BIJOU THEATER OF WESTPORT
It is impossible for me to write about the RHPS in Kansas City, without starting off with the Bijou Theater of Westport. It holds quite an impressive image: it played the RHPS consecutively for over 8 years! According to Cyndi Price, a Regular Frankie Fan (RFF) Club Member, who also patronized the RHPS at the Bijou, “Rocky Horror played there more than just weekends. It played nearly every night of the week!” It always played as the last film of each night, usually around 8:30 or 9 pm. Imagine seeing the RHPS on a Tuesday night, and then coming back Wednesday and seeing it again! Practically every night of the week it played. As the years passed, the attendance slipped, so the number of evenings each week that it played became fewer, gradually settling for weekend shows only. There were no preshows, to speak of, but there were regulars (who, as Cyndi recalls, formed their little cliques) that dressed up in costume, acted out the film, and did audience participation. Patrons were treated to 35mm films of Tim Curry and Meatloaf singing, before the movie started.DISCOVERING THE RHPS
I went to the Bijou on their last night open. Rocky played 8:30 and 11 pm that night. I, as well as my friends, dressed in costume. The ticket person looked at us and said that it had been a long time since anyone dressed in costumes, and he wanted to know if we'd be willing to march up and down the main street in Westport (Kansas City's college hangout area) for promoting Rocky's last night. We did. Little did we know, the local newspaper, the KC Star, was there, and snapped our pics for the front page of their entertainment section, to go along with an article on the Bijou, for Monday's edition. I’ll never forget my mother calling me on Monday morning, asking why there was a picture of me wearing Brad's floorshow outfit. She had several friends and relatives calling her asking, “Is that your son?” (I'm going to try to find a copy of that issue and print the article on my site in the future).
We attended both shows that night. Afterwards, the owner of the theater allowed us into the projection booth to have some of the Rocky film “clippings” that have broken off over the years. It was a very sad moment, knowing Rocky was no longer in the establishment after 8 years straight. My friends and I joined the theater owner for some coffee at “The Corner Restaurant”, where he shared with us some Bijou history. As he talked, I stared out the window into the darkness, staring at the Bijou Theater, and I couldn't help but feel sad.
The Bijou eventually closed down altogether. Currently, it has reopened under a new name: Tivoli of Westport. It still looks the same inside (a little cleaner), so the memories for me are still there when I enter it. The new owners do not want the RHPS to play in the theater again because of “how destructive” the Rocky group of regulars can be. That reputation has haunted us for years.
My earliest memories of the RHPS were in 1975, when I saw Frank N. Furter’s image on the drive-in screen (yes, that's right, drive in). My family drove past the drive in theater in Kansas City, and I looked up from the backseat window and saw Frank's face. I was only 11 years old, so I didn't give it much thought.STARTING A FAN CLUB
It was only in 1980 or ’81 that I caught another glimpse of The RHPS. I was a sophomore in high school, sitting in class. The teacher was not in the room, and several students were passing around a book, laughing. Little did I know it at the time, the book was called “The Rocky Horror Picture Show Movie Novel.” It was a tradeback book, sort of like a comic book adaptation of the film, but using real movie stills instead of comic book art. Everyone was enjoying it. I was pretty shy back then, keeping to myself, afraid to mingle with others. I heard one student say “That guy's in bed with the other guy,” referring to the Frank & Brad bedroom scene. Being homosexual, this caught my attention. So I glanced toward the book and saw Frank, and then as the book came closer to my direction, I saw Rocky and his gold shorts. I knew then that I was curious about The RHPS.
Unfortunately, I never gave it another thought for a good two or three years. It was a couple of weeks before my birthday in 1982 (or was it '83?) when a female friend of mine (Lord, I wish I could remember her name ... Kris? No…) suggested I see The RHPS. Confused, I asked her what it was about (I hadn't seen the title of the book passed around in class, or if I had, I had forgotten it). She told me briefly what it was about, but I still never made the connection. One day, when we were together in a music store in Banister Mall, I saw the vinyl album soundtrack for The RHPS. Instantly I saw the faces of Frank and Rocky on the cover and made the connection to those distant but wonderful memories of the book and the drive-in glance.
