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Playing With Your Audience

A lot of the fun at Rocky Horror starts before the show. I like to circulate in costume through the people buying tickets and mark all the virgins with lipstick (the cheap kind, so it doesn't matter if it gets lost and so it will come off easily). This is best done with the lipstick stored in your cleavage or stockings between virgins to keep things interesting. Virgins can either be marked on their cheeks for easy identification with a big red 'V', or you can let them choose where they want to be marked...or you can just redo your own lipstick, and mark them with your lips, which can be fun too. Recalcitrant virgins should be quizzed on the movie, or you can always point out to their friends that betraying your friends can be fun. Once everyone is in the theater, it's nice to have an MC who gets things started. We usually started things as follows:

'Ladies and gentlemen (pause) and all the rest of you perverts. Welcome to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. As you all know, this film has been playing for (however many) years. Audience participation is what's kept it alive. So, we're going to help you all warm up. The first thing I'd like you to do is STAND UP! Very good. Now I'd like you all to put your right hand in the air. Put your left hand someplace appropriate--like your crotch. Or your neighbor's. Now repeat after me--'

I (I) State your name (State your name) --Every f*cking week... Pledge allegiance To the Rocky Horror Picture Show And to the Perversions For which it stands One movie Under Richard O'Brien With sins of the flesh and erotic nightmares for all. You can sit down now.

It's now time to humiliate your virgins.

Now that your virgins are marked, bringing them up on stage to be sacrificed is much easier. 'Come along, the Master doesn't like to be kept waiting,' is a nice line to use. I won't go into virgin sacrifices in great detail; I prefer to leave that to the experts. I like asking them to fake an orgasm (but some will get so nervous they can't do a thing), or subjecting them to three questions from the audience (of course, this requires a lively audience). At the Montclair GCC, we would sometimes sacrifice them to each other or a cast member, although this too makes some virgins nervous. Have one virgin lie down on the ground. Have the other virgin stand straddling them (above the crotch area, of course). Cast members should now grasp (one each) the supine virgin's arms and legs. It helps to have someone holding the straddling virgin in place, too; they chicken out sometimes. On the count of three, the cast members lift the supine virgin up off the ground to the other virgin's crotch. This usually sends the standing virgin jumping into the air. This is usually repeated 3 times, and makes nice blackmail photo material. It's also probably the most effortless f*ck either virgin will ever have. This is also a good opportunity to involve audience members, who are usually happy to help lift.

After this, or a virgin auction, or a virgin competition (find the cherry in the paper plate of whipped cream--with your teeth, no hands; find the condom hidden on the cast member, etc.) is over, what you do depends on your situation. If you're lucky, the theater let you know ahead of time exactly when the film would start. If so, then you're free to do musical numbers (from Shock Treatment; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) or whatever you like. I've never been that lucky; in the theaters I have performed in, they start when they damn well feel like it. So here are a few space fillers:

(Classics, stolen from Sal): Give me an R! Give me an O! C! K!Y! What's that spell? (ROCKY!)

or: B, R, A, D (which spells 'ASSHOLE') J,A,N,E,T (which spells 'SLUT!')

I have found that with some audiences it helps to have a large cardboard card with the answer written on it for the Brad/Janet spellings; otherwise, if the audience has a lot of virgins, they think 'BRAD' spells 'Brad'. Go figure. There is also Q,W,R,X,Z, (or whatever); after getting the audience to spell this nonsense word the MC looks disgusted and says 'Man, you guys will do anything.'

The following is also cute, but requires some plants in the audience who know the responses:

Attitude Check! (Fuck you!) Hormone Check! (Fuck me!) Reality Check (Fuck no!)

If they still refuse to start the film, of course you can all chant 'Lips' until they do, but this gets old fast. After the film, it's always a nice touch to do cast call, and introduce the players when their characters appear on screen: 'Your Janet tonight was...(whoever)' When all the characters have been introduced, we always liked to chant in unison: 'We made you laugh; we made you cry; we made you kiss 5 bucks goodbye.'


