You may have noticed that a few more amazing contributors have joined the Already Pretty team, and today I’m thrilled to introduce Cassie, author of Reluctant Femme. Cassie will be writing about beauty, cosmetics, feminism, sexuality, body image, and more. Today, though, she’s going to tell us a bit about herself. And Rocky Horror.
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A little while ago Sally asked me to join the contribution team here, and as a long time reader I was, of course, absolutely thrilled. A very small percentage of you might be here because I’ve linked this off my own little tiny blog, but I imagine to most of you I’m a complete stranger. By way of an introduction, I’ve decided tell you about a little cult movie called “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and how it changed my life.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has meant so much to so many people, I couldn’t possibly hope to fit it all into one post. It’s insane, and bizarre, and ugly, and somehow incredibly beautiful for all it’s glaring flaws. Based on a successful stage play, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was a complete flop when it first hit cinemas. In order to try and scrape back some of their investment, Fox began showing it at midnight screenings, which ended up suiting its “creature of the night” mood much better than a prime time slot. Audiences started showing up in ever-increasing numbers, and even showing up in homemade versions of the movie costumes. They started coming along every week to see the same damn movie over and over. Then one day, something magical happened – someone started shouting at the screen. (Just who this was and what they shouted is a matter of much heated debate within the fandom.) Someone repeated the jokes that had been shouted the next week. The week after, someone brought rice to toss during a wedding scene. And the audience participation Rocky Horror Show was born.
August 19, 1979: Audience participation during
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Admiral Theater.
Four decades later “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has the longest theatrical release in history. Cinemas just never stopped showing it, and audiences just never stopped showing up to join in the insanity. I personally think that without the audience participation aspect, the movie would have sunk without a trace. But the way the characters are written encourages fans to be who they want to be, wear what they want to wear, and throw toast when they think it’ll be funny. It’s a beautiful symbiosis, and one I was lucky enough to be a part of for three wonderful years.
The first time I went to a Rocky Horror audience participation show I was only 18 and had just moved from a small country town to the Big City just weeks before. My mum had shown me “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” one night when I was taking a study break from my final exams, and I’d LOVED it, so when I realised there was this audience participation thing, I had to go along to check it out. While I had loved the movie on its own, once the call-backs started flying in between the lines of dialogue, and the cast danced, and the audience threw rice and toast, I knew I just had to be a part of it.
For three years I showed up every Friday night; I put on one of my ever-increasing collection of satin button-up shirts, black pants, and a bow tie. Every Friday I screamed and sang and danced my little heart out. Quite apart from the experience of watching a movie about an alien transvestite over and over, the sheer diversity of the people in the cast taught me more about the world outside my sheltered little home town than I ever could have hoped to learn anywhere else in such a short period of time.
I met Real Live Gay People for the first time. I saw girls making out with other girls for the first time, and realised that it might actually be okay to want to make out with girls AND boys. I met boys who liked to dress as girls for the first time, and girls who liked to dress as boys. The cast took me drinking in the local gay district, and I remember seeing drag queens in person for the first time and being immediately insanely jealous of their makeup skills and how good they looked in heels that would cripple me. We were all freaks, we were all weird, and when we were together, anything we wanted to do, say, or wear was okay.
This part of my experience has always stayed with me – once you’ve been immersed in a group so diverse and so accepting, it’s virtually impossible to close your mind off again. Because I was exposed to so many possibilities so young, nothing about gender identity really startles me – and for that I’m eternally grateful to my Rocky castmates.
But there is a specific part of that whole experience I let slip away for a long time, and I really wish I hadn’t.
As well as being diverse in terms of gender and sexuality, the cast of my Rocky show was also incredibly body positive. A lot of that rubbed off on me before I even know there was a particular word for it. I watched gorgeous, curvy, tattooed women bump and grind on audiences so many times I forgot that big girls weren’t supposed to wear skirts that short, and started wearing shorter skirts myself. The amount of time I spent changing in front of other people more or beat any self-consciousness out of me. When you have to do quick costume changes in very close quarters, and your costume often involves corsets, you either get over people seeing your wobbly bits, or you leave. I got over it, and this meant I was never self-conscious about being naked with people I actually WANTED to see me naked. If I could show the Rocky cast my dimply thighs, it seemed ridiculous to get squeamish about getting naked in front of a lover.
But somewhere along the line, I lost these wonderful, crucial learnings. I eventually left the cast, because I wanted my Friday nights back for other things. I stopped wearing any of the makeup I’d gotten for Rocky, or any of the shirts, because I decided it was too “silly,” and that I was going to be a proper Goth instead.
(Yes, I realise the absolute irony of this NOW.)
What I wish I could do to my younger self who decided
being “cool” was more important than being happy.
I forgot how to strip off without caring, and became horribly self-conscious. I stopped wearing short skirts and never went to the beach. In the Goth scene, there were so many stunning, impeccably put-together women that I forgot how beautiful being messy or even just casually dressed can be. I let so many positive, good things I’d learned just slip away as soon as I left the cast, and I now find myself having to relearn them all over again.
It’s harder to change these habits when you’re older. When I was 18, any new idea that got thrown at me more or less stuck. When you’ve had so little experience of anything, you tend to take on new ideas much more easily, because you have no contradictory information with which to dismiss them. I could get naked in front of friends and strangers because no one had ever been an asshole to me about it. But in the intervening years, they have. And it’s so much harder to make the good things stick now.
But I’m trying my damndest, and slowly, little by little, the confidence and freedom is coming back. I’m going to wrap it up today with a clip of one of my favourite songs in the whole movie, from right at the end. It’s Frank’n’Furter’s glorious swansong – he sings about being lost, broken, and far from home, but how amazing the journey to get there has been, and it always gives me a little lump in my throat. The shot where he raises one arm to the spotlight as the music reaches it’s crescendo is glorious, and I hope one day to feel as triumphant and satisfied as he does right there, and right then.
(And also, maybe, one day to be able to strut in heels as confidently.)
If you would like to hear more about other people’s life-changing experiences with Rocky Horror Audience Participation casts, there is actually a Kickstarter running at the moment to get a documentary made about just that. Swing on over to Rocky Horror Saved My Life, and check out their plan to make you a
Image credits: Original promotional poster for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, sourced from RockyHorror.com, audience crowd scene from the archives of the Omaha World Herald, Promotional image of Richard O’Brien and Tim Curry sourced from PeachesChrist, screencap taken from The Rocky Horror Picture Show DVD by author, movie copyright 20th Century Fox.
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The author of Reluctant Femme, Cassie is a queer thirty something Australian who thinks too much, reads too much, talks too much, and collect way too many pretty things. Her writing revolves around an exploration of femme concepts, beauty products, feminism, and how they intersect with being a queer, poly, cisgender woman. You can also catch up with her in shorter bursts on Twitter as @anwyn, and see endless pictures of her nails on Instagram as @anwynincognito. She lives for comments, so if you’re reading by all means speak up! Even if you think she’s full of crap, she always likes to hear feedback.