My 18th birthday fell on a Wednesday or Thursday (I believe), so I called her up, asking what we should do for my birthday. Since I had passed it up before, I was very eager to see this interesting cult film (the word “cult” kind of scared me at the time). I particularly was interested in the Brad and Frank bedroom scene that I had heard about in class years before. She said that on Saturday, August 8th, we would go to The Oak Park Mall theaters and watch The RHPS, her treat, for my birthday (even though my birthday fell on the Wednesday before).
Saturday arrived, and that afternoon, I headed back to that music store and purchased the vinyl soundtrack. Because I was too busy that day, I was unable to open it to hear its tunes before going to the movie that night. By late evening, she was at my door, ready to take me to see a movie that, unbeknownst to both of us, would change my life forever.
There were about 30 people there, I guess. I remember the lights coming down and those big red lips appearing out of nowhere. I was hypnotized. The lips were awesome. I was very surprised when several patrons were shouting lines to the screen. I tried listening to them, as well as the film, in complete awe. I was floored. I laughed, I shouted “asshole,” and more importantly, I yearned for more. I was hooked. When I got home around 3 in the morning, I opened up my soundtrack and played every single song, remember the scene that went along with each track. (Oddly enough, I only saw my female friend one other time: a few years later, at Antioch Mall in north Kansas City, where she was the fan club leader for The RHPS there, calling themselves Lips, Inc. That group fizzled out as the film stopped playing there).
The next day, as well as all week long, The RHPS was all I could talk about. I wanted to share my experience with others. I wanted them to come next weekend and feel the experience as well. For the first time in my life, I felt alive! Before The RHPS, I was quiet, shy and withdrawn. The RHPS opened my world, and I finally began to live. However, my family was not too keen on The RHPS. They went with me once over the next couple of weeks, and thought it was weird. Never the less, I was hooked, and I wanted more. I wanted a fan club.
During the first few weeks of going to Rocky on a regular basis, I started trying to collect Rocky memorabilia. I went to the bookstore, and purchased “The RHPS Book”, which has since then been referred to as “The Bible”. The clerk that rang it up, said, “I love the RHPS” and suddenly we became friends. Her name was Jenny Foley, in Grandview, MO. We bonded like never before. Little did I know it, she was attracted to me.OAK PARK MALL 6 THEATERS
Together we went to Rocky Horror on a regular basis at Oak Park Mall. A few weeks before Halloween in 1982, she suggested we gather the “regulars” together to form a fan club. What a great idea! I made up some quick “applications” (not really knowing what to do, or what I was getting myself into), and passed them out to regulars as well as non-regulars.
We called ourselves “Midnight Madness” the first week. By Halloween (marking our first, and somewhat disastrous, Halloween presentation), our name had changed to “Midnight Insanity”. But sometime in January of 1983 (or was it '84? I really need to find out), I was watching the movie, listening to Columbia sing “It was great when it all began – I was a regular Frankie fan.” BOOM! It hit me. We needed to call ourselves “The Regular Frankie Fans” and we did. Although our fan club consisted of only 10 members or so, including myself, they all thought our new fan club name was pretty cool. (NOTE: Over the years, I have discovered there are several others who claim the name “The Regular Frankie Fan Club” but I'm not sure who thought of it first. Again, my idea for the title came in January of 1983.)
What was it like back in the early ‘80s at The Oak Park Mall 6 Theaters for our fan club? I must confess, the start of our fan club pretty much sucked. We didn't know (Hell – I didn't know) what we were doing. As a matter of fact, we made such a little impression, even I don't remember much about those days. I remember our first Halloween costume contest (1982 or '83) where only Jenny, 2 other people, and myself dressed up. The audience attending that night consisted over only about 35 people. How boring.MOVING AWAY
Interesting enough, Halloween parties at Rocky are great opportunity to meet people that change your life forever. Two different years, at Rocky's Halloween festivities, I met people who changed my life. You'll hear about the second one later (in which I met Jeff Mace, from St. Joseph, MO). But for now, the person I met on Halloween of 1983 was named Brian.