The two most important things to remember about pre-shows are: Mention theater rules, and don't make it too long. How long is too long? As with everything, it varies, and you'll find experience is the best teacher. However, a good rule of thumb is: The more experienced the Audience is, the longer your pre-show can be. If, on the other hand, your Audience is mostly virgins, a lengthy pre-show will only intimidate them further. Of course, special occasions (Anniversaries, Halloween, etc.) call for longer pre-shows, but again, be careful not to overdo it. Since it helps to be heard by the people in the back ("F**k the Back Row!"), the MC should either have a loud voice, or you should get a bullhorn or microphone (ask your theater manager if he can plug you into the theater's PA system). It's usually good to welcome everybody, and mention any special occasions (Transylversaries, upcoming "Special" shows, cast weddings/engagements - assuming the Audience is familiar with you - etc.). A special welcome for virgins is also a good idea: One way is to line them all up, get the Audience to yell "F**k You!", then tell them "Now you can go home and tell your parents you were f**ked by an entire theater!" Another is to pick a few out (friends of cast members are a popular choice) and do a "special" initiation. One cast I was with picked four couples (*usually* Boy/Girl, but...), gave each a Twizzler (usually), and then asked them to eat their partner's Twizzler as erotically as possible (while the Audience chanted "Safe Sex! Safe Sex!"). Another "auctioned off" the virgins, forcing them to sit with the highest "bidders" (obviously, it was all in fun - no money changed hands). Just remember, whatever you do, not to force the virgins to do anything (coax, yes, force, no). You don't want them to feel so uncomfortable they won't come back, or, in extreme cases, sue you.

Many casts have souvenirs for virgins: the Nuart cast in LA gave (gives?) away diplomas (see Creatures of The Night pg. 89), several casts I've been with gave away "I Lost My Virginity at [Theater Name]" buttons (see the end of this article for more info on button making). One cast, to keep costs down, just picked four "Token" virgins to give buttons to each night. Another had "I Lost...," "Rocky Horror Token Virgin (Don't Ask)," and "Popcorn Virgin" buttons (the assumption being that anyone who buys popcorn to see RHPS must be a Virgin). Another possibility is T-Shirts, but that can get prohibitively expensive. Obviously, if you want to do any of these things, a cast treasury would be a good idea.

Other things some casts do is lip-synch RHPS songs (and RHPS-related songs, such as those by Tim Curry and Meatloaf). This can get self-indulgent, however, especially if you start lip-synching *non-* ROCKY stuff (one cast I saw did "Cry Little Sister," another did "Shout [a little bit louder now]"). As with everything, it depends on your audience: If they're into it, fine; if, however, they're squirming in their seats and looking at their watches, you may want to drop lip-synching from your roster, especially if you planned several songs and you're only on your first one.

Sometimes casts have opening acts. Among the ones I've seen are: a performance poet, an "a capella" group, and a band made up of some of the cast. Usually, these are best reserved for special occasions, but again ("and again, and again and again, and again!") it varies.

As I've mentioned before, theater rules are vital. This goes double if you're just starting or recently switched theaters (about the same thing, really), especially if the new theater has stricter rules than your old one. The fact is, although there are a few who'll wantonly break the rules, most people will follow them if they know what the rules are! In my experience, it's best to save the rules for last, otherwise the audience might forget them in the flurry of other pre-show activity. Obviously, you should check with your manager to see what's permissible. Also, don't take the attitude of "I pretty much know what to say." The rules are too important to chance leaving something out. Discuss it with one another, and WRITE THE RULES DOWN. Keep a cheat-sheet handy (at first, anyway) just in case. This will also come in handy if the usual MC can't make it and someone has to fill in for him/her. Eventually, you'll probably develop a routine complete with callbacks. Remember, if the audience remembers the callbacks to the rules, they'll remember the rules themselves.

With all that out of the way, the only thing left is to start the show! The old standbys, "Gimme an 'R'!" and "Lips! Lips! Lips!" are what my casts usually used, but you have to see what works for you. Whatever you do, though, make sure you tell the projectionist. Otherwise, you could have the movie starting during the pre-show, or way too long after the audience has gotten laryngitis.

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At my home theater, Cross Keys in Florissant, the cast and spectators always have an auction. We sell anything that comes to mind, whether it's there or not. Example:

Our Eddie sold three grey hairs off his maternal grandfather's left testicle to a couple of RHPS virgins. Once they sold a friend of mine in slave labor to our criminologist.

I think our ritual of an auction before the movie starts adds to the experience, not only for virgins, but everyone. It gets us worked up and in the mood for running around the theater barking at Rocky or throwing confetti. Other casts definitely will benefit because it gives everyone a chance to socialize before the movie starts and to meet people.