I was tired. So I quit. That was about three years ago.
My time ended up freeing up a lot more, but I haven’t rejoined as I like being able to just go when I feel like it without the obligation. I tend to go to the show about once a month, which has been the case since I quit. My roommate (and close friend) is still on the cast as Riff Raff so I still feel fairly connected to the cast.
Rachel: I can see how it could become like work – conventions get like that when you’re running panels or entire programming tracks. Especially when it’s something you started doing for fun. You have to leave it for a bit and then come back refreshed.
Brien: I guess all in all, I was in and out of Rocky Horror for 10 years. I do miss it.
Cat: Plus, running the cast is like trying to herd cats. Difficult.
Rachel: Cat herding of any kind is difficult – you’ve got drama, you’ve got different schedules, all the things. Ahhhhh, memories.
Cat: It was a wonderful experience at the time, though. And I got to be fairly well known in the community, from the fan club and the NYC cast. I still have the statuette I won in the fancy dress contest at RockyCon ’92.
Natasha: Rocky Horror and the people I met through it actually helped me to realize that I’m nonbinary as well (I still use she/her pronouns). I’ve always hated make-up but sort of felt pressured to wear it. When I left cast I decided no more make-up. So if I ever rejoined I don’t think I’d want to be in a performance role wearing make-up again, I’d probably join tech or become a cast photographer or something. I could never run a cast. I never even volunteered to be a Transylvanian leader, and that was just being in charge of a tiny part of the cast!
J.C.: I look at Rocky Horror like a discovery. Like Frank (and the rest of the Transylvanians) had to portray themselves differently in public and then could be who they were when they were home. So the metaphor is loud and clear to be who you are. But I also feel that Brad and Janet are the ones that realize you’re never who appear to be until you let yourself be free to be who you are. Do you know what I mean? And I love that about it. Don’t dream it, be it.
Rachel: J.C. Totally! As absurd as the whole floorshow sequence is, the moment Tim Curry opens his mouth and starts singing “Don’t dream it, be it” it was like, you can be whatever you want to be, love whoever you want. In a weird way, Rocky Horror is what church should be but isn’t. Everyone is welcome as they are, to be their authentic self and to be happy. That’s a huge concept at any age.
Laurel: Rocky Horror is a spoof on B-grade horror movies. It’s absolutely irreverent towards Frankenstein and Nosferatu and many others by making them queer and sparkly. Ironically, Rocky Horror plays the queer and sparkly elements straight. It’s the OTHER elements that become irreverent. And that’s why it has not ever been successfully replicated – people keep trying to spoof the queer elements when those are the parts that Rocky Horror takes seriously.
Brien: Did your theaters allow the full range of props? Toast, rice, all that shit? I was just struck by the funniest memory, rigging lighters to have these enormous blow torch flames, for “There’s a Light (Over At the Frankenstein Place.”)
J.C.: The Palace in New Haven did.
Rachel: The one-off showings I go to usually hand out prop bags. But I typically see it at a pub so space is different from an actual theater, and I think they want to control their space.
Natasha: Definitely no lighters, people just use cell phones! No rice or food items. But we sold prop kits with balloons, rubber gloves, glow sticks, playing cards, confetti, noisemakers, and other stuff.
Cat: The 8th Street Playhouse in NYC was where that shit originated. By the time I got there, the show had moved uptown and the midtown theater was stricter about making a mess. We eventually moved back downtown to a different 8th Street theater, and I think they were a little more flexible.
Brien: Yeah, we always stayed after and cleaned up. I remember sometimes assholes would show up and throw wet spitball wads of toilet paper that we would have to scrape off the screen and walls.
Cat: Back in the OG days, people brought EVERYTHING.
J.C.: My friend and I used to bring our own prop bags. Toast, rice, water gun, newspaper, the works!
Cat: When the London cast performed at the 1992 con, they handed out goodie bags with props.
Natasha: However, once a year we have Alumni Night when former cast members come back and perform/have a reunion. When I first joined cast, every Alumni Night there was a giant tortilla fight, people just throwing tortillas all over the theatre. It was amazing! But that’s not allowed anymore.
Rachel: What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen thrown at a show?