He actually came down on Friday, the night before, or was it the following weekend, I don't remember now. Regardless, he was dressed as Frank, and he made me laugh! It wasn't is costume, it was his personality, the jokes he made, etc.… I idolized his personality. After Rocky ended, he told me that he and his friends were from Topeka, Kansas. He invited me to Topeka, to watch Rocky there. I took up his offer and had a great time. As a matter of fact, I loved Topeka so much, that I wanted to move down there! (Okay fine – for those that must know, I fell in love with someone from Topeka – Rocky was just a bonus!).
So in May of 1984, I moved to Topeka, KS, leaving my Kansas City fan club behind me. The Regular Frankie Fan Club would have to try to make it on their own, without me.
Topeka was great for me, especially when it came to Rocky Horror. The 3-4 years I spent in Topeka were my Rocky Horror sexual freedom years. At Rocky, everyone was sleeping with someone, all the time. It was also the period where I discovered the musical “The Rocky Horror Show”, saw it several times in St. Louis, MO, even meeting its star Wendy O Williams, who played Magenta. It was around this time frame that I visited Kansas City to see the final showings of The RHPS at The Bijou of Westport. But more importantly, this period of time spent in Topeka taught me how to do a fan club correctly.COMING BACK TO KANSAS CITY
With Brian's help, we made it more professional. We had fan club meetings, worked on casts, costumes, sets, - hell, we even had a treasurer. We printed newsletters. And even though Rocky played there only 2 seasons a year (3 months each season with 3 months off in between) – we kept our regulars, seldom losing them. Our fan club in Topeka was called “Midnight Madness” (borrowing from my Kansas City fan club's original name). Even though I've left Topeka, that fan club still exists, and I am very proud that I started it.
For personal reasons, I left Topeka in December of 1987, moving back to Kansas City. I don't want to go into the reasons – let's just say I was going through a lot of personal problems, and I was trying to get my life back in order. When arriving in Kansas City, I didn't even get an opportunity to think about The RHPS. I was too busy straightening out my life. In January, 1988, I fell in love with someone in Overland Park, KS (near the Oak Park Mall 6 theaters, where I originally started my RH fan club), and moved there (a suburb of Kansas City). But still I didn't think of Rocky Horror.OAK PARK MALL, PART 2
It wasn't until I opened up the newspaper in September of 1988, that I remembered Rocky Horror. There, in black and white, was an advertisement for the showing of the musical (not the movie) of Rocky Horror at the Unicorn Theater (Currently, their theater company has performed the musical 2 different years).
Like a light bulb, Rocky Horror flooded back into my head, and I wanted it again. I talked about it, and found my new found friends in my life were not interested. So I let the idea go, but this time around, I promised I would never forget Rocky Horror again.
Sadly enough, I never saw the play in Kansas City. I did, however, decide one weekend in the summer (or was it spring?) of 1990 to check out the movie section in the newspaper to see if Rocky Horror was still playing at Oak Park Mall 6 theaters, and more importantly, was my fan club still around? To my surprise, yes, the movie was still there!
I missed it that weekend, but on the following Monday, I went to the theater again, and asked how Rocky was going. The theater (under new management since I last went there for Rocky) said Rocky's attendance was slipping, possibly due to the fact it was showing also at The Banister Square Theaters (also in Kansas City). So I did my sales pitch: “I’ll get my fan club back in action, and increase ticket sales.” They bought it, and that coming weekend, it was time for me to clean house. I had to get the fan club back in action, and Rocky back to being popular.
