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down East 14th Street in San Lenadro on a Friday at midnight is like plowing
through liquid darkness; you pass block after block of vacant strip-mall
parking lots, shuttered boutiques, modest homes full of sleeping families.
You can go on like this for miles and miles. Then sudenly, just before
you pass out of San Leandro altogether, your car is bathed in the glow
from the Bal Theatres illuminated marquee; its pink and blue neon
tubing points out into the night like the prow of a ship cutting its way
through the darkened suburb. The marquee is candy-colored and bright and
alive and so pretty that you want to touch it or put it in your mouth.
Teenagers are drawn to it like moths.
On a cold night in January, the vintage theaters cavernous, dimly
red belly was full; over 140 people had shown up for the midnight screening
of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the 1975 cult classic that combines
sci-fi camp and elaborately bizarre costuming with the endearing earnestness
of any movie that is, at root, a musical. Like any other subculture,
Rocky Horror fandom has its own intricately involved in-jokes, a million
signs and signals that tell you when you should, for example, throw toast
at the screen, and when you should leap out of your seat to the do the
Time Warp, a dance heavy on stomping and shouting. And then there's the
informal Rocky Horror dress code, which hews to the short, the
tight, the black, the shiny and the gender-bending. One of the rules is
to push the rules.
Thanks to the Bals then-nonexistent carding policy, many of the
attendees that night were well under seventeen years old, some of them
closer to thirteen or fourteen, although Rocky Horror is an R-rated
movie. Some of the kids were drinking alcohol, and some were encouraging
teenage girls to take off their shirts, and some of the girls were blushingly
complying. One girl was performing a striptease as the movies opening
credits rolled; she had undressed down to a thong and neglected to cover
her nipples with electrical tape as she usually did. One fourteen-year-old
girl was lying unconscious on a couch in the lobby; her blood-alcohol
level was five times the legal driving limit. There were a lot of people
at the Bal that night, and three of them were undercover cops.
The police were in the audience
due to a tip from a local mom a Rocky Horror veteran, in
fact, with more than 200 shows under her belt who had complained
that while a little deviant fun was okay, what was going on inside the
Bal crossed the line. The cops planned to watch the show and then, if
circumstances warranted it, issue a warning to Brady Ferguson, the Bals
26-year-old operator. Instead, they shut the movie down not long after
the opening theme song. Ferguson complied with the officers order
to turn off the film projector and told his patrons to leave quietly through
the front lobby doors, outside which the police had lined up a bank of
squad cars and the departments only paddy wagon, just in case anyone
made a mad rush for the exits.
The precise details of the San Leandro PDs excursion to Rocky
Horror can be found in a report that is about as thick as your index
finger; its probably the juiciest police report to come out of the
quiet suburb in some time.
I guess it was like a banner night, laughs Detective Tim DeGrano,
one of the cops who mad the bust and who, as he points out in the report,
had previously been to several Rocky Horror shows himself. There
was, of course, the teenage drinking, the striptease, and descriptions
of patrons who seem to have gone to the show clad only in their underwear.
But the real brunt of the report is leveled at Ferguson and the maturity
or lack of it he demonstrated that night as the theaters
operator, a position he shares with his girlfriend and business partner,
22-year-old Desiree Costa.
A few lowlights: during the virgin sacrifices a Rocky
Horror pre-movie tradition in which first-time viewers are called
up onto the stage and given a public razzing Ferguson in his role
as emcee asked the assembled fourteen-and-fifteen-year-old patrons if
they knew how to give blow jobs. When they demurred, according to the
report, Ferguson held the mike next to his groin, and a teenage boy jumped
up from the audience and pretended to do the honors. When the audience
began calling for the girls onstage to take off their shirts, Ferguson,
according to the cops, egged them on. Two of the girls eventually flashed
the audience; one of them had previously wirtten lick me above
her right breast, and Ferguson took her at her word. He made an annoucement
inviting people to stay in the theater after the show for a party during
which he would lock the front doors and to which, it was insinuated, people
should bring their own bottles. In what was probably the nail in the Bal
Theatres coffin, once the undercover cops had discovered the unconscious
girl and called for backup from uniformed officers in squad cars, they
witnessed panicked fans trying to hide the intoxicated teenager by carrying
her to the private offices upstairs.
