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Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

“Rocky Horror:” There will never be another cult classic that inspires live performance and audience participation. (Op-Ed)

Are you a Virgin? No, I’m not asking if you’ve ever engaged in sexual activity, I’m asking if you’ve ever been to a performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Newcomers who have never been to a live showing are affectionately referred to as Virgins, and they are baptized into the cult following surrounding the 1975 science-fiction-horror rock musical. Even if you’ve watched the film from the comfort of your own home, you’re still a Virgin.

To fully and properly experience The Rocky Horror Picture Show in all its glory, you must dress up, enter the theater at midnight, and purchase props. That’s right, audience participation is a must. Virgins should not feel intimidated, as they are expected to not understand a damn thing that happens. No one is quietly watching the film in a dark theatre, remaining still, silent, and respectful; attendees scream at designated points during the film and throw items such as rice, newspapers, toast (unbuttered), and toilet paper. It is complete and utter chaos. Whenever a character utters the name “Brad Majors,” the audience yells “ASS****” at the top of their lungs. Local actors perform in front of the screen the entire time, performing complex musical numbers and engaging in call-and-response chants from the audience.

This unique phenomenon was born in 1976. Despite Rocky Horror bombing at the box office, Denise Borden, manager of the Waverly Theater, replaced their typical midnight showing with the eclectic film. Some audience members began cheering on the heroes, booing the victims, and creating the most iconic responses that are still chanted in unison today.  “These pioneers of audience participation from the balcony included two young ladies named Amy and Theresa; Bill O’Brien, the first person to dress as Dr. Frank-N-Furter; Lori Davis, who wrote the Ten Commandments of Rocky Horror; and Louis Farese, a kindergarten teacher from Staten Island,” writes Sal Piro, who was there from the very beginning. The regulars returned for every midnight showing, with Farese being credited as the first person to ever shout “Buy an umbrella, you cheap b****!” when the female lead, Janet, walks in the rain.

Across the nation, showings of Rocky Horror can still be found today, and they are in high demand. Tickets sell out fast, and the culture surrounding the film is thriving. There is no other film in history that has amassed such a cult following and unique rituals. Look at the script for audience participation; it’s massive. There is not a moment of silence during the entire film. Yelling out obscenities in a theater is a massive faux pas, but not for this film.

It is unlikely that another film will garner the same cult following, much less naturally develop a unique experience that blends film, theater, and audience participation. You simply must experience Rocky Horror at least once in your life — don’t die a Virgin.


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