Brien: Well, it didn’t get thrown, but my girlfriend had a penis-shaped squirt gun they got passed around quite a bit.
J.C.: I was going to say I think I remember sometime phallic and rubber being thrown at a show once.
Natasha: Just after I moved to LA Sins hosted the 35th anniversary con and we had a showing of Rocky Horror in this old historic movie palace in Downtown LA I remember more people throwing toilet paper than I’d ever seen, from the balcony, all across the theatre, just constant rolls of toilet paper arcing through the air for a solid five minutes. It was weirdly beautiful!
Rachel: That sounds like Rocky Horror heaven—screaming and never-ending toilet paper streams!
Natasha: Also, in the UK we may not have shadow casts but people do bring props to the play and throw stuff there! I guess it depends on the theatre but I’ve definitely seen or thrown rice there.
Rachel: Switching gears slightly to what I consider the most important question: Shock Treatment—yay or nay? Because I should probably actually be writing a 5,000 piece on why Shock Treatment is one of the most prophetic films of our time.
Laurel: Eh. I could take it or leave it.
Kerry: VERY MUCH YAY. I would even dare to say that the music is better than Rocky Horror! I don’t want to brag but I think I may be a bit of the reason that Shock Treatment started trending again in the 90s. I rented the movie and watched it several times until it grew on me. I showed it to my then-boyfriend, who loved it immediately and brought it to our friend and cast leader Larry Viezel. I was Nation McKinley, and I am proud to say that a picture of me as Nation is in the Sal Piro “Creatures of the Night II” book.
Cat: I LOVE SHOCK TREATMENT ALWAYS AND FOREVER. Even Richard O’Brien says the score is better.
Rachel: I literally bought it on DVD (whenever it was finally released) sight unseen. I had heard terrible things, but I watched it and loved it. Then I realized I loved it slightly more than Rocky Horror and felt slightly bad. It was like I had cheated on Tim Curry.
Brien: Definitely a yay. Though I always wished they had made Revenge of the Old Queen.
Natasha: I love Shock Treatment! However, the way I feel about Shock Treatment might be similar to the way some people feel about Rocky Horror. I think Rocky Horror is incredibly meaningful and a great movie, but I know some people think it’s a bad movie, meaningless but fun. I kind of feel that way about Shock Treatment. Not that it’s bad, but it makes no sense whatsoever and I don’t feel connected to it in the same meaningful way, but I still love it because it’s fun and the songs are great.
J.C.: I have to say…I have never seen Shock Treatment. But I guess I have to now.
Cat: To me, Shock Treatment makes perfect sense. I think it is way ahead of its time and way more deep than most people realize.
Rachel: Richard O’Brien captures the insanity of America beautifully. (And I prefer Jessica Harper’s Janet.)
Cat: YES.”It’s not a sequel, it’s not a prequel, it’s an EQUAL.”
Natasha: For years I wanted an Oscar Drill and the Bits t-shirt, to the extent that I was going to design one on one of those websites where you can make t-shirts. I never got around to doing that, but I finally managed to get an Oscar Drill and the Bits t-shirt at a con I went to a few years ago.
Rachel: Yes! TeePublic has some cool Shock Treatment shirts. I treated myself to one of Janet in her little black dress and red heels.
Natasha: Ooh cool. My pet rats have chewed a few holes in my Oscar Drill shirt, but I still wear it!
Cat: We had talked about doing a Shock Treatment show, and Sal wanted me as Janet. I bought fabric for the Little Black Dress but that was before I could actually sew. I should really build that outfit one day.
Rachel: Also, let’s give the movie team props for rewriting a film to be indoors when they couldn’t shoot on location.
Natasha: Wait, it was supposed to have outdoors parts?
Rachel: Yes, it was supposed to be filmed on location in America but there was a guild dispute so the whole thing was rewritten to be on a set. I think it was supposed to be a direct sequel, aka Revenge of the Old Queen, but then things got pushed around and somehow we got Shock Treatment. There’s this Rocky Horror documentary where they’re hyping Shock Treatment and people are like “the 80s is ready for Shock Treatment” and then it went nowhere only for it to have basically tell us that reality shows like The Real World and the Kardashians would end us one day.