Although nobody was taken into
custody the night of the raid, Ferguson would be arrested twice in February,
once for outstanding warrants on unpaid speeding tickets, and once on
three misdemeanor charges stemming from the incidents the police observed
during the raid encouraging lewd behavior, allowing minors to drink,
and annoying or molesting a child (licking the lick
me girl.) He would be led, meek and cuffed and wearing his Rocky
Horror jacket, out of the theater in front of a cluster of stunned
teenagers. It would be said, loudly and often by his many defnders, that
much of the lewd behavior for which Ferguson had been busted
was simply standard Rocky Horror humor; charging Ferguson was just
another example of outsiders not getting the shows bizarre and admittedly
risque rituals. If the teenagers of San Leandro were already grateful
to Ferguson for giving them such a cozy and laxly regulated place to hang
out after hours, the arrests and the widely held perception that Ferguson
was the victim of police harassment conflated to make him something of
a hero. When a newspaper ran Fergusons police mugshot, students
at Hayward High School taped the picture inside their lockers.
Brady Ferguson is very charming in a low-key way. He has dark, tousled
hair and pale skin; he tends to dress in all black and is not physically
striking (in the police report, witnesses describe him as pudgy
or big-boned). He has all the cool of an elder sibling who
will tolerate your adolescent angst with mellow good humor. His speech
is liberally sprinkled with the words like and whatever,
a dismissive he uses whenever a charge levied against him is too absurd
or tedious to be seriously contemplated. It is not hard to believe that
he has developed a cult of personality, although he underplays his patrons
affection for him. (While the police claim that the heavy deployment of
squad cars during the raid was necessary for officer safety, he says drily,
"They thought that the audience would spring at them or something.
Im like, No, theyre not that loyal.) Teenagers
actually sit at his feet while he is talking. The waitresses at Prings,
the coffeeshop down the street, used to reserve a special jar of peanut
butter just for Ferguson because they knew he liked to eat it on waffles.
His chattiness and willingness to talk to the press have made him a central
feature of a still-in-the-works documentary titled Regular Frankie
Fan, which proposes to do for Rocky Horror followers what Trekkies
did for, well, Trekkies.
On a Thursday afternoon in March, Ferguson, Costa and a small halo of
teenagers are camped out in the Bals lobby, waiting to turn away
patrons who have arrived to see Sound and Fury, a documentary about
cochlea implants, because the print did not arrive on time. Ferguson and
Costa restored the lobby which along with the rest of the theater
was coated in dust after having remained vacant for two years in
a mere five weeks before they reopened the Bal last August under the business
name B&D Productions. The lobby is now vibrantly painted in Crayola
colors: green and yellow walls contrast with the purple ovoid ceiling
and funky blue cylindrical lights that hang over the concession stand.
(Even better is the interior of the 808-seat theater itself, with its
dusty red walls emblazoned with cream-colored horses drawing chariots
bearing toga-wearing couples toward the stage. The ceiling is also intricately
detailed, with birds, leafy scrolls, and a large central decorative feature
that resembles nothing so much as a giant artichoke.)
Here and there you can see evidence of Fergusons Rocky Horror
obsession: hovering over the couch, there's a life-sized painting of the
films main character, the cross-dressing Dr. Frank-N-Furter, kicking
up his heels in pearls and a Merry Widow corset. Behind a glass panel,
Ferguson has assembled a display of collectors items, including
a tenth-anniversary Rocky Horror poster that shows a black wedding
cake into which Barbie dolls dressed as the films characters have
been stuck feet first. (Mattel had threatened to sue, and the poster was
pulled from distribution.) Ferguson even scored four of the dolls from
the original shoot, and they're in the case, too, limbs jutting out robotically
from beneath crazily glittered outfits.
Costa, who is tiny and has a cute little black pixie haircut, is curled
up on the floor with an embroidery hoop, stitching what appears to be
a sort of fawn-in-a-glen forest scene. The teenagers are lying on the
floor, picking at their plastic beaded jewelry. Ferguson is getting ready
to talk. He has lots and lots to say about the Kafka-esque bureaucratic
nightmare that has befallen him since the night of the raid, but he cannot
say it all, because although he was arraigned last week, he is still awaiting
a plea offer from the District Attorneys office. The charges against
him could have serious repercussions each misdemeanor carries a
maximum punishment of one years jail time and a $1,000 fine, but
it is more likely that hell be offered a combination of probation
and community service. Eaven if his sentencing is minimal, he still has
to work through a sticky web of negotiations between B&D Productions
and various city organizations that decide how local businesses are run.
