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"Rocky Horror" buffs get their fix in Midtown

By Samantha Esgro
On February 12, 2013

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is a campy, cult favorite that continually brings the ne'er do-wells and oddballs to Midtown Memphis.    
In 1974, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," originally a British musical, was brought to the Poplar Movie House, now known as the Evergreen Theatre. It was the first regional production of the musical outside of New York City and Los Angeles.
A year later, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was brought to the silver screen, starring Tim Curry as the main villain, Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Memphis was one of only eight cities to show the movie.
The film quickly gained a cult following. Moviegoers made a show of wearing skimpy costumes, bringing props like toast and toilet paper to throw at the screen during the show and shouting back at the characters.
Midtown Memphis continues the tradition by screening the film once a month at the Evergreen Theatre on Poplar Ave. And, as it's been for the past forty years, the show is still vulgar, risqué and interactive.  
The first part of the ritual is to parade the "virgins," or first-timers, across the stage where they receive painted x's on their cheeks, usually administered with a tube of bright red lipstick.
Annalisabeth Craig, a junior art history major at the University of Memphis, has been attending the play since she was fresh out of high school.
Craig had no idea what to expect when she first went as a virgin.
"I didn't dress up for it and was brutally ostracized for it," she said laughing, adding that Memphis' Evergreen Theater on Poplar Avenue is more "sexually out-there" than where she first attended, a theatre in Jackson, Tenn.
In Memphis, "Rocky Horror" has a shadow cast, meaning while the movie is playing on a screen, live actors perform the scenes.
Participation is not required, but according to Craig, things like the costume contest make the experience more fun.
"You win the costume contest if you look like a character or if you wear lingerie and can pull that off," she said.
Gender bending isn't considered taboo in this play. The men wear lingerie and the women don tuxedoes without it being considered off-limits.
 "Guys can play girls and girls can play guys," Craig said. "The best part is seeing people who have never been before. It's more fun to not tell people what they're walking into, because most of the time their reaction is shock."
Haley Hanners, a sophomore English major at the U of M, was once a virgin, but now is part of the production.
"What makes it different is all the crowd participation," Hanners said.
Interested participants can bring props or buy them there, as well as dress up.
If neither of those options sounds appealing, the next best way to participate is by shouting at the screen.
"There's a lot of vocal participation, like lines the audience is supposed to yell," Hanners said.
The "Rocky Horror Memphis" site has an audience participation script available for Rocky fans to read over before they come to show. Although they can always learn from veteran attendees.
Hanners, who has been a part of the audience twice and the cast once, noticed a difference in being a part of the cast as opposed to the crowd.
"When you're watching it, you think  'This is kind of messed up,' but when you're acting it out ... it's okay that it's messed up because everyone around you is doing it too. It's kind of a morbid humor," Hanners said.
Both Hanners and Craig claimed it was more fun seeing the play live before having seen the actual movie and recommend others to do the same.
"At the beginning they'll haggle you and it'll be more fun if you participate, but you don't have to do any of it," Hanners said.
Another of the crowd-participation events and Hanners' favorite part of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" is the "Time Warp."
The Time Warp is a dance with explicit instructions on the Rocky Horror website.
The six-step dance is relatively easy to follow, but, as footnoted on the website, "Those with limb disabilities may find it necessary to alter or delete certain actions, but NO EXCUSES for alterations to steps four and five."
"Honestly, the thing that brings people from Memphis to Midtown is the feeling of community, so I feel like it's appropriate that it is held in Midtown," Hanners said.
All are invited to attend the second Friday of each month at 11:30 p.m. in the Evergreen Theatre for $10.

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