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Review - Be Just and Fear Not: Memoirs of a Rocky Horror EmCee

Review - Be Just and Fear Not: Memoirs of a Rocky Horror EmCee

 

Be Just and Fear Not: Memoirs of a Rocky Horror EmCee - Chadwick Cunningham (2012, print on demand at http://net.ondemandbooks.com/odb/selfespress/odb0000000904, $7.99).

Cunningham documents his experiences with Rocky Horror casts the Clinton Street Cabaret and the Denton Delinquents, first running center spotlight and eventually breaking onto the stage as emcee for both casts and for Repo! cast the Oregon Donors.

Chadwick recounts his first time at CSC’s “Fuck With Your Character” Night, where cast are asked to make their costume as crazy as they like. As he was on spotlight he decided to dress up in a Hawaiian theme and claim that he was the ‘Tropical Sun’. Later, at CSC’s switch night, where everyone drew characters out of a hat, he got the role of emcee for a night. Clinton Street Theater emcee’s starts the show with a half hour comedy routine, with fresh material for every show. He spent every spare moment of the two weeks before the show preparing for the role. As soon as he finished, he was asked to become the regular emcee for the Oregon Donors, and within the week he was also asked to be the emcee for Denton Delinquents.

Cunningham takes us through a pivotal but transitory time in his life, starting where he rediscovered Rocky after 20 years by attending RockyPalooza 7, and ending a year later when he gave his final emcee performance for a fresh crowd at a film festival held at Clinton St, using his months of material to craft a routine that earned him a standing ovation. This fun 110 page book should ring true with anyone who can remember the thrill of being under the spotlight for the first time, although hardcore Rocky Horror fans may not be impressed with Chadwick’s brief time in that spotlight.

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Rocky Horror Cast "Types"....in Stereo

Here's a basic truth about Rocky Horror:  Every cast is different.

 

Here's another:  Every cast is the same.

 

Oh, they vary in many ways, some subtle and some not-so-subtle.  But when it comes right down to it, there are a lot of very similar (and similarly minded) people who are drawn to the contact sport of heading off to the theatre on the weekend, strapping on fancy underwear, spangly jackets and space suits and performing the Rocky Horror Picture Show in front of adoring crowds.  

 

Some of you may have noticed these "types" over the years.  When you've seen enough casts (and I've seen plenty), you can start to recognize and categorize various Rocky personalities.  Sometimes they remind you of someone you knew long ago.  Sometimes they look or sound like friends.  Sometimes they grate on you, calling to mind people you simply couldn't stand back when you did the show.  But there they are, despite the passing of years, just as their predecessors were.

 

So, briefly, I would like to review some of these RHPS stereotypes. See if you spot some people you know.  Or see if the people in your cast are a mix or amalgam of one (or several) of these personalities.  Even better: see if, just maybe, you spot yourself.

 

Here they are:

 

 

1.     The Lunatic.  Unpredictable, impulsive, energetic and tireless.  In our cast, this was a fellow named Ron.  The Lunatic can be counted on to be arrested at least once a year, usually for simply behaving inappropriately in a public venue.  Occasionally immensely irritating.  Guaranteed to come complete with a troubled past.   And, of course, generally very popular with the ladies.  Why is that, I wonder?

 

 

2.   The Nice Girl.  Pretty and sweet.  Not a likely candidate for Rocky, but drawn impulsively to join the cast.  Usually from a Good Home with Supportive Parents and a High Grade Point Average.  Our "Nice Girl" was Tracey and she was a peach.  The Nice Girl will almost always prove to be one of the best actresses in the show, but simply because it comes naturally.  (And they almost always play Janet.)

 

 

3.  The Big Guy.  Generally an Eddie, this is a huge, frightening looking but surprisingly kind-hearted cast member who is generally thought of as the most treasured person in the cast.  Super smart as well.  But big as the great outdoors.  Ours was named Donny.  Guaranteed that your Big Guy will be remembered as the kindest, most wonderful and freaking terrifying guy around.  Until you get to know him, of course.

 

4.   The Shouter (aka Motormouth):  Knows a callback to each and every line in the film and CANNOT stop yelling throughout the show.  The downside- he/she never listens to anyone else's lines and drowns people out constantly.  The upside- knows the top 50 funniest callbacks and cracks up the crowd.  If they stuck just to the top fifty and pulled back 25% of the time, they'd be the most popular person in the theatre but...they can't shut up for that long.  This I will guarantee:  EVERY cast has a Shouter.   

