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From the Zen Room to RockyHorror.org

The following post is reproduced from my Fan Profile at RockyHorror.com

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The year was 1984 and I was a high school junior.  I'd heard of Rocky Horror but had never been. I knew all the words to The Time Warp, having heard it innumerable times on The Dr. Demento Show, but had no idea where it came from. Then, one fateful weekend, I asked my friend Lola what we were doing that evening. We were in the car and well down the road before she said we were going to see Rocky, something I had, until then, really not been keen to do. Sue me, I had no idea. But after that first show, I was hooked.

From then on, I spent every weekend making the 20-minute drive to the show. I honestly can't remember much about the cast, probably because I didn't have anything to compare them with. After about a year, my friends and I started going to the show in Santa Barbara, California, an hour's drive, but very much worth it. The crowd was larger and the cast, if you could call it that, made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in showmanship. There was no stage and most cast members tried to put together a costume, generally only getting "close." But everyone was fully into it and really, that's more than half the battle. For many years we made the trip, saw the show, and made 2am trips to the Denny's-like place for country gravy on fries, Rocky Romances and "it's too late to drive all the way home"misadventures. 

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In 1989 I moved to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly. This added 30 minutes to the drive and about the time it got to be too much, I heard that there would be a showing at the college auditorium. Imagine my thrill as I entered the venue, prepared for the worst and hoping for the best. I'm sure many people have been to a show in a strange town where nobody did callbacks and there not only was no cast, but most of the audience didn't even realize something was missing. One of two things happens: Either the audience is shocked and scandalized by the person shouting lines at the screen, wondering if you're an idiot or have a medical condition; or you open their eyes and enjoy giving the best 100-minute comedy routine ever. (I remember a 2008 Rocky Horror showing on a Caribbean cruise, where I was the only one shouting lines - the blue-haired cruise contingent was pretty evenly split between the two classes. But I digress. )

I was anticipating that the audience would be mostly virgins.  The audience was mostly inexperienced, but there were plenty of fans and, to my surprise and happiness, a cast! As with any college, people came from all over, and of course some were Rocky fans. How they found each other and put together a cast, I never found out. The show was a lot of fun, though, and afterwards I went up to the Columbia and thanked her for the show. After a quick exchange of bona-fides she invited me to the cast party where we realized that we both came from many years of Rocky fandom. On that night, the idea for the Zen Room cast was born.

We gathered the troops, did some research, and a few months later marched down to the university's student affairs office (Hello, Sir, I'd like an affair please) and filed the paperwork forming an official student club.  We recruited cast and crew, set some dates, booked the film through the university's purchasing office, and promoted the shows.

Rehearsals were in the parking lot at "Earth Orbit," an apartment complex almost completely filled with our group of friends, where we painted the outline of the stage in the asphalt and put down tape for blocking.

Communication was almost completely electronic - this was in the early 90's, before the World Wide Web. We communicated via newsgroups on Usenet and email. Since everyone was online, we kept in touch constantly and, since nobody had heard of the Internet outside of the school, our ability to coordinate seemed superhuman and magical. We weren't just Rocky fans, we were nerdlike Rocky fans.

In the early 90's, we did two shows per quarter to the tune of 700 tickets sold (typically 250 or so for the early show and the rest for the late show), filling a university auditorium. After a few years, we moved into the Cal Poly Theatre, where we were able to perform on an actual stage. It makes a difference.  Instead of a large room in which they put up a screen we had access to a real stage; dressing rooms with makeup tables and mirrors; props storage; and stage rigging to put on what, without the movie, would have been dangerously close to a staging of The Rocky Horror Show. Continuing once a quarter, we often sold out the 500-seat theater.

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When I started performing with Zen Room, I knew that a lot of my time would be spent helping run the show. I regularly acted as the show's MC and then performed as Crim, which allowed me to perform as well as manage. A side benefit of being Crim is that one is uniquely positioned to assist with pranks. There was no conflict in ensuring, for example, that a large tub of Crisco was in the right place at the right time... It was tradition that our Eddie acted as the windshield wipers for Brad and Janet's car. This frequently resulted in "Plumber's crack" during this scene, and one show we decided that crack needed to be patched. With Crisco as the spackle.

In 1996, we decided it was time to use our superpowers for good, and we put on a two-show night where we boosted the ticket price a couple extra dollars and donated 100% of our profits to the San Luis Obispo AIDS Network. We called the night "Science Fiction Double Feature" and, at least for me, it marked the highlight of my time with Zen Room.

That show also marked a pivotal time in my life as well.  I had been dating our cast makeup artist, Lisa, for only three weeks when we realized we would be short a Trixie for the benefit show. I thought to myself, "Ask her to do Trixie. If she runs away screaming, you dodged yourself a bullet." She didn't run away, and I knew I had a keeper.  One year later, she became my wife.

