Time for the Time Warp: Rocky Horror comes to Albany
By Rachel Genzer
For the fifth consecutive year, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was shown at the Palace Theater on Monday, Oct. 20. “The Kids of Albany,” the Palace Theater’s live “shadowcast,” performed the show alongside the movie as it played. Tickets were sold at the door and online for $7.
An over-the-top science fiction comedy horror rock musical, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has become a Halloween classic and a cultural phenomenon since it first premiered in 1975. “Rocky Horror” is a parody and send-up of the B movies and horror films of the 1950s and 60s, heavily influenced by the punks and glam rockers of the 1970s. In “Rocky Horror,” a young and seemingly boring couple, Brad and Janet, get stranded at a spooky castle inhabited by an alien transvestite, Dr. Frank N. Furter, where they experience sexual liberation.
Although initially a failure at the box office, “Rocky Horror” was re-released as a midnight movie on April Fools Day 1976 at the Waverly Theater in New York City, where the film gained a loyal following. Fans began to dress up as the characters, usually in risqué costumes and makeup. They also created traditions like throwing various props into the audience and dancing to the Time Warp along with the characters in the movie. The cult-like following became a nationwide phenomenon.
The audience participation involved with “Rocky Horror” helped to separate the film from any other generic horror spoof. The goofy nature of the film created a laid back atmosphere for moviegoers. As a result, a “counter dialogue” formed and has been passed down through thousands of viewings around the world. There are many long and exaggerated pauses adding to the campiness and the overly dramatic nature of the movie. These pauses became opportunities for viewers to shout back responses, usually sexual and explicit in nature. A milder example would be when Dr. Frank N. Furter stares at the audience and says, “I see you shiver with antici…pation.” Audiences will typically chime in and yell “SAY IT!”
Another result of audience participation has been the use of props. Rice or birdseed is customarily thrown during the opening scene, where the two main characters, Brad and Janet, are at a wedding. Audience members will take a newspaper and hold it over their heads during a scene where Janet does the same, as other fans use water guns to squirt water into the audience to imitate rain.
During the “There’s a light” verse of “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” people will wave candles in the air. When Brad yells “Great Scott!” fans take a roll of toilet paper and toss it into the air above, covering and interlinking other audience members. Each theater has its own restrictions on which props they allow, so instead of throwing rice, blowing bubbles is preferred for easier cleanup. Also, some theaters do not permit open flames, and flashlights are recommended instead. To combat the issue of non-uniform prop lists, the Palace Theater sold pre-made prop kits at the door for $3. Each prop kit contained playing cards, a newspaper, birdseed, rubber gloves, and confetti.
Traditions are specific to each theater and group, but there is typically a pre-show ritual that involves those who have never seen “Rocky Horror” live before. Within the community, these people are called “virgins,” and depending on the theater, they’re invited up on stage to be playfully embarrassed. At the Palace Theater, “The Kids of Albany” brought about 10 virgins up and publicly paddled their butts. This sort of initiation is seen as a rite of passage to “Rocky Horror” fans.
“Rocky Horror” has had a large impact on popular culture, and has become a cult classic in the truest sense, with a large, passionate, and devoted fan base. As the narrator of the film says, emotion is “a powerful and irrational master.” Many fans agree, as the sense of community at these shows transcends the silliness of the plot.