My First Time
(Seeing Rocky Horror Live)
By Anna Nelson
Photography by Alyson Kuennen
Illustrations by Kenzi Rayelle
At a writing camp the summer before eighth grade I was introduced to Rocky Horror through the “Time Warp” song and dance, taught to me by a purple-haired girl who was equal in her weirdness to the movie itself.
I didn’t understand it at all. Regardless, I jumped to the left and stepped to the right to my little 14-year-old heart’s content. I was enthralled to the point that I had to buy the movie in order to watch and rewatch it – and do the time warp again.
In October of my Sophomore year of high school, I had to miss all halloween celebrations due to a case mono. I stayed home instead of attending a party with friends and watched Rocky Horror (I kid you not) seven times to entertain myself. That’s 10 and a half hours of Rocky if you do the math. While I already knew every song by heart, by the end of that Halloween I knew every line word-for-word.
Someway, somehow, I missed out on seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show live every year until college. Whether it was schoolwork, illness, or not being allowed to drive two hours from Des Moines that kept me from attending, I missed every single showing for five years. It was the one thing –– I thought–– that was keeping my obsession from becoming fully fledged. It didn’t matter that I’d probably spent at least two months of my life quantitatively watching Rocky Horror, or that I knew the complete history of the film and its creation. I had no idea what happened at a live screening –– what really happened versus what could be described by articles I found online.
This year, I finally made it.
The night was perfect. The air was chilly, but not so cold that I reconsidered my Rocky costume, leaving my arms and legs bare. There was light rain, but it felt right considering Rocky Horror is set in a thunderstorm –– the filming of which gave Janet actress Susan Sarandon pneumonia. I figured it would be worth it even if I ended up with pneumonia as well.
All of my waking dreams came true as I dressed up with my friends, had a red lipstick ‘V’ for virgin drawn onto my forehead upon entering the Englert Theatre, and accepted my goodie bag full of props. Another dream began as every ‘virgin’ was invited onstage to celebrate the popping of their live-performance-viewing cherry. I stood in the front dressed in my golden rocky costume and held the hips of another virgin as we all did the iconic pelvic thrust straight out of the Time Warp, indicating that we were shedding our virgin status. I felt at home and happy as ever, centerstage in an unfamiliar theater, surrounded by strangers in lingerie because we all shared a love for Rocky Horror.
Lights dimmed, the newly deflowered took their seats, and Patricia Quinn’s lips appeared on screen, mouthing the words to Richard O’Brien’s “Science Fiction/Double Feature.” The scene came to life as the Usherette floated down the aisle in her Columbia costume, singing along. I was enchanted by the audience’s response as voices from all around arose to do the same.
As the opening scene began, I was filled with simultaneous shock and delight when Brad and Janet appeared and everyone started shouting “ASSHOLE” and “SLUT” respectively. We threw our rice (read: confetti) during the wedding scene and attempted to cover ourselves with newspapers as the theater’s staff ran up and down the aisles spraying water into the audience. I found that many others knew the lines as well as I did when someone shouted “Hey, Janet, how’s the weather?” just in time for Janet’s line, “It’s raining.” This sent my head back with a belt of laughter.
Frank N’ Furter’s first appearance was double the fun with the actors’ synchronized singing and dancing to “Sweet Transvestite.” Before the show, I worried I might be upset by costume differences, but the onstage Frank added Thigh-High boots that both stopped and restarted my beating heart. From that point on, the Englert performers could do no wrong.
Janet and Rocky’s raunchy onstage dance during their on-screen sex scene was electric –– I had to stop singing along to “Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me” due to laughter. Stale bread and playing cards pelted at the back of my head never seemed so enjoyable –– nor constant shouting during a film – but it was a beautiful experience. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder in the hundreds of times that I’ve seen the film.
The floorshow scene brought tears to my eyes as Frank N’ Furter paraded around in his red studded bra. He later removed the garment and tossed it into the crowd. Soon after, the film and performance were over. I’d finally seen Rocky Horror live. It is an experience I recommend for everyone.
On my way home, I was asked if I was doing a walk of shame, and considering I had just discarded my Rocky Horror V-card, I almost told them “yes.” However, it was a walk of glory.
I’d finally accomplished my goal of seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and can confidently declare myself a mature fan. I suppose the next step will be performing –– hopefully it doesn’t take me another five years.