Alas, all good things come to an end, and in 1997 I left San Luis Obispo, recruited by Microsoft to bail Bill Gates out of a jam. I moved to Seattle and found that I didn't have much time for Rocky while turning into a member of the Borg Collective. Over the next 13 years I attended many shows, mostly in the Puget Sound area, Oregon and all over California while visiting friends. I returned for visits to San Luis Obispo a few times for Zen Room performances, but my Rocky activity was nowhere near what it had been.

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That is, until late 2010 when I realized that a company I had started, Insider House, was uniquely positioned to test our new social media platform on a community I held near and dear. Insider House had developed a web-based social platform for the community of amateur photographers and models and wanted to expand to other groups. We decided to expand into communities where we also played, so we would know people and ensure that we did right by the community. Rocky Horror seemed a perfect place to play, so I dropped an email to Larry Viezel, who I knew from years and years of online Rocky Horror activity (remember Usenet? Alt.Cult-Films.Rocky-Horror for the win). I told him what we wanted to do, and he mentioned two things. First, he had the RockyHorror.org domain which would be a good fit and second, he was putting on the 4/7/11 convention in Atlantic City - could we have it all ready by then and show up to roll it out? Three months. For a six month project.

*Blink* Um. sure, we can do that. And we did, thanks perhaps to my skills in whip-cracking, outright bribery and willingness to put in 80 hour work weeks.

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Larry also hosted the Rocky Horror FAQ with Ruth Fink-Winter, so we contacted her and converted the FAQ over into a Media Wiki, creating RockyPedia.org.   For good measure we debuted a Facebook presence (http://www.facebook.com/rockyhorror.org). We attended 4/7/11 to launch the site and I quickly remembered what I missed about the community. To say it was one of the best vacations I've had in a long time would be an understatement. Now, two years later, we're preparing for our first major upgrade (it's in testing this April and we expect to roll it out this summer). Facebook.com/rockyhorror.org has approaching 30,000 fans and has been leveraged to help casts and theaters in their times of need, promote shows and Rocky fandom, and bring in new fans.

And, of course, I and the rest of the RockyHorror.org/RockyPedia.org team do it because we love it. In the past two years we've visited casts around the country, made a ton of new friends, and come up with more good ideas than we'll ever have time to implement. I can't imagine letting my involvement in Rocky fandom lapse again!

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Cards for Sorrow

Cards for Sorrow

Only a couple weeks after the Tiffany Theater "beamed up," a special memorial was held for the theater's original Frank N Furter, D. Garrett Gafford, who passed away earlier this year. As his ashes were spread at sea, we listened to "I'm Going Home" and tossed red carnations. We thought of tossing cards, but not all in attendance were of the Rocky clan so we passed on that idea. I also refrained from tossing an SS Titanic life preserver in the mix, though I know Garrett would have appreciated either gesture.  

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Below is my long and rambling blog from when we heard of Garrett's passing earlier this year.

 

 

Cards for Sorrow 6/1/13

Time was on my side, back when I was young and summer was forever  - Paul Williams

 No words were ever truer. The lyric, from an early Paul Williams song called (appropriately) Time, really captures how I feel as of late, especially after hearing of the loss of a very special friend from Rocky Horror's early days.

 When I was a teenager in the 70s, all road led to Rocky Horror. There were other theaters for me as the cult was growing, but I had found a weekly home from the moment I walked in the door at the Tiffany theater a week after seeing Tim Curry open his Read My Lips tour a the Roxy, a few blocks down Sunset Blvd.

The Tiffany was already a major Rocky Horror location, having hosted the film beginning the summer before I arrived. My friend Corky Quakenbush (the same guy who later created the fabulously twisted animated parodies of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on Mad TV) had been performing as Riff Raff at both the Tiffany and Fox Venice, along with one of the first-ever Frank-N-Furters, Michael Wolfson (who was featured in the Bill Henkin book.)

 Michael, however, was not the only Frank at the Tiffany. From the earliest screenings (beginning on June 10, 1977) another, very passionate, Frank was sharing the pre-show stage. Back in those days, there was not yet such a thing as a cast, not in the current directed sense, anyway. I don't mean just at this theater, I mean anywhere. People just started showing up dressed up, and a variety of people took the spotlight, so to speak.

Because Michael lived on the west side, he eventually stuck with the Fox Venice. Using his theatrical aspirations, Michael created The Rocky Horror Revue, which may have been the very first organized cast with applications, rehearsals and a name. Once that took hold, Michael, Corky and their crew left Hollywood (which was really their second theater, anyway), and Garrett remained the lone Frank-N-Furter on the Sunset Strip for then next several years during Rocky Horror's peak years.