Natasha: Oh I just remembered I saw the play of Shock Treatment that they did in London a few years back! It was great and they changed some of the plot around a bit, but I don’t remember the details too well now.
Rachel: I’m so jealous! I saw a trailer for that production and wanted to see it so bad!
Natasha: I think they gave Ralph a bigger role as a closeted gay man who was in love with Farley Flavors.
Rachel: That makes sense somehow. Like if Rocky Horror was a social commentary on ’50s attitudes towards sexuality, Shock Treatment is a look at how “reality” depends on who’s watching and whether or not those people’s opinions matter. Again, authenticity is really at the core.
Natasha: I’ll have to give that some thought. And maybe watch it again! What’s everyone’s favorite Shocky song? Mine is “Lullaby.”
Brien: “Little Black Dress,” has to be.
Rachel: The whole “Lullaby” sequence is beautiful. I’d have to go with “In My Own Way.” But like I said earlier, “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen” is the best country song ever written.
Cat: “Breaking Out.”
Rachel: And I love the whole “I’ve just come to tell you how fabulous I am” moment that screams of Frank-n-Furter, except it’s Janet.
Cat: Of course, I troll all “Doctor Who” cons with Sophie Aldred with “YOU’RE LOOKING AT AN ACE.”
Natasha Smith: I just remembered another fun Shocky fact! I once met Rik Mayall at a book signing. He was very well known in the UK for all the sitcoms he did, but I showed up with my Shock Treatment CD and got him to sign that!
Cat: I love The Young Ones!
Rachel: Now, to wrap up: why do you think people are drawn to and continue to celebrate Rocky Horror even now?
Kerry: Rocky Horror is always going to be left of the mainstream, and there will always be kids who don’t fit in with the normals. Rocky Horror appeals to us because we see a little bit of ourselves in the characters.
Cat: I mean, those reasons people were drawn to it in the first place never go away. They’re just kind of louder? If that makes any sense?
Laurel: I think there are several factors: First of all, it’s WEIRD. It’s really freaking strange. It’s hard to classify and it’s hard to describe and people are drawn to that.
Second, it has a cult following. People are drawn to things that other people are vocal about enjoying and the community has grown larger and larger because of that. There are a lot of people in the community who don’t like the movie, don’t perform, or just don’t engage with anything Rocky-related except for the other people in the community! It’s counter-culture (which is always vaguely cult-ish) and it’s subversive and it’s welcoming.
Third, the whole culture is very aggressive and cathartic. And I don’t mean that it’s a mean or angry culture – I mean that it’s intense. It’s loud, sparkly, in-your-face, and yes – there is anger and sexual aggression too. Rocky Horror provides a cathartic space to be intense, sexual, and angry without hurting yourself or anyone else. Where else can you yell, “HOW DO YOU GET THE CUM OFF YOUR LIPS? LICK IT, BITCH” in time with Richard O’Brian’s voice and Pat Quinn’s lips?
Fourth, it’s EVERYWHERE. There are casts and communities in every most major American cities and the community meets every year for a convention so that we can meet people from other casts and get to know folks from all over. The internet has helped keep the community strong and it has definitely helped others (including myself) find the community in the first place because not everyone happens upon the right movie theater on a Friday or Saturday at midnight.
Fifth, it’s popular. Rocky Horror as a concept has leaked into a lot of pop culture and people see that and go, “Hey that looks fun and seedy and sparkly – what is that? I want to try.” There will always be someone coming to Rocky Horror for the first time.
Sixth and lastly, it’s always changing. We watch the same movie every week, but the experience changes with current events thanks to audience participation. Brad’s line “It’s probably some kind of hunting lodge for rich weirdos” is always the same, but callback line “Describe Sarah Palin’s vagina!” right before that line would not have made sense in 1993! Audiences are always coming up with new ways to engage with the show and the casts likewise are always coming up with new ways to engage the audience. It’s not a stagnant show.
Brien: It’s so un-PC that it’s refreshing. It’s inclusive, everyone is welcome, and everyone gets made fun of. It’s a place where you can wave your freak flag and know that everyone else is going to look at it and say, cool.
