Tucson's 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' marks 40 years

The Loft Cinema hosts the longest-running performance of the show in the U.S.

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Sofia Moraga | The Daily Wildcat Spectators wait outside of the Loft Cinema to be let into the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has been playing with a live cast at The Loft Cinema for 40 years, making it the longest-running live performance of the movie in the United States.

The movie-musical follows Brad and Janet, a newly engaged couple who get a flat tire in the middle of the woods. After walking in the rain to a nearby castle, they meet Frank-N-Furter, a transvestite about to reveal his new creation, among other strange inhabitants. 

At the time of its release in 1975, the film was universally criticized, according to online magazine The Artifice. However, its sexual progressiveness led it to achieve longevity, and it still plays in theatres throughout the world. 

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“As a piece of film, it is not, perhaps, a shining example of cinematic achievement, but what it lacks in cinematic finesse it makes up for in social relevancy,” The Artifice wrote. “As a sub-culture touchstone, it reigns as king of the cult movies, and there is no denying its staying power or fan base.” 

“Rocky Horror” has played with a shadow cast at least once a month at The Loft Cinema consistently since 1978. To celebrate the anniversary, there will be a Halloween sing-a-long performance in addition to the scheduled October show. 

The current shadow cast, called Heavy Petting, performs “Rocky Horror” at The Loft on the third Saturday of each month. Heavy Petting is a diverse group full of talented and energetic individuals that make the experience at The Loft truly unique and widely beloved. 

“I really love the cast; they’re such a tight community,” said Madz Smith-Ledford, who has seen The Loft’s performance more than 10 times. “The Loft itself — I don’t come here just to watch films. I come here to interact with people who are like-minded.” 

Heavy Petting’s performance is complete with the traditional pre-show ritual for “Rocky Horror” “virgin sacrifices.” The hilariously uncomfortable ritual forces new audience members to do things like take body shots off complete strangers or fake an orgasm for the entire audience. It is a great way to get in the mood for the sexually free and bizarre cult-classic film. 

“It’s always fun coming here,” Smith-Ledford said.

Once the pre-show antics are over, the curtain opens for the movie. From the iconic red lips to Brad and Janet crawling through smoke, Heavy Petting never misses a beat. They have both impressively precise mimicry of dance moves and singing mixed with a fun amount of the cast’s own improvisation and personality. Their real-life connection shines through their shadow performance on stage. 

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Dianna Diaz, a Heavy Petting cast member and second-generation “Rocky Horror” performer, has been with the cast for the last three years. 

“I’ve been coming since I was old enough to buy a ticket, so it’s been something that’s been involved in my life,” Diaz said. “Everyone’s accepting of all your insaneness.”

The Loft’s showing is full of “Rocky Horror” fans who lead the audience in traditions like throwing toast, dancing the Time Warp and screaming “asshole” whenever Brad’s name is said. 

“I love that you can just come as you are, no matter what, and you can be crazy and let go,” Diaz said.

The audience is just as diverse and eccentric as the cast itself. Many dress up as characters or in similar fashion, complete with fishnet leggings and high heels. 

However, whether a long-time fan or a virgin, every member has got at least a little affinity for the odd. 

Buck Robertson, an audience member dressed in gold Rocky shorts and broad Brad glasses, has seen “Rocky Horror” live at The Loft three times, and many other times elsewhere. 

“I love the culture. It’s just crazy. You can just do your own thing and be as wild as you want with it,” Robertson said.

There’s a reason The Loft’s “Rocky Horror” has been running successfully for 40 years. Besides the cultural phenomenon of the film, large audiences are drawn each month by the culture of Heavy Petting and The Loft environment. 

Some audience members have been attending for years, and new virgins are initiated each month. 

Heavy Petting honors the traditions of the live show while also making it their own. Their performance does what the film always called for: celebrating the weird. 

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