Ferguson believes the theater already provides many services to the San
Leandro community. The Bal screens open-captioned movies for the hearing-impaired
on Sundays (it is the only Bay Area theater to do so regularly, and both
Ferguson and Costa are fluent in sign language) and also as a matter of
course donates ticket-sale proceedings to seven different local charities,
including the Davis Street Community Center, the Friends of the Fairmont
Animal Shelter, the Save the Lorenzo Theater Foundation, and United Parents
for San Leandro High. Ferguson has opened the theater for benefit concerts
and community plays and offered movie tickets to other charity events
as prizes. Our tagline is Your hometown movie theater.
Its kind of cheezy but it really comes across as what we want to
be something for everybody, says the hometown boy
hes lived in San Leandro his whole life. And as for Rocky?
I thoroughly feel Rocky Horror is a community-based event,
he says. Its just not for your mainstream community.
Ferguson does not deny that some things went wrong the night of the police
bust the alcohol in the theater, for one thing, and the violation
of local indecent-exposure laws although he pleads ignorance in
both cases. He didnt know that the girl doing the striptease would
take off as much as she did, and he didnt know that kids had sneaked
booze inside. We didnt check for outside food or drink at
all for Rocky, just because you can bring stuff to throw,
he says. I really didnt care if people brought a Coke, you
know, because Im making good money at the door.
following the raid, we instituted an alcohol-is-not-permitted-on-the-premises
And where do Fergusons responsibilities start and end? Thats
a hard call, he says. I think if somebodys snuck alcohol
in the door and they're drinking, then thats not my responsibility.
People do that at other places, everywhere. Although much has been
made of the presence of the unconscious fourteen-year-old, Fegruson has
not been charged with anything and her parents have not filed a civil
suit, largely because she was already drunk when she arrived at the theater.
Us letting her in at that point that she was drunk, yeah, that was
a bad call, Ferguson admits. Actually, she wants to come back,
and we wont let her, because she caused so many problems.
From now on, the Bal Theatre will card its patrons, although Ferguson
still isn't entirely happy with the practice. Ratings devised by
the Motion Picture Association of America are, after all, only
suggestions directed at parents, and are not legally enforceable. We
didnt card before because we felt it was up to the person to decide
if it was appropriate for them to go to the show or not, Ferguson
says, and then reiterates a point that many Rocky Horror fans make:
In my honest opinion, Rocky should not be an R-rated film;
it should be rated PG-13. In 1975, they didnt have PG-13, so in
1975 it made more sense. They say the word fuck once and there's
exposed nipples for about ten seconds, and thats about the extent
As for the aiding indecent exposure charges, he says hes not to
blame. [The police are] saying I encouraged [the girls] by saying,
Hey, they want to see some boobies, which I may have said,
I dont remember, but then and I have witnesses to this
I turned and said, You dont have to do anything you dont
want, he says. So if the audience is yelling at them
to show their tits and Im like, You dont have to do
anything you dont want to do, well, to me that means my responsibility
Theyre not charging the other hundred people in the audience
who were yelling, Show your tits, show your tits with aiding
indecent exposure. He shrugs. I thought that was pretty weak.
He chalks the rest of it up to misunderstanding. After all, Rocky Horror
is chock-full of traditions the uninitiated might find unsettling: the
virgin sacrifices, of course, and the attitude check that
every emcee administers at the start of each show (the audience responds
by yelling Fuck you! and flipping him off), and callback lines
which, although they vary from theater to theater, center around yelling
slut! and asshole! at various charcters. Some
of the antics police witnessed were the Bal casts own inventions,
like the content of the virgin sacrifices as well as a feature the cast
calls the word of the day, a convention familiar to anyone
who ever watched Pee-Wees Playhouse. The emcee chooses a
word, usually something like uvula or mastication
that sounds a little raunchy but is really benign, and then whenever someone
says it, the whole audience has to yell like banshees.
And its true that the culture gap got Ferguson in trouble a few
times. For example, there's a callback line during the opening theme when
the whole audience yells, Fuck in the back row, and when Ferguson
made a reference to it from the stage, the police interpreted it as an
actual invocation to have sex in the theater, bolstered by the fact that
he also mentioned something about not wanting to have to clean up the
seats afterwards. (It seems the cops didnt know that the word of
the day was jiz-mopper.)
Reading the police report from the undercover police officers, they
didnt get it. It didnt click at all, Ferguson says.
