Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A Sweet Transvestite Changed My Life

"I got 50 followers, I got 50 followers, I got 50 followers, I got 50 followers..."
Now, imagine me singing that over and over AND doing the happy dance at the same time.  True, it would become pretty annoying after about 3 seconds, but I'm chuffed to little meatballs!  Seriously, I am Grinny McGrinny-gal here!
And so to commemorate this momentous (?) occasion (not that I'm using this as an excuse to post something while I sort out my head and my life again), I have decided to repost one of my earliest blogs for those of you who have recently joined my little realm.
Enjoy :)
And thank you.  Thank you for making me feel - well - a little more worthwhile.

When I was 18, a couple of friends of mine invited me round their flat for the evening . We had a takeaway, a few drinks, and then they put on a film. Little did I know that it would change my life forever.

I didn't know much about "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". I knew the "Time Warp" and had seen the brief reference to it in the movie, "Fame", but that was it. I wouldn't say that it was the greatest film I'd ever seen or even the greatest musical, but I was intrigued. Why is she singing with a newspaper on her head? Who is the geezer in the freezer? Is that Christopher Biggins? I went out a brought the video the next day (this was before the DVD age) and gradually my curiosity turned into pure, unadulterated love.

For those of you who know little to nothing about Rocky Horror, allow me to give you a brief history lesson. It was created by the genius that is Richard O'Brien and started life as a musical in London's West End in 1973. It was turned into a movie in 1975, and stars Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and Richard O'Brien himself.

The plot is simple. Newly engaged couple, Brad and Janet, find themselves lost and with a flat tire late one rainy night and go to find help at a nearby castle (as you do). What they actually find is a group of strange people who are holding an Annual Transylvanian Convention. They are soon swept into the world of Dr. Frank N. Furter, who claims to have discovered the "secret to life itself". (I don't want to give away too many spoilers, so I'll leave the synopsis at that.)

My fascination wasn't just with the film itself, but also with the cult following it had received. This movie had come out almost twenty years before I'd seen it, and yet cinemas were still showing it on occasion and fans would flock to see it time and time, dressed as their favourite characters and carrying bags of props. Soon, just watching the film at home wasn't enough. I wanted more.

Less than a year after my initial introduction to the film, a group of a dozen or so of us went to see the stage show at the cliff side theatre at Southend-on-Sea. As soon as we stepped foot in that place, the electrifying atmosphere hit me. There were people of all ages, from grandparents down to ten year old kids, dressed in wacky costumes and outlandish make-up (although it was kind of disturbing seeing pre-pubescent girls dressed as Magenta.) Everyone was happy. Strangers were talking to strangers as though they were their long lost family. People were dancing in the aisles, and this was before the show had even started. Even the theatre staff had a spring in their step, wearing their regulation theatre shirts with fishnet stockings and heels. When the show actually started, the place all but erupted. I don't remember a whole lot about that night as it was a long time ago, but I remember feeling very much at home.

Over the next few years, Rocky Horror became my passion. I got a custom made Columbia costume which I would have worn every day of the year if I thought I could get away with it. I became an expert in sneaking in props (some theatres frown at the use of water pistols and cigarette lighters during a performance. Go figure.) and was fluent in audience participation.

I should point out here that there is a huge difference between "Audience Participation" and "Heckling".

Audience Participation: It's kind of like a script which you learn by going to see the show numerous times. For example, when Frank says, "Even smiling makes my face ache", the audience may shout "And your make-up crack!" Or when Riff Raff refers to Magenta as his "most beautiful sister", it's not uncommon for the audience to yell out, "I'd hate to see the ugly one!" New call outs are added all the time, and if they're witty enough, they may be picked up and carried on.

Heckling: Shouting out random comments, often fuelled by alcohol, usually vulgar and insulting. This is just irritating and can result in being mercilessly embarrassed by a cast member. (Example: Frank points at you and declares to the entire theatre, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when cousins f***!) (And no, this wasn't aimed at me.)

Some of my fondest memories are from the experiences I had going to the show. For example, on one occasion, I was asked to organize my works do, so I arranged a grandiose Rocky Horror treat. We travelled down in a luxury coach (luxury being it had a T.V. and a toilet), had a meal in the theatre restaurant and then saw the show. I will never forget the look on my co-workers faces when they walked into the auditorium saw me waltzing with a seven foot tall transvestite who I'd never met before in my life. They never looked at the sweet innocent looking receptionist the same way again after that, only with confusion or admiration.

Then there was the time we got lost on the way to the theatre in Norwich and forced a friend in the least embarrassing costume (it was his first time so he went as Brad) to go into the police station and get directions.
And the time half a dozen of us travelled to the show by underground in full costume and make-up and people just stared at us, so we pulled faces at them.