 

5.  The Natural Leader (usually the Cast Leader):  Organized, semi-inspirational, obsessively anal about cast finances, props, costumes and attendance and can usually be counted on to put together all the special events during the year (switch nights and the like). Our Leader was named Russ.  We loved him to pieces.

 

 

6.  The Diva.   Sharp tongued and moody, this Columbia-type is unwilling to put up with much bullshit and abhors criticism of herself.  Not to be crossed.  Also terrifically good in the show and knows it.  Usually a knockout and completely untouchable.  Ours was named Sunday.  GrrrrrrOWL.

 

 

7.  The Closeted Boy.  Just thisclose to coming out of the closet, this young gay man got into Rocky to see if it was a safe place to reveal his sexual preference.  He will soon discover that it is and then...look out.

 

These are just a few.  I'm sure you can think of many more.  Throw 'em in the comments, if you like.

 

Yours in Rocky fraternity-

 

Kevin "Jack" Theis

 

(Full disclosure:  I wrote about this sort of thing with my writing partner, Ron Fox, and published it in the book "Confessions of a Transylvanian."  If you haven't heard of it, check it out at www.RockyConfessions.com)

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An interview with Perry Bedden

The Rocky Horror Picture Book: peruse a Transylvanian’s backstage Rocky Horror snaps!

Perry Bedden, stageshow Frank, onscreen Transylvanian, and snapshot enthusiast has been tantalizing fans for some time with his behind-the-scenes Rocky Horror photos. Now you can buy the Rocky Horror Picture Book, with excerpts from his private photo collection! $34.95 at http://www.rockyhorrorpicturebook.com/.

b2ap3_thumbnail_book.jpgBack in 1973, Perry Bedden ran with the Rocky Horror crowd, hanging out with the cast and creators of the original Rocky Horror Show. He was cast in the stage show, backstage at the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a Transylvanian, and his involvement with Rocky Horror lasted decades. Now he shares it with us!

* When did you realize you had something special with your photo collection? How did you decide you'd put together a book?

I never thought I had ‘something special,’ as you put it. I have taken what I call ‘snaps’ all my life and still do. I have these pictures in books, files, boxes - hundreds of them. It’s amazing what you find when you return to these photos years later.

It wasn’t until the Internet arrived and I got my first PC back in 1997 that I realised Rocky was so big in the States. Then Facebook arrived and I started posting photos on my timeline (https://www.facebook.com/perry.bedden). These were getting lots of ‘likes’ and comments. There was a time when I was posting a new photo every day.

Jim (Hetzer) is to blame. It was Jim who asked me if I ever thought of putting a book together of my collection. To be honest it never crossed my mind, but I wrote back and said I wasn’t really interested - it would take too much time and effort. It was Jim’s brilliant idea to assemble the book himself and we would self-publish. Then he got Chris Holley to edit the book.

Jim came up with the idea of how it looked and I just OK’d most of his ideas. I always wanted the specific cover photo we used to be on the cover, and insisted that the photo to use is what we have now. A beautiful photo.

I had so many photos for the book, but I was restricted by size, quality and financial reasons as to what I could add. I didn’t use all the photos from the collection.

I have just been to London (I live in Egypt now), and found even more photos when I went to collect a few things I have in storage. While there I was transfixed by all the other photos I have relating to Rocky, and spent a couple of hours going through all the Rocky-related pics.

* Are these photos personal snaps, or are some from on-set photographers, etc.?

All the photos are personal snaps. Pick up a camera and click, that’s all. Just having fun.b2ap3_thumbnail_out.jpg

* How did you get involved with Rocky Horror? Since you were already part of the group that spawned Rocky Horror (Jesus Christ Superstar, etc.) did you audition, volunteer, or were you suggested by someone?

I received a call from my agent in London that they were auditioning for the role of Riff Raff. This was when the show had moved from the Classic Cinema to the Kings Road Theatre. I didn’t know if it was blessing or a hindrance to be asked to audition, since I knew all of the creative team. I went to the audition, sang, and read Riff Raff’s space scene. It was all very formal and professional. After a few agonising days of waiting, I was offered the role of Riff Raff.

* You were already familiar with the Rocky Horror Show when you joined the Rocky Horror film cast: was the shooting what you expected?

I found it all very strange, especially having Transylvanians in the movie. Rehearsing the Time Warp was really weird, as in the show it was just done with the three characters, Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia. In the movie it was choreographed. A lot of waving of arms, I remember.

* Was this your first film after being a child actor?

After being a child actor? When does adult acting begin? I was still a child of 14 in my first movie; it was a 6 part movie for children. In the UK at the time there used to be what was called Saturday morning pictures. Parents sent their kids to the local cinema that showed a feature film, a cartoon and a weekly serial.

