As a Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History (at least until now), realizing this was the 40th Anniversary of Rocky Horror Picture Show, I sensed fertile ground.
To begin, I contacted Jackie Briggs. Jackie is a performer in HOOPLA!, widely recognized as western NY’s finest Rocky Horror shadow cast. In its second year and rapidly expanding its performance schedule and venues, HOOPLA! features a myriad of talented performers from Buffalo, Rochester, and surrounding areas.
Jackie explained that many cast members and fans have both a passion for the live performances and a fascination with the long history of RHPS , perhaps only rivaled by Star Trek in its cult classic following. In our area, many are actively researching and chronicling the rich tradition of the show.
At the end is probably the most comprehensive account so far: The History of Rocky Horror in Rochester (compiled by several cast members with the history section written by Tom O’Brien). The work — covering 1978-2014 — is well researched, documented, attractively presented and a fun read.
In the Introduction, PJ Ganard writes:
The history of the Rochester RHPS hasn’t really been written down and kept straight for the last thirty-six years. It’s a messy wild forgetful beast moving forward because it must move forward.
To which, PJ adds some post modern historiographic theory, when he says:
I like to think of time [not as a linear process but] as a series of events always taking place. We are still coming to Rocky for the first time, having no clue what is happening.
Very much like my experience at the Cinema Theatre last Saturday night (and Sunday morning), my “First Time.”
Jackie asked had I seen the show before. Was I a “Rocky virgin?” I mentioned as an undergraduate witnessing about 15 minutes of RHPS at Brown University’s Carmichael Hall (the same auditorium we first year students were initiated into a not dissimilar genre with a viewing of Misty Beethoven). Jackie said that 1980s quickie did not count. I was still a virgin.
Never missing an opportunity for gonzo journalism or a theatre photo-op, I happily accepted Jackie’s invitation to join the fun and meet the cast.
Arriving early and wearing my Jack the Ripper costume from the Rochester Ghost Walk, we took a group shot. Learning that I was a virgin, two of the female cast members afforded me special treatment. Also, a red V was painted on my forehead.
The show began amenably enough. All virgins were asked to come to the front. The full details of initiation rites were not revealed, but we were advised to simply do as told. Our first command was to strip down as far as we could within the boundaries of the PG rating of the show. Having once daringly skinny dipped 25 years ago at Green Beach in Rhode Island, I felt entirely up to the challenge.
To those of you still clinging to your own innocence, these photos are not in any manner intended as prurient. (I left out that one.) I was told that hazing practices demanding disrobing by virgins are a staple of the every performance. Upon reviewing the photos, a cast member said they were little different than showing someone in a bathing suit.
The young lady in question approved of her inclusion. (Now no longer that kind of virgin. At least until the show was over. We were told audience members are strictly prohibited from having sex during the performance. Even in the back rows. Except with cast members.)
More to the point, RHPS is part and parcel to a long tradition within the canon of English Literature and Drama: the burlesque, the ribald, the risqué. Look no further than Canterbury Tales itself or Fielding’s picaresque Tom Jones. If anything RHPS is a banquet of Bahktinian heteroglossic aphorias (google that!) So, Censorious Ones, no Apologia!
Next, in the very best of the college fraternity tradition, several virgins were given a light paddling (although sans a real Greek paddle) by Superman. I was excused from this ceremony by virtue of my photojournalistic duties.
At one point, camped out in the front row, I was called forth to the stage. I expected to be introduced to the audience as a VIP member of the Fourth Estate and to give a brief disquisition on the current state of American cinema.
Somewhat taken aback, I was told instead to get down on all fours as a red cloak was thrown on top of me. At first, I feared the worst. But I recalled that at one point I had advertised Talker as an on line dating site. Niche dating sites This encounter could only further my opportunities.
What followed was an unusual occurrence within the annals of my life as the gentleman pictured (with the cloak as protection) proceeded to introduce himself in a rather intimate fashion. (A hand shake would have done.)
At that moment (being the good Fellow I am at the Nazareth College Center for Public History), I was reminded of the 1912 journal of Lady Hillingdon, wife of Charles William Mills, second Baron Hillingdon. From one entry came the phrase, “Close your eyes and think of England.” So the High Anglican Church and the Union Jack it was!
So the evening was consummated. Proudly washed off the scarlet V.
My Lady Readers, I can no longer claim pristine innocence should we meet sometime (if not in the back row of the January performance). But I have learned a few new tricks.