First of all, with the exception that technically the fan club started in 1982 or '83, I personally feel that the fan club first got its standing leg when I reformed it in 1990. My first night back, I asked the manager how many tickets were sold already. He told me a low figure, and then proceeded to me that someone was in the theater at that very moment, taking charge. That pissed me off, considering I was in charge, and at that time, I basically had no team members. I found out who it was, and attempted to put him in place. As it turned out, he was from Banister Square theaters - or should I say had been from Banister – that is, until he decided he didn't like it there, and wanted to form his own group at my theater! I told him there already was a fan club at Oak Park Mall (pretty much lying out my ass since my fan club had went defunct) and that he had two options: Join me or leave me. After one and a half weekends of trying to get people to form his “Fan Club”, he finally gave up. I had the advantage. I had already started telling people that I was a “fan club leader” who had “been to New York” (which was true) and had started Oak Park Mall’s 1st fan club. Instantly, I became a celebrity. People came up to me, saying, “You're the fan club leader guy”. Somehow, the story even got twisted a bit: “You're the fan club President from New York?” – obviously referring to Sal Piro. Of course, I wasn't, but it didn't matter. People admired me, and listened to me. I had “followers” you might say.BANISTER SQUARE THEATERS
I gave everyone fan club applications, which were numbered, starting at one. Number 69 was going to be “special” – I'm sure! As it turned out, #69 was a transsexual (how perfect!) named Brittany. I still bump into her (him?) every once in a while, and she still laughs about how she was #69. We must have had over a hundred fan club members within 3 weekends. I started Pre-shows, using my improv comedy. People started coming to see the movie over and over. Ticket sales increased. In the winter season, we’d lose Rocky for a short time, but it would return shortly thereafter. Fans back then were there for the movie, not the people. Sure, we were there for each other too, but our socializing was done after the movie ended, usually at Denny’s (until we were kicked out).
There was a time when we thought we were going to have some trouble with those people from the Banister Square Theaters. You see, their theater stopped showing Rocky Horror, so rumor had it that they were going to come see it at our theater (Oak Park Mall) and cause trouble. The rumor was somewhat true. When Banister stopped showing it, several of their “regulars” went to Oak Park Mall to see it, and there was some tension. However, instead of fighting them, I chose to try to get them to join us. This seemed a very positive approach, which eventually worked. Those Banister folks who wanted trouble were removed from the theater or felt unwanted enough to leave. From the Banister group, came Scott (as well as a few more) who eventually became our cast coordinator. (Thank you so much, Scott, for staying with us!). Currently he has abandoned the position of cast coordinator, and shows up every once in a while to see old friends.
One Halloween (’91 or ’92), I had the honor of meeting Jeff Mace and his friends, all from St. Joseph, Missouri, who had traveled to see The RHPS in Kansas City because it seldom showed in St. Joseph. I was fascinated by Jeff, because he was as devoted to Rocky as I was (at that time – although I must admit, my personal devotion has slipped over the years). To this day, he is one of the biggest Rocky Horror collectors around (although his devotion to Shock Treatment is limited strictly in collecting vs. watching/enjoying the film). Jeff helped me out a lot, with newsletters, organization of functions, even tackling the job of being fan club president briefly (to give me a break). Many many thanks go to Jeff.
At one point, I decided I didn't want to do the Rocky Horror thing anymore. The reason: I hated the fact that people insulted minorities with various shoutlines, particularly those towards gay people (myself being gay). I didn't want to stand by as people shouted/echoed Frank during Sweet-T “I'm just a Goddamn faggot from San Francisco, California”…or when Riff Raff killed Frank, they parodied Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, singing “Kill da Faggot, Kill da Faggot…” I was appalled and decided I could support a film that insulted my people. So I quit…missing it as I was gone!
One day, about 2-3 months later, a regular contacted me and practically begged me to come back. He convinced me that the regulars wouldn't shout insults to gays, but he couldn't control what non-regulars shouted. What really got me to come back was when he said that the fan club was losing members, and everything was going downhill in my absence. If you want me back, tell me my fan club was falling apart and I'm back in a heartbeat! I decided to come back and help. I took back over the pre-shows (Thanks Be-Bo for doing it in my absence!) and tried to “revive a dying animal”. It worked for a while.