Cat: I’m so glad [my daughter] Gracie got it out of her system early. She already did the obsessing thing at 12, so when she gets to be 18, maybe she can be chill about it, even if she is a fan. [At a con] more recently I saw Little Nell at a con here that had her, Patricia Quinn, and Barry Bostwick— the one where I was getting pics for Gracie’s birthday, and Patricia wouldn’t let anyone charge me for anything.
Natasha: Well, part of my defense of it to people who think it’s a bad movie is that I don’t think a movie needs amazing production values etc to be good. I think to be good a movie just needs to be entertaining and/or meaningful. Rocky Horror is both of those things to a huge degree, and that’s still true today, so I think it will always strike a chord with people. It’s a movie and community for outsiders, any kind of outsiders really. Outsiders always need a place to go where they can feel safe and welcome.
It’s also become a sort of a rite of passage in the U.S. it seems. The Sins [cast] gets so many Rocky Horror virgins showing up every week like it’s an experience you have to have? And for some people, it might just be a one-off experience, but for some people, something about it will resonate with them and they’ll keep coming back.
Cat: Fun fact, when [my boyfriend] Alex and I went, we went as the Eleventh Doctor and River Song. The cast was VERY excited to devirginize the Doctor.
Rachel: While we don’t have showings here, it’s like comfort food in a way. Sometimes on a lazy Saturday morning, I’ll curl up and turn it on and just enjoy it. I do love the energy of live performances and people watching and generally acting a fool.
Natasha: Haha! Oh man, Sins had a sci-fi theme night once and the criminologist was played by a bunch of different cast members each as a different Doctor!
Rachel: Now I want a shadow cast filled with Doctor Who companions and Daleks!
Natasha: Yeah, I mean in the U.K. we don’t really have shadow casts either but it’s still hugely popular. People go to see the play when it comes around, which always feels really special, and watch the DVD, and obsess over it and bond with friends over it.
It’s also almost mainstream now but still kind of counter-culture at the same time? Like when I was a teenager I felt like I could talk to people about loving Rocky Horror and it was almost a way of telling people who I was in a non-scary way, without actually talking about all the ways in which I was different or an outsider? I dunno if that makes sense!
Rachel: No it does, it’s that “safe space” we were talking about earlier. And like others said, some people sort of do a drive-by, and others stay longer – but all are welcome.
Brien: One big happy dysfunctional family.
Natasha: Yeah definitely, but I mean even in places that don’t have regular showings it sort of helps people just by being part of popular culture, part of the conversation.
Rachel: Although I don’t think I’ve ever met someone that doesn’t like Rocky Horror. Like some people might not get it (like my parents) but they were never “turn that off”—me and dad LOVE Meat Loaf so we used to listen to his albums a lot when I was a teenager.
Natasha: My parents are sort of indifferent I think—they did take me to see the play a few times when I was a teenager! My mum even took me to see it on Broadway with front row seats! The tickets were my 16th birthday present. One of the Phantoms (kind of like the play’s version of Transylvanians) flirtily touched my mum’s knee and I was really jealous, haha. My mum does love Barry Bostwick though!
Cat: Barry Bostwick keeps getting handsomer as he gets older.
Rachel: Lord, it’s the truth.
Natasha: Yes! I love older men anyway and he’s definitely aging well.
Cat: And he’s an absolute doll. Every time I see him, he tries to convince me that he DOES remember me from that one time I stage doored him at “Nick And Nora” (Broadway show that ran for five minutes) a hundred years ago. I’m like, you are adorable and full of shit, you totally do not remember me and it is okay. I think he does it because I always tell him he keeps getting more handsome and he should stop taking all the handsome because it’s not fair.
Natasha: He always seems really fun and seems to be up for Rocky Horror events, I’ve seen him at a few.
Brien: I’ve never met or seen any of them in person. So jealous of you guys.
Cat: There’s still time. I doubt Patricia, Barry, or Nell will ever stop doing cons.
Natasha: It probably helps living in LA or NYC to be fair!
Rachel: They were all in North Carolina with Tim Curry my birthday weekend. If I hadn’t already had plans, I would have driven up there, haha. I keep waiting for Dragon Con to do another big Rocky guest extravaganza.