Garrett once told me, there was never a competition between the two of them, as Garrett immediately established dominance at the Tiffany. Though for those of us who frequented both venues appreciated the both, there was a big difference. Where Michael played a role, Garrett became a character. It was more than a hobby to Garrett; it was a lifestyle. I'm sure many of you can relate.

 Although there are similarities to all Rocky theater histories, the Tiffany in Hollywood was a sought-out destination. Rocky Horror played in many theaters in the Los Angeles area, but every Rocky regular at some point heard about he Tiffany and thousands made a pilgrimage there. There was a lot of international media coverage of the ongoing insanity. After all, it was Hollywood in the late 70s.  Over time, the Tiffany became legendary, as did Garrett. Part of Garrett's awesome presence came from the fact that Garrett was a living, breathing, transsexual. Garrett was born a woman but lived as a man. This was, not surprisingly, what drew Garrett to the movie and the character. I don't know that I've ever heard of another true transsexual playing Frank, and, honestly, in 1977 that took more than "balls" to pull off.

 I had been going to Rocky there for a several weeks before actually meeting Garrett. One night, my best friend and Rocky companion, Lisa, and I went dressed as the American Gothic couple from "Dammit, Janet" because Little Lisa (we shared the same name, though she became "Little" Lisa and me "Big" Lisa, much to my chagrin) had found a pitchfork in her garage. I also frequently wore a pair of overalls. Add my sister's granny glasses and a black blazer and a Judy Jetson ponytail, and there I was. Not surprisingly, we were invited to join the pre-show that night, and got a lot of laughs. Sound mundane? Trust me-it was different back then. It really hadn't been done before.

 After the movie, Garrett came up to Lisa and I in the lobby and thanked us for joining in. Garrett also said I see you here a lot-what're your names? I didn't miss a beat. In a loud, mock-Magenta, I replied "I'm Lisa, She's Lisa (at which point Little Lisa caught on and joined) You're Lisa, we're ALL LISA." It was quite cinematic, if I do say so myself. From that point forward, Lisa and I were part of the furniture at the Tiffany, and became friends with Garrett both inside and outside of the theater.

 I could easily write a book about the next couple of years. There were highs, lows, and a fair amount of drama. Sex, drugs and rock n roll do take their toll, and by the time the Tiffany closed in 1983, Garrett hung up his/her cape and moved on to real life. We all splintered off at some point, and so many of us did not keep in touch.

 Many years later, I started searching for Garrett. The only trace I could find was a medical study from UCLA that referenced Garrett as a cancer survivor. The paper was old, but I took it as evidence that Garrett was alive. Friendster came and went, as did MySpace. Finally,  Facebook took hold and so many of our old group reunited, but we all had the same question--what ever happened to Garrett?

 There's a longer story, but eventually, all the pieces seemed to fit into place. I found a man in Las Vegas that I became convinced was our Garrett. Armed only with a mailing address, I sent a greeting card with a picture of the Roxy Theater on the front inquiring if this was indeed the same person, and letting him know that there were many who remembered him fondly, and wanted to welcome him back into our growing community. I included my phone number and mailed the letter.

 Less than a week later, I got a phone call, and heard the familiar voice. We hadn't spoken in over 30 years, but it was like only a few weeks had passed. We talked for hours. The most moving part was the admission from Garrett that when it all ended, he felt like an outcast. He thought everyone hated him. He was truly touched to know how many still cared. The icing on the cake? We were having a reunion in a few months, and Garrett couldn't wait to be part of it.

 We spoke several times after that, and it was devastating to all of us when Garrett suffered a stroke towards the end of the year. Down but not out, Garrett was still planning on attending when he suffered a second stroke. It was discovered that Garrett had a brain tumor a few weeks before our March reunion. Garrett was not going to make the reunion, but let us know he still planned on coming to Los Angeles for a visit as soon as he was up and able.

 On May 5th, 2013, D. Garrett Gafford joined a growing list of absent friends.

 Although I am deeply saddened by Garrett's passing, I can't help but feel the joy from our brief reconnection. Sometimes, things happen for a reason, and I feel that there were so many positive revelations and emotions that came from Garrett finding out late in his life how loved he was, and how he was remembered by so many people, and how important he was to the early days of the cult. For Garrett, the days at the Tiffany were some of the best in his life, a feeling that is shared by so many. It truly was a gift to be able to speak with Garrett in his final days, providing blues skies through the tears.