There is a frustrated, hand-waving pause before he finally blurts out,
NO! Its just like, NO, Im not telling people to fuck
in the back row. Im making fun of a line from the movie.
Rocky Horror fans have worried that between the raid and the subsequent
bad press, the shows more positive points have been overlooked.
Rocky Horror fandom is an in-crowd, yes, but its an in-crowd
that anyone can join. Its a very accepting environment,
says Ferguson. People who are heterosexual, homosexual, transgender,
confused about their sexuality, unsure who they are, geeky, goths, ravers
all these different groups of people come to one place to have
a good time and everybody is accepting of everybody else, for the most
The teenagers sitting on the floor nod sagely. There's just a lot
of really positive energy that surrounds the entire Rocky atmosphere,
says nineteen-year-old Jason, who looks just like the Eagle Scout that
And some of the Bals teenage patrons say its much better than
other things they could be doing after dark. Sixteen-year-old Ryan, who
is wearing floppy pants and a Pac-Man T-shirt, says the show has his moms
seal of approval. At least on Friday night between the hours of
midnight and three in the morning, she knows that Im doing something
safe, whereas before I was going to raves and things and she had no clue
where I was or what I was up to, he says. For her it was reassuring
to know that Im here every Friday night doing safe things in a safe
Try telling that to the mom
who made the original complaint to the San Leandro PD, a woman who for
this article would like to be identified as Sam McWhorten, who took her
fifteen-year-old daughter, fourteen-year-old son, and a coterie of their
friends to a showing in December. It was really an eye-opener to
how some people push fun a little too far, she says. She didnt
much like a number of things the striptease, the large number of
young teenagers there without a parent, the fact that some of the stage
acts seemed more explicit than usual but what really made her blood
boil was when a man in his twenties, who was wearing a pink velvet prom
dress, hit on her son during the Time Warp. As the dance was over,
this man put his arm around my son and told him he was cute and that he
was looking for some teenies teenagers, says
McWhorten. My son handled it so gracefully; he just slid out from
under his arm and said Thank you, Im not that way. I
was furious, but I didnt want to embarrass my kids because their
friends from school were there.
McWhorten says she hopes Ferguson will keep the show runnning but clean
up the act. Shes even let her kids go back to the few showings Ferguson
has put on since; she says her kids know better than to get involved with
anything illegal. I can trust my two, but I cannot trust the owner
of this theater, she says. He chalks it up to being a new
business owner and being young, and my feeling is that that is a crock
of shit. If you were old enough to get that license and open a business,
you should be old enough to know that youre an adult now and have
responsibilities and its not just a party.
Nate Havoc not quite
his real name is one of the directors of the Barely Legal cast,
which performs Rocky Horror on Saturday nights at Oaklands
Parkway Theatre. He is wearing an outfit that is largely an homage to
sharks (a Jaws T-shirt, a plastic shark dangling from his sweatshirts
hoodpull), but his most striking feature is his hair, which erupts vertically
from his head and goes straight out for four or five inches until its
finally gelled into quills thanks to a highly congealed mixture of Ivory
Soap and Aqua Net. (My hair is nice and clean, he says in
a bit of an understatement.)
One of the side effects of the police raid has been that Rocky Horror
aficionados have emerged from the woodwork to either defend the movies
overall let-your-freak-flag-fly message or to differentiate their productions
behavioral codes from the excesses discovered at the Bal. Nate Havoc has
taken the latter strategy ever since two detectives from the San Leandro
PD contacted him to ask if what they saw at the Bal was going on elsewhere.
Through letters to the editors of various papers, Havoc and other concerned
fans have gone to great lengths to get out the word that the Bals
show is not representative of Rocky Horror productions. This
is kind of big news, he says. If public opinion starts to
become that Rocky Horror is not a safe and friendly environment
and not a good place to be, that definitely has an effect on any cast
trying to put on a good show.
He offers up the example of the Parkway, which sells alcohol during other
engagements but shuts off the taps during Rocky Horror, strictly
enforces a seventeen-and-over policy, and presents a much tamer version
of the show. This is not necessarily a movie for a twelve-year-old;
thats why we enforce the rating, says Havoc. If youre
seventeen and older, its fine. But the fact that the Parkway
has such a by-the-books production is partially the reason that Fergusons
cast at the Bal Theatre exists at all, and is the cause of a little bad
blood between the East Bays two Rocky Horror casts.
Both Havoc and Ferguson were once involved with the Bay Areas original
Rocky Horror show, which ran for 24 years at Berkeleys UC Theatre.