One day, someone complained to the Oak Park Mall Theater managers that they were setting things on fire in there, so the theater said “No lighters”. Then people brought in those big-ass squirt guns and drenched the seats! “No water guns” said the theater. Then non-regulars started throwing prunes during “Dana Andrews said PRUNES gave him the runes” and that was enough for the theater: “No props at all.” I have to admit, this hurt attendance. All my efforts in the world couldn't help raise this sinking ship. Once a mother complained that the cuss words were too offensive to her children (whom she brought in with her) so the theater told the fan club “No Cussing”. WHAT?!! Can you imagine?! That lasted about one night. Someone shouted “asshole” and the theater made its final rule: “No audience participation whatsoever.” One weekend later, The RHPS was canceled at The Oak Park Mall. We needed a new home.
During the Oak Park Mall years, there were some other theaters that tried playing Rocky Horror. One was Banister Square Theaters. I had heard (while in Topeka) that Banister Square Theaters were dangerous. That the “fan club” (called Midnight Decadence) had split up into cliques – gangs, if you will. They were mean to each other, and often there were fights. This is what we heard. When we (in Topeka) decided to take a road trip to Kansas City, we chose The Banister Square Theaters. Upon entering, we were frisked by a policeman, who even searched purses. If you didn't allow the search, you were not allowed into the theater. It was evident there that there was no unity. And the shouting was all overrunning into each other. It was a bad experience for me and my friends from Topeka.FINE ARTS THEATER
Banister Square theaters shut down in the early ‘90s because some decided to throw a toaster instead of toast...directly into the screen, tearing it! Bye Bye Rocky!
When Oak Park Mall 6 Theaters closed its doors to Rocky Horror, in January of ’93, Jeff Mace and I began immediately looking for a new home for Rocky Horror. I believe it was March or April that Jeff and I wrote a letter of promise to The Fine Arts Theater (you know, “I promise we can make you money if you play Rocky Horror”). The Fine Arts Theater was (is) an Art House theater, showing those “independent” films. To our surprise, they agreed to play it. And in June 1993, they began showing Rocky Horror.FOUR YEARS WITHOUT ROCKY
This theater was the first theater where I started noticing a small congregation of regulars in the hall instead of in the theater supporting the film. The congregation was no where near what it is now. Today, the group that socializes is incredibly bigger than it was back then, with very few “regulars” participating in the actual showing of the film.
The best thing about the Fine Arts Theater was that it had a HUGE stage, complete with spotlight. This is when our cast really began to take shape! However, in the slow periods, we were moved to the small auditorium, which looks like a closet – literally each row had 5 seats!
Unfortunately, due to decreased ticket sales during the slow season (November, December), and the fact that the employees at the theater HATED Rocky Horror, the theater decided to pull it, offering many false statements as to why they could not get it back. The worst excuse they used: “We cant get it back, it’s out of print”. What a crock of shit.
Christmas 1993 was Rocky's last weekend at the Fine Arts Theater. It would be another 4 years (nearly) before Rocky would ever find a new home.
After losing the Fine Arts Theater, finding Rocky a new home turned out to be a real chore! It seemed nobody wanted it. We (Jeff and I) tried every single theater in Kansas City repeatedly over the 4 years but nobody wanted us. Our reputation was bad. “Destructive” said AMC. (I find this funny because there are other AMC theaters in the U.S. that show Rocky.)TRAILRIDGE CINEMAS
Finally we gave up. We knew that Rocky most likely would never show up in Kansas City again.
SURPRISE! Something good happened. One of the older theaters in Kansas City, called The Trailridge Cinemas” had closed down. When the new owner opened it up, as a dollar house theater, ticket sales were very slow. They decided to show midnight movies to help increase their ticket sales. One employee, named Jason Kasco, suggested Rocky Horror. The owner, nor the employees, were aware of our “infamous reputation” (which I've never really agreed with) so they said, Sure, let's give it a shot. On Thursday, The 4th of July, 1997, The Trailridge Cinemas (more commonly pronounced without the S at the end) showed The RHPS. Thursday was a bust (only 6 people), with Friday and Saturday a bit more.
