A theater in Portland, OR, has screened Rocky Horror Picture Show nightly for 43 years. Due to COVID-19, the movie played to an empty room for a year.
“I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey” – a theater in Portland has been screening The Rocky Horror Picture Show for over a year to an audience of no one. The aforementioned quote can be attributed to the narrator of the 1975 musical film, a criminologist who recounts the surreal journey of a straight-laced couple who take refuge in an alien mad scientist’s castle. The campy, theatrical spectacular was written by Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman, directed by Sharman, and produced by Lou Adler and Michael White in 1975.
As its name would suggest, Rocky Horror has the plot of a horror movie, but its fantastical costumes and exuberant musical performances leave viewers with a feeling of wonderment rather than fear. In need of a phone in the middle of a storm, fiancées Brad and Janet Weiss, played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon, arrive at the doorstep of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (a magnetic Tim Curry). The rest of the film takes place in Frank’s fabulous party palace, where the innocent young couple is entangled in various schemes involving the doctor and other extraterrestrial residents of the estate. Frank initially appears to be a gracious host, but Brad and Janet, though enamored by the charismatic doctor, are more prisoners than guests. Rocky Horror has become one of the most influential cult films with long-held viewing traditions that include live performance and audience participation.
The Oregonian reports that one theater has kept up the tradition regardless of audience partici…pation. Clinton Street Theater, a Portland, Oregon-based cinema, has screened The Rocky Horror Picture Show for 43 years running and maintained its streak for 54 weeks throughout the horrors of this past year. The theater has held a repertory screening of Rocky Horror every Saturday since 1978 accompanied by a shadow cast. Other theaters also stage the same rituals, which began in Greenwich Village, NYC shortly after the film premiered, but Clinton Street’s popular event frequently attracts out-of-town visitors. The establishment shut its doors on March 15, 2020 in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Nathan Williams, who serves as the emcee of the theater’s Rocky Horror nights, continued to play the film to an empty theater:
I watched it alone. I watched it during the snowstorm. I was in a position to keep a flame burning, to keep a torch lit...I'm just a guy holding a torch for the city of Portland, for all the weirdos, for all the people who don’t have a safe place to call home, we're home.
Lani Jo Leigh, the cinema’s owner, has prevented the historic establishment from closing during the pandemic with a combination of donations, loans, and grants. Leigh says continuing the tradition was a symbolic gesture of faith that things would eventually get back to normal:
It's just kind of a silly little thing, but it was still a sense of hope. This is what normal is. Normal is we play Rocky Horror on a Saturday night, and that's what's happening.
After over a year lost in time, the Clinton Street Theater hosted its first Rocky Horror night in over a year on April 3 to some insects called the human race. The opening follows a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions that allows movie theaters in the state to reopen at 25 percent capacity. The April 3 show sold out to a crowd of 50 people, the maximum amount currently allowed in the 222-seat room. Screenings currently start at 9 p.m. in accordance with an 11 p.m. curfew and include pre-show games for “virgins” who haven’t attended a screening before. In order to maintain distance, audience members aren’t permitted to leave their seats, but they are encouraged to yell profane jokes, throw props, and dress up.
For many fans who watch from home or show up in theaters, Rocky Horror is more than a movie. Over the years, a community of theater lovers and LGBTQ+ people have coalesced around the film that welcomes any and all people who feel out of place in mainstream society. Cabaret president Loren Thompson says, “It’s where all the misfits come to find family.” The Rocky Horror Picture Show has enjoyed the longest theatrical run of any movie, which, thanks to committed humans like Williams, continues today.