My first film as an ‘adult,’ I suppose, was MGM’s musical of ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’ that I spent nearly a year on. This was the last movie MGM made in the UK. MGM spent a fortune on this movie and it was a big flop.

I’ve never made a hit movie - even RHPS was a flop.

* You've done stage, screen, and music (as part of Truth and Beauty). What's your favorite creative outlet?

It has to be the stage. I did quite a bit of TV work but the camera never liked me and I never liked the camera. There is nothing better than getting up in front of a live audience and playing a role. In movies and TV there are always stops, starts. On stage you have somebody to play to, plus you get that adrenalin rush from an audience. That doesn’t happen when you’re in front of a camera.

* Unlike much of the rest of the film cast, you continued involvement with Rocky Horror, playing Riff Raff and appearing on at least one other cast album (the 1980s Australian release). What is your favorite Rocky-related story that goes with one of the photos in the book?

Favourite related story? Now there’s a tough one.

It’s a tie between:

Getting a fright by a packed room of unexpected guests, flash bulbs flashing for my surprise birthday party back in 1974. I think I went into shock! (page153)

And:

The photo of Pat, Steven, me, Nell and Barry at the Birmingham Comic Convention last year. We had such a great time, and for all of us to meet up together after decades was such a great thrill.

* You've been very approachable to fans, appearing at shadowcast shows (Paris; New Jersey; Spain) and attending conventions, notably performing as Space Riff at the Manchester 2005 con with Patricia Quinn and as the Usherette at the Celluloid Jam convention (co-produced by book producer Jim Hetzer). What do you enjoy about continuing contact with Rocky fans?

I have said it before: I have great respect for the fans. I love seeing them. It’s great to hear their stories and talk to them. There seem to be so many of you and so many generations following in the footsteps of past fans. They tell me things even I don’t know.

For the book I wasn't sure what was filmed first, the ballroom or the lab. I asked Pat, Nell, Barry and not one of us could remember - it was 40 years ago. It was the ballroom, the Time Warp (ask any fan, they’ll know).

Is there anything you'd like to tell Rocky Horror fans thinking about buying the book?

You are in for a real photographic treat. I have been so lucky as this book has been compiled by the most enthusiastic Rocky fans ever, Jim Hetzer and Chris Holley. A book by the fans for the fans. They knew exactly what the fans would like and some of their choices surprised me. The book is packed with photo after photo and only photos - great if you know somebody who is dyslexic. [Ed. Note: don’t worry, there are captions included at the end, as well as a lovely little 10 page introduction, which sets the stage.] Over 250 colour photos of my pictorial memories. So get it now, pick the book up, tub of ice cream in hand and enjoy. And a big thank you to Jim Hetzer and Chris Holley (and me) for their great work.

It was great when it all began - and it still is.

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Costuming for Beginners

Costuming for Beginners

My first Columbia costume was not what you would call screen accurate.  I didn’t even know the phrase “screen accurate”. But I thought it was great.  I made black cotton shorts and attached a variety of colorful stripes –including metallic ric-rac. And because it was the 80s, my mother had a striped sequin tube top that I begged her to give me (to be cut up and defiled), and I made my first tail coat out of liquid lame – it didn’t have a single sequin on it.  I can’t remember my hat, but I think it was one of those glitter numbers from the party store.  In all, it was a pretty great first costume.  Over the years as I became more involved I upgraded the pieces. b2ap3_thumbnail_belair_columbia_2.jpg

Working on my costume became my hobby. And my hobby eventually supplemented my income.  But that’s not what I’m writing about. It’s that we all begin somewhere. Maybe you’re on a cast that provides a lot of costumes already. Maybe you have to acquire your own costume before you can even audition. Either way, costuming is usually integral to performing with a shadow cast and you don’t have to break the bank to get started.

If you’re on a cast that provides a lot already, I would still recommend acquiring your own pieces. Maybe you’re not sure which character you’ll be performing most, but once you sink your teeth into a role it’s worth acquiring own costume. Not only will it fit you better, and be better cared for, but it will let you stand apart as an individual performer.

If you have to acquire a costume upfront to perform then my best advice is to start from the beginning of the film and work your way to the end. You can always upgrade later. And chances are you will. You’ll find yourself saying “next time I’m going to add ____.”

How much should you spend in the beginning? Like any other hobby or activity, you’re not going to get very far without spending at least something. Thrift stores and eBay are the best places to start. While you might not find something “perfect” on a tight budget, you can almost always find something to fix up – and this is where it gets fun!  There are several websites devoted exclusively to Rocky Horror costumes.

