Ever wondered what happened to the Rocky Horror kids from the 70s? They're still around, dressing up in drag and yelling "slut" at the screen whenever Janet (played by a young Susan Sarandon) appears. And this weekend, the original cast, fans from all around the country and shadowcasters—performers who dress up in character and mime what's happening on the screen behind them—have descended on Midtown for a convention celebrating Rocky Horror Picture Show's 1975 release. Four decades later, it's still a safe haven for sexual freaks and theater geeks.
"Little things have changed," explains Sal Piro, who has been fan club president since 1977, "but it's still basically people who have been misfits."
Rocky Horror bombed when it came out, but it gradually found a second life in the Midnight Movie circuit as fans would return to see it again and again each week. The tradition of callbacks—a second ever-changing meta-script that the audience shouts back at the screen—developed in the Village at the Waverly (now IFC Center) and was popularized by fans like Piro. Gay kids, cross-dressers and other outsiders loved the campy homage to B-movies, which starred a seductive, gender-bending Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter.
Being gay or any kind of sexual outsider in 2015 isn't exactly the same as it was in 1975—we now have former Disney stars shrugging off gender labels. But there are still scores of new, young fans craving the welcoming and weird space of fandom.
Sarah de Ugarte, a 20-year-old New Yorker, says the movie and the community was a revelation for her as an 18-year-old in high school who hadn't realized she wasn't straight: "It's a fucking gay movie."
She met her current girlfriend, 24-year-old Val Humphrey, at her first Rocky after-party. Humphrey says she truly found her calling doing "double drag" with a punk rock twist. She loves dressing up as a man dressing up as a woman and keeping the audience guessing about her gender: "Playing Frank taught me a lot about me and my sexuality."
While many fans found an escape from their lives in the Rocky community, others were inducted into it by their family. John and Daria Chasse, a couple in their early 50s from New Jersey, started going to Home of Happiness in 2006 after John had a pulmonary embolism. The medical scare made him think about the things that he wanted to introduce his kids to more urgently. He and his wife started bringing their 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son along to shows. Daria says it's a tradition they continued as their kids are grown up, "This has brought the family together."
This weekend is a unique one for the tight-knit Rocky community, and attendees compare it to a family reunion. And since it's the 40th anniversary, the convention has been able to land key members of the main cast, including Barry Bostwick (Brad), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), and Little Nell (Columbia).
At Rocky Horror shadowcast performances, there's already very little distinction between the performers and the audience and that held true even with the appearance of the original cast. A meet-and-greet with the cast at the convention last night felt more like a boozy, flirty high-school theater cast after-party than, say, Comic Con.
Peter Michael Schepper, a 50-year-old New York artist who goes by the name PMS, told the story of seeing the film for the first time as a 13-year-old in Texas in 1979. He turned to Bostwick to describe what a revelatory moment it was as a young gay teen "when I saw you in your underwear..."
Bostwick says he hears stories like Schepper's all the time and admires the way fans have kept the movie alive. For fans, Rocky is "when they found their voice, when they found acceptance, when they came out of their shell." Bostwick adds, "I can't get enough of that."
Fans say it's a little hard to explain the phenomenon until you've experienced a raucous, midnight screening first-hand and the inevitable raucous, late-night after-party. Jessica Dobratz, 34, of Wisconsin says, "Don't knock it 'til you try it."
And if you do want to try it, there are still tickets available tonight for an all-star shadowcast performance that features cast members from all around the country.
Rocky Horror Picture Show will be screening at The Ziegfeld Theater at 141 West 54th Street tonight at midnight. An all-star shadowcast will be performing, and original cast members Barry Bostwick (Brad), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), and Little Nell (Columbia) will be at the pre-show. Tickets are $20. Doors open at 11 p.m. (Tickets are sold out for the rest of the convention.)