Next Saturday, the Full Body Cast will take its last gender bending lap around the AMC Loews in Harvard Square, where it has held weekly showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for 28 years.
The cast and crew are sad to say goodbye to what many called their “second home,” but they have no intentions of stopping the fun.
“We’ve moved before,” said Gary Greenbaum, who has been the Assistant Director for 18 years and is really, really nice.
When I heard that the theater was closing, I felt a small twitch of panic. I’d been meaning to make it out to a Rocky Horror showing since moved to Boston, and now that it was ending, I felt that I’d lost my chance to experience part of the city.
So I did exactly the same thing as when I heard Harpers Ferry was closing before I’d gotten my ass out there: I bought a ticket to one of the final performances in the space.
This would be my first visit to a live showing of Rocky Horror, but I’ve been a fan from way back, from before I was old enough to understand cross-dressing or know about oral sex. While growing up in a small town in upstate New York, I always felt like a bit of a freak, and discovering Rocky Horror was like a soothing pat on the back: you are not alone. I even remember printing out a copy of the anti-script (the stuff Rocky Horror fans shout at the screen during the show) so that I could yell at my TV screen.
When I arrived at the AMC Loews on Saturday, though, I felt alone. There was a line drawn down the middle of the street—audience members on one side, cast and crew on the other—and neither looked eager for me to approach it.
Rocky Horror is a colorful show, but the cast and crew were all dressed in black as they sucked on their cigarettes outside the Christian Science Reading Room, across from the theater. A cast member recognizes that I’m from the press by the camera on my neck and my stenographer’s notebook, and he is nice enough to bring me over to introduce me to Gary. I try to mingle amongst the cast, but no one is very interested in talking to me, which I kind of understand: I was in plays when I was in high school, and the last thing I’d want to do before a show—especially one of the last—would be to talk to an outsider.
I ask to take a photo of a gorgeous couple leaning against a lamppost, and although I identify myself as from the Dig, the word somehow gets lost between me and them.
“Is this for something, or is this just a picture?” says the man. I tell him again that I’m from the Dig, and he seems angry.
“You should tell people that it’s for something. I once agreed to a picture and ended up in the Metro. The Dig is cool, but you should tell people.”
I don’t get to take any more pictures. Gary finds me and tells me he’ll lead me inside before the audience so that I can get a good seat. He says that I’ll be able to take photos of them setting up, but that once the movie starts, I should put my camera away.
Camera still slung around my neck, I dig in my pocket for my ticket while a couple ahead of me tries to get in early.
“We’re with the cast,” one says, but the Rocky Horror doorman is not having it.
“Who do you know? I’ve been here 18 years and I’ve never seen you before,” says the doorman. After some persuasion, the couple (who, as it turns out, performed in the show in the ’80s) convinces the doorman to let them in. I flash my ticket, and Gary explains who I am, explains that I’m just going to sit out of the way while they set up.
An AMC lackey comes up from a few feet away and brusquely says, “No media are allowed in without AMC’s permission.”
The camera is always the problem, so I disassemble the flash to assure him that I’ll take no more photos inside the theater; I’m just here to watch. He insists.
“There is an 800-number that you have to call. No media are allowed in.”
Somehow, I am able to convince him that media are also people, people who buy tickets, like the one I bought and expected to be honored. He lets me in, with one final grunt of, “I know I sound like an asshole, but I’m just telling you the rules.”
He was right: He did sound like an asshole.
After a frenzy of running and squealing, the simple set is assembled and the rest of the audience is let in. It’s a mixed bag: Some in plain clothes, some in lingerie, many drunk, and one fabulous member named Wally, hailing from Chicago, whose Frank-N-Furter costume and make-up nearly outdo the actual cast.
The show begins with a number of skits that put me much more at ease, and I feel for the first time like I am not alone. Instead, I am a part of that sacred and temporary community that is an audience, born out of a silent agreement to stick (or sit) together through a performance.
The feeling is fleeting, however, as the screen flickers to life. Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” starts to play, lip dubbed by the cast of the show running through Harvard Square.
While completely acknowledging the fact that I might just be a party pooper, I am totally put off by its plastic sheen and vapidity.
Things go better once the show starts—it’s as hilarious as I thought it would be, and I was put in a laughing fit by the rice that rained down during Brad and Janet’s proposal scene. It’s a little hard to hear anything clearly; everyone in the audience is shouting their own version of the anti-script, and the result is what sounds like a busy bar. A few clear sentences ring through every now and then (most notably from Wally’s guest, whose shouts are by far the funniest), but mostly it’s just sonic sludge, and I can’t decide if it’s the seasoned veterans or the shouts of “virgins” who have mistaken the tradition for casual heckling.
The show is still fun though, and it has energy, but my mental displacement is complete when the cast member playing Janet grabs my right breast as she runs down the aisle, vulgarly shouting, “Titty!” as she takes a squeeze.
I can hardly hear as I fight back that lump that forms in your throat right before you cry.
In my next few thoughts, my mind regresses to bouts of victim blaming—was it my fault for sitting on the aisle? Should I have expected that kind of thing at a midnight showing of Rocky Horror?
No, of course not. Because amongst all of the rules about not drinking or throwing things at the actors, on the website and during the preshow spiel, not once did someone say,
“The cast members may grope you during the performance, please switch places with someone a little more kinky if you aren’t into that.”
And it’s fine if you are, but I’m not, and going to a Rocky Horror show certainly shouldn’t say that I am for me.
The groping incident put aside, the whole night was full of a nostalgia that I and the “virgin” part of the audience were not privy to. I wanted to be a part of the Harvard Square Rocky Horror experience, but it’s just not mine to have, and no amount of scrambling for tickets to the final performances will change that. And I don’t think I want it to. I might try the performance again when they move to the Boston Common theater (they’ll recommence performing in August), but I’ll never be as good as the guy who’s been there for 18 years and never seen me before, or the dude who is too good for the Metro, or anyone else who went to the shows back when they were at Harvard.
I hadn’t earned the right to feel the nostalgia that many in that theater probably felt, but I did feel the entitled pecking order that the cast, crew, and regulars imposed on the “virgins,” which made it feel less like we were all sharing in this great alternative cultural experience and more like we were being hazed—less of a “Welcome!” and more of a “Look at my fucking swagger!” One of the audience members even mocked me for being a journalism student—and this was only her second time at the show!
Which is the brunt of it, isn’t it? A bunch of kids grasping at the last dying breaths of an era, trying to legitimize their history by belittling those whose history is briefer than theirs.
What a bunch of fucking hipsters.