Once you have a complete set of costumes for your character you’ll probably begin upgrading. You’ll find a khaki jacket with a better shaped collar, or the perfect white sweater with the raglan sleeves. You may even make your own space suit or buy things custom-made.

Why should you care? Personally, I would feel guilty knowing all those people paid good money to see a show if I just got on stage in my street clothes. I’m not preaching screen accuracy here, but some effort! At the very least I’d aim to be on par with the rest of the cast you perform with. You should be part of the reason people want to see a shadow cast and not sit at home watching the film rerun on LOGO.b2ap3_thumbnail_584.jpg

And what of this “screen accuracy” I speak of? This is individual to every cast – and I’ve seen a lot of casts! Some casts have rules and people in charge of approving costumes to maintain a level of consistency. Other casts may encourage more personalization of the characters – letting the performer’s interpretation of the character dictate their costume and make-up choices. But they both take effort to be pulled off well. You could even take an organic approach –start with accuracy as a base and as your performance develops over time you can adapt your costume accordingly. There is no right or wrong way to build a costume – but there may be expectations or limits on what your cast allows.

Then you have people like me who sell Rocky Horror costumes. But what may surprise you is that I don’t actually endorse buying everything custom made – especially if you’re just getting started. If you do have the resources to buy custom work then be strategic in your purchases. A custom floorshow corset is great, but a sequin tail coat will make a bigger statement (remember, start from the beginning). If you find yourself still dancing in fishnets long after the butterflies of getting on stage have flown, then that’s the time to consider a bigger investment.

It’s all about having fun – and even if costuming isn’t your thing, it’s still going to have a huge effect on your characterization on stage. Huge.  Basically what I’m saying is:  If you want to own the part, you’re going to have to own the costume. 

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7 11 in the Land of Night

7 11 in the Land of Night

It's been said that those who remember the '60s weren't there. I'll take that a step further and say that if you remember the '70s, you are likely to claim you don't remember....

Living in a giant, un-popped, middle-aged bubble, I sometimes wonder if those who joined the Rocky train over the years know about certain staples of the old days that were firmly rooted in the time and place. I’m certain that there are many that have come since I became an observer as opposed to a participator, though through current social media I do come across reminders from time to time by happenstance. Case in point: 7/11 is the annual RHPS Status Day on Facebook. Not too much participation from what I saw this year, but just enough to make me smile all day while at my soul-crushing desk job. While deciding on what to update my status with, I was torn between two images.

 

The first image, which I ultimately went with, was a flier for the Tiffany Theater on the Sunset Strip from 7/11 1979, which announced 7/12 as being the beginning of Thursday at Midnight screenings of Rocky Horror.  It reminded me how that summer—which was probably my favorite year for Rocky, was crazy enough in Hollywood to support 5 showings in the same theater between Midnight on Thursday through the wee hours of Sunday. Although Thursdays were much quieter than the always sold-out midnight and 2am showings on the weekend, it still was popular enough to draw a much more casual crowd, which on one occasion included a visit from Tim Curry who obliged us by signing the permanent one-sheet in the lobby.

 

PHOTO WOULD GO HERE, BUT MEDIA MANAGER NOT WORKING

 

The second image, I thought might be too obscure, but makes me laugh every time i see it. It’s a home-made T-Shirt of  Riff Raff, with the slogan “Disco Sucks—Let’s do the Time Warp.” I have always regretted not buying one when they were circulating back in the day, though I did recently discover the bootleg has been bootlegged and it does pop up from time to time.

 PHOTO WOULD GO HERE, BUT MEDIA MANAGER NOT WORKING

For those who don’t remember (and even for those who do) the phrase “Disco Sucks” was a rallying cry amongst a large segment of the rock n roll community. Although us Transylvanians love to dance, Disco had taken over the airwaves at such a disturbing rate, it created a splintering in top-forty tastes big enough to cause a lot of dissention to music fans everywhere.

 

Coincidentally, 7/12/14 is the 35th anniversary of the worlds biggest disco bonfire, the Disco Demolition at Comisky Park. It was a publicity stunt spearheaded by a DJ who was fed up with having to play disco records, but it turned into a near-riot and sparked the beginning of the end for the popularity of disco. 35 years later, Rocky is still going strong, and Disco is still quite dead (though it covertly lives in the shadows as “Dance Music.” In any case, Disco still sucks. I can say with some certainty I will never do a disco dance, but upon occasion, I will take that jump to the left and a step to the right.  

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