Insanity at the Art Theatre

A first-hand account of the midnight viewing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”


Most people born in the ’70s and ’80s have seen the cult classic film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and a surprisingly good number of millennials as well. As a matter of fact, my grandmother has seen the film. But you haven’t truly experienced “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” if, on a Saturday night, you haven’t gone to Midnight Insanity at the Art Theatre on Fourth Street and Cherry Avenue in Long Beach.

You may ask, “Well what is Midnight Insanity, it sounds like some sort of twisted game?” I’m about to tell you.

If your Saturday night does not include bar hopping on Broadway or playing beer pong at a friend’s backyard barbecue and, if you happen to be awake around midnight, and you’re not a vampire but love quirky, cheeky and sometimes vulgar theatrical performances at a local playhouse, then the midnight showing of Midnight Insanity is your cup of tea.

For those who have not watched “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” it is a 1975 musical, horror comedy based on science fiction movies, ’50s rock and roll and parodies B movies that reflect the era of edgy, punk pop culture of the ’70s. The film was adapted from the musical stage production in 1973 and  the screenplay was written by Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien which subsequently was directed by Jim Sharman.

The film itself was initially not a huge success but it soon became a “midnight movie” at the Waverly Theatre in New York City in 1976. Audience members would go to the cinemas frequently where they participated, hurled insults and talked back to the screen in a “call and response” theme while actors would dress up and act out the movie as the RHPS characters.

So here I am on a Saturday night, in line 15 minutes before midnight at the historic Art Theatre in Long Beach which opened its doors in the 1920, waiting in line people watching the multitude of patrons dressed up in fishnet stockings, lingerie, oversized suits, leather jackets and chains sporting spiky bleached and colorfully dyed hairstyles. Even some of the ticket takers and people working at the concession stand turned out to be character actors as well.

I pay for my ticket and receive a large, drawn-on black X on my right hand and as I look around I see several people with the letter “V” marked on their foreheads or the word “VIRGIN” spelled out on their chests in red marker, I would soon find out what that means and even though I had no such markings I was a virgin, too.

As I enter the darkened theater, I see a disco ball spinning and I am greeted by The Weather Girls “It’s Raining Men” and for a second I imagine that I have time-traveled to a ’70s disco club. The theater was filling rapidly and a long conga line was in progress. As I sat in my seat, I saw glimpses of gold lamé shorts and sparkly sequined jackets in the flashes of the strobe lights. Soon everyone in the theater was at their seats dancing. The lights go up and a slapstick comedy routine begins by two hosts that welcome us to the midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

A part of the welcome was a lingerie contest where a few contestants went up and strutted their stuff and the winner was chosen based upon the audience’s hearty applause, cheers and cat calls. I thought that maybe the show would proceed since it was after midnight but no, the hosts announced that all of the virgins were to line up at the front of the stage.

I joined my co-virgins abashedly and was given a vigorous de-flowering in front of the entire crowd of regular attendees. The lights then dimmed and the show began. It took a little while to realize that I would not be viewing a movie uninterrupted by shouts from the crowd and random dancing, while watching the screen in tandem with live actors. After a while I felt like an outsider who forgot the lines to a movie because “the call and response” in the crowd was distinctively contrary to what was being said by the actors on screen and it was interesting to note the contrast between the wholesome couple of Brad and Janet and the at times obscene and highly vocal responses from the crowd until I realized that anything could be shouted by anybody, at any time, which led to the anticipation and excitement of the whole movie watching experience.

I loved the “dinner scene” where the live actors opted to dance to “ Somebody to Love,” since they had deemed that particular scene in the movie to be boring. Despite having watched this movie or segments of the movie a time or two, it was a completely different and an amazingly interactive experience.

By the end of the movie, I felt like part of a secret group as inclusive as it was also very individualistic because that’s what “Midnight Insanity” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” are all about by showing how strange we human beings can be, how different and unique where we can wear lingerie or a top hat or fishnet stockings regardless of gender, race or culture because we’re celebrating individuality.

Before I headed home in the wee hours of the chilly early morning air, I heard a few people making plans for breakfast, conversations about the show and one person who told me that his experience was interesting and different. We all walked off knowing that the same feelings could be recaptured the next Saturday.

That was the best $11 I ever spent on a movie, and even though my curiosity was satisfied by actually being part of this experience, it made me question who are these actors who loyally play these parts every Saturday and who are the avid audience members in their daily life who freely express freedom of speech and attire. Perhaps that’s not what is truly important, but  for this new fan, I could also easily be drawn into the kooky, quirky and very surreal world of Dr. Frank-n-Furter.

***Editors Note***

This story was first published on June 7, 2016

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