 

 

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Feeling Guilty

I've been doing a lot of seriously hard-core coding on the site, so I decided to take a break tonight and do the new 404 error page.

http://www.rockyhorror.org/NotARealPage.html

:-)

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Cards for Pain

Cards for Pain

 

Cards for Pain originally posted 8/12/13/updated 9/4/13

Although its painful to say, it certainly was no surprise to see the wrecking ball parked in front of the long-dormant Tiffany Theater on the Sunset Strip. The entire block is being replaced with a series of glass hotels and high-priced residences with shops on the ground floor that no one will use since there's already a zillion malls all over town. Welcome to the “Sunset La Cienega Project,” renamed from the moldy “Millennium Project”...a plan locals have been trying to stop since Y2k. 

 In a way, the Tiffany, which was one of the pioneer destinations for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, has already died a few deaths. First when the theater closed and refurbished to become a playhouse in 1983 and a second time when the entire block was converted to a single building by being paved over in stucco in 1997, adding some painfully dated decorative safety-red restraining bars.  Not only was the vintage 1930's wooden facade (that had previously been seen on TV as the detective agency on  77 Sunset Strip) rendered unrecognizable, the classic restaurant next door that had been Dino's Lodge in an earlier lifetime was also buried beneath thick gobs of architectural putty. A third death came when the playhouse closed in 2004, never to reopen.

 L.A. was a fantastic place to grow up, but to steal a line from an old song by Tonio K, she's become a "filthy concrete bitch without a soul." About month ago, the landmark Bullwinkle statue that stood in front of  the old Jay Ward Studios was lifted away, as the building had been sold to a new owner who didn't "have the resources" to maintain the landmark that arrived amid much hooplah in 1961. It is now supposedly housed at Dreamworks studios, "awaiting repair," and is rumored to be returning to some other public location, which I will believe when I see. Unlike the statue (but like so many other forgotten relics) the Tiffany is now a pile of stucco rubble, along with my dreams of winning the lottery so I could buy and restore it to it's former glory (or at least something close.)

 Truth is, what made the place special was neither the architecture nor the decor. For a portion of the hundreds, if not thousands who visited the theater on a regular basis, it was more than just a fun hang; it was a home away from home. Rocky Horror exploded at this place, but the pre-midnight schedule was bold and fun, with a healthy mixture of 3D movies, classic musicals and alternative programming. You were just as likely to see a Rock 'n' Roll movie as you were a gay-themed film, lavish musical or forgotten, vintage title.

 I drove by before the final demolition to take what was my final look at a destination that helped shape my life. Each of us has special memories and feelings about our Rocky theater, and the Tiffany is no exception for countless Rocky Elders. Although it has been dormant for a decade, I'm sure I'm not the only one who regularly visited the vacant building just to see the landmark sign, which remained atop its Sunset Strip location for over 45 years. With nothing else left, I have never been more pleased that I thought to steal one of the crystals from the Tiffany's lobby chandelier 34 years ago. It's not only one of my favorite mementos, it became one of the last remnants of the theater once the wrecking crew swept away the rubble.

 Mercifully, the marquee letters were saved from the boneyard. An 11th hour rescue was employed, and as a result, the mammoth neon and bright-lighted signage at the soon-to-be open Valley Relics Museum. I stood in stunned silence watching their removal, though was rewarded for my small participation in the somber event with a light bulb from the venerable "Y," to treasure forever. The building, along with the rest of the block, is now gone, making way for the 10-story glass condo complex soon to be clogging up what once was a Mecca of clubs, theaters and famous shops. Now, even their ghosts have been swept away. There goes the neighborhood. 

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Times change, progress cannot be stopped, but down inside I'm bleeding.

 

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Let There Be Lips

Let There Be Lips

In the process of getting my old blogs back, and entering new ones. You have been warned. Please subscribe if you wish to encourage me. It won't stop me if you don't, but I'd love to feel more like Sally Field after her second Oscar than Riff Raff after he killed Frank.

Mini Blog on the image you (should) see here: 

The Dudley Do-Right Emporium was a favorite destination of mine from the early '70s when it first appeared until its demise a few years ago. It was also right up the Sunset Strip from my Rocky Horror theater, the Tiffany. Around 1980, I saw an episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle, where Rocky was reading to Bullwinkle from a book that said "Horror." Being obsessed with both Bullwinkle and Rocky Horror, I wanted to get a copy of the image, though way back in those days, there were no home computers with screen grabs, nor DVDs or even on demand. I never saw the episode again, though my boyfriend at the time decided to surprise me for my birthday and went to the emporium (which was connected to the still active Jay Ward Studios) to inquire if perhaps they had a cel in their archive. They did not, but the folks at the emporium thought the reference was hilarious, and encouraged him to order this custom cel based on his description. The image appears in the Bullwinkle coffee table book in a slightly different rendition, as well as a limited edition print with the book in red and a darker background that i discovered via Ebay.  Since Jay Ward hung out at the Emporium in his later years, I had him sign it, as did I have June Foray (the voice of Rocky). 

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