I, myself, did not know about it playing there that weekend. It wasn't until the following Saturday (its second weekend there) that someone called me and said “Come to Rocky! It’s back!” However, I had other obligations that night, so I couldn't. But you can bet I was excited! Rocky was actually back, and there was no way I was going to miss it on the following weekend!
Rocky at the Trailridge Cinemas has been the most successful theater for us…and also the most troubling one too! We took off like a rocket! Once or twice, we even crossed the 200 ticket sale! On Halloween 1997, we had it playing successfully at 9 pm, and sold out at midnight! Everything was going well. Then the rules started.TRAILRIDGE THEATER TODAY
The owner of the theater became nervous about his “embarrassing child” called Rocky Horror. He worried that people would get offended. If that happened, they would either sue or quit coming to the theater. So he set some rules. Many pre-show items were banned. No one allowed to mingle in the bathrooms of the gender you're not. And most disturbing, no one under 17 allowed in the theater – even WITH your parent. Many people defied him, argued with him, and were kicked out of the theater. Many people stopped coming altogether, and ticket sales finally dropped drastically…until one day, he said, “I’ll ease up a little” allowing the age limit to be no one under 16 permitted without parent. This has helped a little since then but not like it was before. Too many people support the parking lot and lobby instead of supporting the movie. Too many people come and socialize and don't even buy a ticket. The spirit seems to be different than it was 8 years ago at Oak Park Mall. I used to worry and panic that the fan club was falling apart at Trailridge due to lack of devotion, knowing we most likely would never find another home in Kansas City. Two friends online once told me (regarding my worries), “Donny, don't worry! It’s just a movie. It’s not the end of the world.” (I find that funny because one of those friends acted like it was the end of the world when Rocky showed only one night a week because Shock Treatment played on the other).
But regardless of the frustrations that I may feel about where everything has lead to, I need to remember that there are still some regulars who DO stay in the theater and support it. Those people remind me of the good old days, and remind me of why Rocky is important. For those people, and the actors who are still devoted, I applaud you. And may Rocky Horror have a home forever!
Well, it's still a downhill struggle. Attendance lately is about 30 tickets a night, average. Sometimes it might make it up to 60, usually a Saturday, but still it's about 30 tickets a night. Of those 30 tickets, more that half stay out of the auditorium to socialize with friends instead of participating in the theater to keep non- regulars coming back. We (our fan club) attempted a website. I was, at one time, very involved with the Rocky Horror Network (our site's name). It was starting to take shape as an informative RHPS / ST site. However, new editors decided to add their negative opinions on the site, lowering its quality. I bailed out, and started my own site (you're visiting it now!). This site, however, is more focused on Shock Treatment, my new baby. I hope to one day make it successful!WHAT'S AHEAD
Our theater's cast has gone downhill too. Hardly nobody wears costumes now, and most of the cast is pulled at the last moment. Nobody rehearses, and we look very amature-ish. It's sad to see what has happened over the years. I have sensed it for a long time now, and therefore, my own involvement has gone away. I show up for only 2 reasons anymore: acting or to see how attendance is (which I end up talking to the employees for an hour, and then leaving).
Still, I look at the few dedicated regulars in the auditorium, and see a breath of fresh air. Perhaps there is still hope. Lots and lots of hope.
Let's not forget: no other theater wants us, so let's work with the theater to keep it alive! Personally, I am taking a break from the theater, and focusing more on other projects (including this website for the time being). After 17 years of worry and struggle, I am exhausted! Sometimes I feel alone in my support of the film and fan club and that frustrates me, so I must depart for now. But you cant keep me away forever! I’ll be back one day! And until then, its up to you! You can do it if you really want to! But first you gotta decide on your goals for Rocky, and motives for coming. I have faith in you! I have seen the light! There's a light!