When its resident cast, Indecent Exposure, retired in 1995, Barely Legal
sprang up to take its place. Ferguson, who played first Brad Majors and
then the criminologist in the new cast, advanced from being the publicity
manager to eventually becoming co-director.
In 1999, Landmark Theatres, which owned the UC, announced that it was
canceling its showings of Rocky Horror because it was replacing
the theaters seats and screen and didnt want the toast-flinging
hordes causing unnecessary wear and tear on the new furnishings. The Barely
Legal cast went searching for a new home in in the process found two:
Oaklands Parkway and San Franciscos Kabuki. The show only
ran for a little while at the Kabuki, but the Parkways cast just
celebrated its 100th show last month.
In the process of looking for a new theater, Ferguson thought of the Bal,
which had first opened in 1946. Although once a lavish and modern theater,
its business had slowed in the 60s, and over the last thirty years
various operators had showed Spanish-language and then Hindi films. Ferguson
and Costa daydreamed about taking over the Bal, and this soon evolved
into real plans to rent the theater. Ferguson worked as a systems manager
for a software company, and when that employer was bought out, Ferguson
was given what he calls a fat retention bonus which he sank
into restoring the Bal after signing a five-year lease. The city of San
Leandro pitched in $5,500 to restore the marquee and exterior paintwork,
and the rest of the project was pure sweat.
Thats when the split with the Barely Legal cast began. Ferguson
says he had not originally intended to stage Rocky Horror at the
Bal, but the idea of doing a show on his own turf was so appealing that
last Ocotober he invited the Barely Legal cast to do a one-time-only Halloween
show in San Leandro. Barely Legal turned him down, so Ferguson decided
to round up his own cast for the evening and do the show anyway. This
riled tempers, feeding the perception that Ferguson was devoting his best
efforts to his own business, and not the Oakland cast.
Barely Legal members signed a petition asking him to step down as a director;
it was never delivered because Ferguson preempted them by quitting. We
just didnt see eye-to-eye anymore, he explains. He says he
thought the Oakland show had grown stale, that the audience was shrinking
because they were failing to recruit new fans, and that the security at
the Parkway was overbearing. They have twenty people in the audience
and they have like 25 security members, sniffs Ferguson. Thats
why I left it was not fun, there was nobody in the audience, nobody
was coming back again, and security was like this brute force of militant
people who searched you when you came in. Besides, the idea of putting
on a show in his own place was growing more and more appealing.
And if Ferguson wanted new blood, he found it in San Leandro. His new
cast, which dubbed itself Denton Deliquents after the fictional town in
which the movie is set, is both younger than the Barely Legal cast and
newer to Rocky Horror fandom. About half of the players are under
seventeen and therefore are not supposed to be watching R-rated movies
without a parent present.
I think he wanted more of an atmosphere where a thirteen-year-old
could come and party at Rocky, and we don't really have that here,
says Havoc diplomatically. Our show is very professional; we pretty
much stick to doing a very screen-accurate performance, and I think he
wanted more of an opportunity to let people improv and not necessarily
do what is happening in the movie.
Half an hour before the show
is scheduled to start, Rocky Horror patrons are already lined up
outside Oaklands Parkway Theatre. Its true that security is
tight; two extremely tall, muscular men, severely attired in black jeans
and vests that would make them look like bounty hunters if it werent
for the giant Mag Lites swinging from their belts, are conspicuously on
duty. One of them appears to be wearing a shoulder hoster, although its
empty. The crowd varies in age, with most in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties.
Lets get this rodeo started, one of the security guards
Inside, someone says, Cast, on your feet, and the people in
the lobby, who I had thought were just lounging before the show, quickly
form themselves into two rows three men, three women. After the
audience member has shown his or her ID to one of the security guys at
the front door, he/she buys a ticket at the front booth and then heads
to the gender-appropriate line for a quick pat-down. If the person is
carrying a bag, a cast member checks to make sure he or shes not
bringing in alcohol. A drag queen in heels and fishnets, tottering up
the lobbys sloped floor, veers first toward the women, then catches
herself, rolls her eyes, and heads toward the men. Nobody seems to mind
being frisked; its all part of the drill. Inside the audience is
chanting Give me lips! as a very large, very red pair slowly
materializes on the screen. This is how The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The rest of it goes like this: It is a dark and stormy night. Newly engaged
naifs Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon) are
on their way to visit their former instructor Dr. Everett Scott when their
car gets a flat; there is a castle nearby with a light burning, so they
head over to see if they can use the phone. Inside they meet the flamboyant
Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a mad scientist who spends most of the
movie in a black corset, heels, a green surgeons smock, and a pair
of rubber gloves.