Natasha: We actually get celebrities randomly showing up at Sins shows sometimes, just because they want to go to Rocky Horror and it’s the local cast.
Rachel: Now that’s the best!
Cat: Strangely enough, Weird Al came to the NY show once. This was before I joined (and before I met him), but I found it funny that he came to ours, since he is from LA.
Rachel: Alright, what’s everyone’s favorite Rocky Horror related memory? (edited)
Cat: I mean, apart from playing “Science Fiction Double Feature” with Patricia Quinn (twice)? (Most Pat quote of the weekend: “Does everyone from ‘Doctor Who’ play the ukulele?”) It was crazy. She asked if I knew any songs from Rocky Horror. I said “uhh…yeah!” and I looked up the chords and wrote them on my arm. Totally unexpected and surreal.
If we’re talking old school—oh, I’ve got one. When I was in LA for the 20th anniversary, the karaoke CD had just dropped, and they did a karaoke contest. I sang “Hot Patootie” on stage at the Pantages Theater in front of however many people the Pantages holds (a lot).
I didn’t win because they did it by applause and the guy who sang “Sweet Transvestite” was local and had friends in the house, but the DJ who was hosting even said on the mic that I should have won—and Dori Hartley stopped me backstage after and said I was amazing, she had thought it was a recording at first.
Cat: LEGEND. I met her a few times, and I knew Sal’s sister Lillias, who was the OG Magenta. She actually gave me her costumes We met and made friends, and then she was apparently cleaning out her attic, and told Sal to give them to me. I still have them.
Natasha: This is another question where it seems impossible to pick just one!
Going to see the play as a teenager and just feeling this sense of pure happiness and freedom that I never felt any other time. Going to see it on Broadway as my 16th birthday present.
SinsCon (the 35th-anniversary con) was an amazing weekend and that was how I started to meet people two weeks after I moved to LA.
Performing with Sins at Beach Goth music festival was amazing—I never thought I’d get to do something like that and it was so much fun! I think I had a better time than some of the other cast members though. The first night most of them were pretty tired and left early, but me and one other cast member stayed to see Sir Mix-A-Lot. Plus the bands everyone was excited about were Ghost and Die Antwoord, but since our performance was at the same time as theirs, no one got to see them, except me, because I was a Transylvanian and only in the first half of the movie! I also got a free t-shirt for performing there, but when the rest of the cast found out about them they were all gone.
Brien: I guess I don’t have anyone concrete memory. My memory is like swiss cheese anyhow. I just remember being in love with it. With the people, the experience of it. My friends, my family. I remember how ridiculously important it was to get the right consistency of burnt toast without turning it black. I remember spending hours after a show at Denny’s, pouring sugar packets directly on my tongue and eating it. I remember the thrill of dropping a new line that made the entire theater laugh. Just everything.
Cat: We doing the show on Fire Island. Sal was the entertainment director of The Ice Palace (the big club in Cherry Grove, one of the big gay communities). During the preshow, a guy stuck a five-dollar bill in my bra. I was like, “Sal, aren’t they all gay?” He said, “Don’t be offended, but he probably thought you were a really good drag queen because that’s what we do with drag queens out here.” I have never been so flattered.
Natasha: As a teenager, I made a birthday card for Richard O’Brien and sent it via my mum’s friends who knew him. He sent me a postcard back, I still have it.
Of course, I have tons of Rocky Horror adjacent memories, which probably don’t count—but memories involving my pet rats that I got from cast members, my friends who I met through the show, all of that stuff
Also, my memories of first discovering that soundtrack with my friend and listening to the copied cassette of it through the summer are pretty special. There was something about it that just made me feel connected to it, and I listened to it the whole time we were staying with my grandparents in upstate New York. I remember listening to it while brushing my teeth and just being so happy, staying up late and listening to it, singing the songs to my dad when we went swimming.
Rachel: Rocky Horror adjacent is a good way to put it. A lot of my memories are just driving around, listening to the songs, or finding out other people loved it, too, and it feeling like something special. Thank you all for taking this strange journey with me!