Or the time we stopped for a break on the way to Norwich (a different occasion), again in full costume, and some of us stood on the roundabout to have a smoke, and a couple of cars went round it twice because they could believe what they were seeing.

Or the time I actually dislocated my knee whilst doing the “Time Warp” and ended up in a plaster cast for 2 months. Come to think of it, that memory isn’t such a fond one.

I'd go to the stage show whenever I could (my current show count is 17, which may seem excessive until you meet people who've seen it hundreds of times) and saw the film at cinemas whenever the opportunity presented itself. Just as people watch their favourite films time and time again or re-read much loved books, I did pretty much the same. The main difference though was that it wasn't the same every time. Something different may happen on stage, from a different actor playing a role, to a practical joke or an ad-lib leading to the cast corpsing on stage. But the main reason I went back was because of the audience. In all my 17 visits to the show, I never heard an angry word, a bitchy remark or a heated argument. You were welcomed with open arms, enveloped in a feeling of love and acceptance. They didn't care if you were black, white, short, tall, fat, thin, gay or straight. While you were in that theatre you were one of the family, an equal to everybody else there. I miss that feeling more than anything else. The feeling of being yourself without worrying about what others thought of you.

One of the songs in the show is called "Don't Dream It - Be It", and (in my opinion anyway) that is the moral of the show's story. It's telling you that it's okay to be yourself, it's okay to be different and okay to be yourself. It doesn't just refer to your sexuality, although sexual awakening and sensuality are part of Rocky Horror's core. It also refers to your personality, your inner self. Don't be afraid to be who you really are.

In the next few days, an episode of "Glee" entitled "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" will be aired in the States, all the music of which will be from Rocky Horror. Even if they make a complete mess of it, it will introduce the show to a whole new audience, a generation who may have never heard of the show before, so it can only be a good thing. I don't mind a bit of "Glee" myself, so I'm curious to see the show. Their version of the "Time Warp" is pretty good, but they've got a female character singing "Sweet Transvestite" which, although she has a fantastic voice and amazing stage presence, I'm not sure about. I'll try to remain open minded until I've seen it.

(NOTE:   I have watched "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" since I first posted this, and on the whole I thought it was pretty good. Rocky Horror probably isn't the wisest choice of a show for a high school to put on (from the point of view of the parents, not the kids) and I think they dealt with that storyline really well, as they did with the issues about body image. I especially liked their version of "Touch-a Touch Me", and I take back what I said about a female playing Frank as it's done in the completely right context. I also loved Kurt's perfect Riff Raff, but wish we could have seen more of him. My only complaints are there was no "Eddie's Teddy", the appearances of Meatloaf and Barry Bostwick felt really forced, and I would have loved to have seen Sue perform a song from the show. But my final verdict is a positive one, I'd say a 7 and a half out of 10.)

There's also been a lot of talk about a remake of the film in recent years, and again, I'm trying to remain open minded. At first I was straight up on the band wagon, cursing and swearing it shouldn't be done. Some of the remakes they've done over the years have just been downright horrendous and I wouldn't want the RHPS to be tarred with the same brush. But I guess it all depends on who's making it and who they'll cast. I heard a while ago that some of the "High School Musical" cast were tipped to be in it, and that almost made me gag. A few days ago I heard that Ryan Murphy, the creator of "Glee" was approached to make the re-make (read about it here), but when push comes to shove, you can't judge the movie until it actually happens. Even if you do strongly suspect that it'll be terrible.

So, as you might have guessed, I recommend this show/film to everyone (unless you are close-minded, homophobic and/or a prude. In that case, don't go and see it. We wouldn't want you there anyway). One thing I can't stress enough though: if you've seen the film and like it, you have to see the stage show. I think it is far superior to the movie (at least it is in the UK) and I know many more agree with me.

Sadly, I haven't seen the show for about a decade. Theatre ticket prices and travel costs are far beyond my means these days, having more or less doubled since I last went, but my lack of attendance has not quelled my adoration and my enthusiasm for this quirky, zany, sexy and occasionally homicidal gem of a show.
And so I shall end this blog with a quote from the great man himself, who has brought joy and inspiration to hundreds, nay, thousands of admiring wide eyed fans.
"When you do something like Rocky, which is undefinable somehow, it always becomes difficult to lose that. Not that I have any interest in saying goodbye to Rocky. I absolutely adore being involved and a part of something that is really a phenomenon. And I have no problems with that at all. If it overshadows anything else, I can understand completely why and again it doesn't worry me."
Mr. O'Brien, I thank you.

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Maundering mutterer said... [Reply to comment]

Twas a magic movie. Oh, I do hope they won't remake it. Could they ever do it justice?

A said... [Reply to comment]

Personally, I don't think they could do it justice, but I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, if only because if could usher in a whole new generation of Rocky Horror fans.

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