He is, of course, creating a monsters, or rather a boy-toy; the blond
muscled hunk he has dubbed Rocky Horror. With great fanfare, Rocky is
brought to life before an audience that includes a freaked-out Brad and
Janet and a contingent of tuxedoed spectators who turn out to be from
Franks home planet, Transsexual, in the galaxy of Transylvania.
In due course, the monster runs amuck. Frank seduces Janet. Frank seduces
Brad. Janet seduces Rocky. Riff Raff and Magenta, Franks creepy
domestic staff, seduce each other. There are some pretty big song-and-dance
numbers, featuring not only Meatloaf but also Little Nell as a tap-dancing
groupie named Columbia. Dr. Scott shows up in the middle of everything,
having figured out that Frank is really an alien. Frank turns everyone
into statues, and then theres a floor show in which everyone has
to wear Merry Widows and face paint and ends up in a swimming pool. Then
it just gets more complicated.
Eventually, we find out that Riff Raff and Magenta are really Transylvanians,
and theyre about to put an end to Franks shenanigans. Frank-N-Furter,
its all over, intones Riff Raff. Your mission is a failure,
your lifestyles too extreme. They zap Frank with a laser (Society
must be protected, says Dr. Scott approvingly), and the whole house
blasts off for Transsexual. Brad and Janet are left crawling around in
their drenched corsets, shaken by their sexual awakening. The movie makes
very little sense, which doesnt seem to matter; the people who love
it really love it.
Richard OBrien, who penned the script for both the original live
stage show and the movie, in which he plays Riff Raff, intended it as
both an homage to and a spoof of the B-movies of his youth; the calls
the show something any ten-year-old could enjoy. Although
some of its elements (homosexuality, cross-dressing) had more shock value
in 1975 than they do now, its Dont dream it, be it message
has always been something any underdog could love.
Well, maybe not. The film bombed when it was originally released. It got
a second life when a Fox executive managed to get it shown as a midnight
movie. Rocky Horrors poor qualities as a film turn out to
be its best qualities as a cult phenomenon; bad editing and slack line
pickup make for long pauses between lines, and audience members quickly
figured out that if you yelled carefully timed witticims at the screen,
the characters would seem to respond to you. Over time, a standard callback
script evolved, but lines vary among theaters and can be updated to include
topical humor. (Describe George Bush, the Parkway audience
yells before Frank launches into a song that begins with the phrase A
weakling, weighing 98 pounds.)
Audience participation grew to include dressing as charcters from the
film and throwing stuff at opportune points in the movie. In the past,
this has included rice, confetti, toilet paper, newspaper, hot dogs, and
toast as well as lighting candles and shooting water from squirt guns
during the rainstorm scene. Much of this is now banned at both the Parkway
and Bal theaters for reason to do with fire safety, the tendency of theater
fixtures to mold after an indoor rainstorm, and the general reluctance
of theater managers to pick up rotting meat products from the floor several
It was not such a huge leap to go from having the audience shout things
to creating a shadow cast a group that would lip-sync the story
on the stage as the movie rolled behind them. Barely Legal and Denton
Delinquents are just two of hundreds of Rocky Horror casts around
It turns out that Ive arrived on a special night at the Parkway;
tonights show has a masquerade theme. The woman playing
Janet is wearing a white mask and a flouncy blue dress that would not
look out of place wherever it is that pirate wenches hang out; the woman
playing Rocky is wearing a catsuit, Riff Raff is disguised as the Joker
from Batman, and Frank-N-Furter sports a bewildering array of headgear
that includes a Mexican wrestlers mask and a Darth Vader helmet.
The masks have rendered much of the lip-syncing moot, but its really
never the point, anyway.
I warned you it would be an unusual night, says Nate Havoc
as he rushes by. His spiky hair is squashed beneath a rubber skull mask,
and by the time he makes his way from the back row where I am sitting
to the stage where he is filling in for the role of Dr. Everett Scott,
his costume has grown to include a tux with tails, a wheelchair with a
lap blanket, and a pair of skeletal gloves.
The movie ends, as it always does, with the demise of the mad doctor.
(Were about to beam the whole house back to Transsexual in
the galaxy of Transylvania, Riff Raff thunders. You mean we
cant use your phone? the audience yells.) The credits roll.
Its 3:00 a.m. and I am exhausted, but I have gotten the point. People
can celebrate the freakiness of Rocky Horror while staying clothed
and sober. Is it too much to claim that a movie about a cross-dressing
transsexual mad scientist from outer space can be good, clean fun?
Because of its regular audience,
Rocky Horror is a cash cow for many theaters, and the Bal has been
without its cash cow now for four weeks running. Athough Ferguson estimates
that the take from Rocky Horror represents about 35 to 40 percent
of his revenues, the show is on hiatus while he tries to work out a production
acceptable to the powers-that-be. In the meantime, his expenses add up;
the buildings gas bill alone was $2,000, which is why Ferguson yells
PG&E! every time someone leaves the lobby doors open.
For $2,000, I could hand out blankets at the door, he grumbles
Ferguson has depleted most of the funds he made as a systems administrator;
now he picks up additional cash by dealing craps for a company that entertains
at corporate parties. (I will leave it to your imagination what the police
reaction was when they found a practice craps table in the theaters
upstairs office.) Yeah, I used to have money, sighs Ferguson.
No one is likely to ever again see a Denton Delinquents show like the
one the San Leandro cops caught in January, so substantially have the
Bals policies been altered. Shorly after the raid, Tim Hansen, the
citys finance director, threatened to revoke B&D Productions
business license, an event that Hansen can only remember happening in
San Leandro once before. There was a public hearing during which many
including advocates for the hearing-impaired testified to
the theaters community value. Ferguson hosted a free 8:00 pm Rocky
Horror show so that concerned community members could come check things
Ultimately B&D Productions was allowed to retain its license by agreeing
to a set of strict rules; they would card and enforce MPAA ratings, not
allow alcohol or nudity or pornography, and finally, the theater would
close by midnight, meaning that all future shows would have to begin at
the un-Rocky-like hour of 9:45 pm. Through a weird twist of fate,
this makes the Bal the only theater in the coutry to have its adherence
to MPAA ratings required by a government agency.
The aftermath of the raid also brought attention to some persnickety details,
like the fact that, technically, Ferguson is not licensed to have dancing
in his establishment. That rules out the Time Warp. Fergusons not
sure how he can enforce this: Its only a minute and a half
of dancing, he says. I might say, Youre not supposed
to dance the Time Warp, but by the time I get them to sit down,
Two weeks ago, Ferguson attempted to circumvent dealing with MPAA restrictions
by staging an all-live show the cast would perform without the
movie behind it. Perhaps he had tempted fate by hanging WERE
BACK in giant letters on the marquee, but just hours before showtime,
a fax rolled in from the citys chief building official and the fire
department, saying that he would have to consult with those two agencies
before putting on a live show. That nights show was cancelled. Although
Ferguson later met with city officials and came to an amicable agreement
about how to safely stage a live show, hes frustrated. We
want to follow the rules, but its like there are new rules every
time, he sighs.
The fact that he keeps having to jump through new hoops makes him wonder
if the ultimate goal is to drive Rocky Horror out of town. Of
course, theyre not going to say, You cant do Rocky,
because thats really bad, he muses. Or maybe, he says, they're
just leary of any nightlife at all. I dont think San Leandro
was ready to have something to do. The police have nothing to do at midnight
on a Friday night, obviously. The fact that the second arrest took
place in front of his patrons remains a very sore point he and
many of his cast think it was engineered to scare them into shape.
Its become its own mini-drama, especially since someone made a videotape
of the arrest, which has been replayed at the beginning of subsequent
Rocky Horror screenings, accompanied by a booming version of the
COPS theme song and swirling red lights.
The tape shows the lobby of the Bal about forty minutes to showtime. People
have already gathered, including someone with a vendor-style tray who
is selling things to throw and a man who appears to be wearing a helmet.
They watch, horrified, as Ferguson is cuffed and sedately led out to a
squad car. Bye, Brady! they yell.
Back inside, the owner of the videocamera pans the room as someone grabs
a megaphone and makes an announcement. Come over and give the man
in the hard-hat a dollar so we can give it to Brady and bail him out,
he says. Then as an afterthought he adds, Again.
The collection netted a grand total of $77. Fergusons actual bail
was $5,000, plus he had posted $2,100 for his first arrest and an additional
ten percent for the bondsman.
The word of the day had been felony.
The SLPDs DeGrano, however, says that the police did their best
to be discreet. We tried going to his home, we left numerous messages
for him, notes, my business card, he says. Thats the
onlytime we could find him we go down to the theater and thats
where he is.
And city officials insist that they dont object to the movie itself,
but rather to what happens inside the theater while the movie is shown.
The Rocky Horror Show isnt the issue; what was going
on with The Rocky Horror Show was, says Hansen. Quite
frankly, Ive never seen it, and I couldnt care less if its
shown. Its an R-rated movie and there are hundreds of them out there.
Its hard to tell if the city is really being extra tough on Feguson
or if its simply enforcing citywide business laws, because the Bal
is currently the only theater operating in San Leandro. Right now, behind
the Bayfair Mall, construction crews are hard at work building a new Century
Theaters multiplex, but right now the building is still empty, surrounded
by dirt and cyclone fencing. When the Century opens, says Ferguson, it
will be treated with a whole different set of rules big theaters
dont have stages like the Bal, so they dont need live show
permits, and big theaters get tax breaks and other city perks. Of course,
big theaters don't show the kind of movies during which audience members
get up to dance in the aisles.
Its late on Friday, the
night the all-live show was canceled. Nevertheless, the theater is full
of teenagers; Ferguson and Costa have provided snacks and invited them
to stay and socialize.
Ferguson is still interested in the idea of having his cast perform
Rocky Horror as a play; one is running on Broadway right now. The
hitch is that currently his cast only has to vamp and lip-sync; staging
a real show is much more demanding. Its singing and dancing
and tech crew, and its two steps above our performing level, he
says. Plus, hes not sure that it would bring in a return audience.
Wed be doing something so different form what anybody else
is doing in the country, so were just trying to figure out if it
will actually work, he says. The only [live] Rocky Horror
Shows that have been done are professional shows at fifteen bucks
a head plus, or on Broadway like 75, so you dont get that repeat
crowd. You dont get that social aspect. Were trying to figure
out if you can keep it at five dollars, and if we can get the performers
to want to do it, and if the audience wants to come.
It wont be easy. Denton Delinquents were chose based on enthusiasm
and availability, not talent. Tonight, forbidden from watching the movie
or acting out the show itself, the teenagers in the theater have resorted
to karaoke. Some cast members sing beautifully, some cant sing a
note. And a few are just here for kicks. They chase each other through
the theater, flying out one set of doors, winging past the concession
stand, and back in through another. They sit on one another, they ride
around on each others shoulders, they giggle, they shout, they flirt,
Robb Scott, whose fourteen-year-old daughter is in the cast, pulls up
a seat beside me. Brady is no saint, he observes, but these
kids wouldnt have come here if it was Lawrence Welk. Doesnt
he worry that some of what goes on here is too explicit for a fourteen-year-old?
Not really. What the police have said about the things theyre
worried about reflects a disconnection from what goes on in the world,
he says wryly. They havent watched MTV? They havent
been to a dance? They havent been around high school kids? In the
context of the way kids live, this is a wholesome environment.
Up in the control booth, Costa is taking requests, and the selections
veer wildly between Rocky Horror standards and pop hits by Queen,
Thomas Dolby, Toni Basil, and Billy Joel. The teenagers onstage sway with
their arms around each other, they hold the mike in one hand and make
sweeping gestures toward the audience with the other, they make little
leaps and pirouettes across the stage. It would be easy to dismiss
Rocky Horror fans as people who never quite got over the glory days
of the high school drama club, but these kids are in the high school
drama club. They still want to pretend. They want to be stars. They want
to wear Merry Widows while the rest of the world wears identical Gap khakis.
These kids all made their own costumes; it took them months,
says Scott. Its not like some casual little thing. They watched
the movie over and over and over to learn the lines. Instead of one school
play a year where they get a little role, they get to come out onstage
By this point, all the people in the theater had migrated to the stage,
where they were gleefully shouting the lyrics to Sweet Transvestite.
Its the song Frank-N-Furter belts out when he makes his first lingerie-clad
entrance, and it seves as a kind of capsule version of Rocky Horrors
Im-not-what-you-think-I-am aesthetic. It goes:
Don't get strung out by the way I look
Dont judge a book by its cover
Im not much of a man by the light of day
But by night Im one hell of a lover.
Out in the house, the theater seats were completely empty. But the people
onstage, caught up in the rush of being young and strange and loud and
together, didnt seem to notice.