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As a rite of passage, 'Rocky Horror' keeps crowds coming

Weekend!Nightlife
by: DENISE FARWELL, Magenta (Steff Ferguson) acts out a scene from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as the real thing plays behind her. Riff Raff (left, Robby Bucknum) and everyone’s favorite couple, Janet and Brad (right, Jaclyn Harris and Brandon Garland), stand by for their bits.

One night when I was 16, I pretended to go to bed early, and then sneaked out of the house to go see 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' with my friends. Later, I confessed to my parents. 'Oh, yeah, we know,' they said.

When I was 29, I received an angry phone call from the mother of a 16-year-old. At the time, in the late 1990s, I co-owned the Clinton Street Theater. We showed 'Rocky Horror' every Saturday at midnight, and it seems this woman's son had sneaked out of the house the night before to go to the movie.

He was busted the next morning, when he sat down to breakfast with an inky mark - the kind they stamp you with when you pay to get in to a show - on the back of his hand.

Of course, the midnight screenings weren't my idea - they've been going on since 1977, and continue to this day.

The Clinton Street Theater itself looms large in 'Rocky' lore. It holds the world record for the longest continuous run of the movie in a single venue, according to Adrian 'Zola' Honey.

He estimates that 40 or 50 other theaters in the U.S. also run the film regularly. Zola is more or less at the helm of Portland's 'Rocky' phenomenon. This is a pretty big job, because what's going on here is much more than just a bunch of people sitting in a theater, looking at a screen.

Audience participation is the lifeblood of 'Rocky.' During the movie, fans yell at the screen. They throw things in the air. During one song, they all get up on the stage and dance.

And while all this is going on, officially sanctioned performers are acting out the entire movie, scene by scene and gesture by gesture. This dedicated troupe of mimers and lip-syncers (known as a cabaret) performs on the first, third and sometimes fifth weekends of the month.

Zola also is in the midst of organizing an alternate cabaret to perform on even-numbered Saturdays.

Talking before the movie on a recent Saturday, Zola tells me in all seriousness that he had to reject someone who wanted to be in the show because the fellow 'just couldn't act.'

At 35 years old, Zola is well above the age of the typical 'Rocky' fan. He's been coming to the theater regularly since 1989, has performed in the cabaret at various times in the roles of Riff Raff, Eddy, Dr. Scott, Criminologist and Tranny, and now is in charge of promotions, security and cleanup.

I ask him if he's ever going to get sick of it. 'If I was ever going to,' he says, 'it would have happened about five years ago.'

Outside the theater, fans start lining up early. Some dress as characters from the movie, while others simply borrow from the film's wacky, bawdy, sparkly, gender-bending fashions.

First-timers get a 'V' painted on their foreheads, which stands for 'virgin.' Before the film starts, virgins are herded up onto the stage, along with newcomers to the theater and anyone who hasn't been to the show for a long time.

This is the 'Rocky' form of ritual humiliation. One group of girls gets off easy with a quick dance contest.

Other folks have to unwrap a piece of candy while it's in their mouth, or gargle a lyric from the movie. This is certainly one thing you need to be warned about if you've never been to 'Rocky Horror' before, but it's not the only thing.

Profanity flies through the air. The audience taunts the characters in the movie, yelling abuse and chanting a nonstop barrage of in-jokes. At times, the lower half of the screen is obscured by performers. All this makes it rather hard to understand the plot of the movie which, even under the best of circumstances, is a little hard to follow.

Basically what happens is that a young couple gets lost in the rain. They find their way to a spooky old castle that is presided over by a mad scientist who also is, as the song goes, 'a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania.'

I've often wondered about the staying power of this movie. The majority of 'Rocky' fans today weren't even born when the film was released. Has it played in theaters longer than any other film because it's the best movie ever made? After watching it again, I would have to say no.

It's funny and the songs are catchy, but what really sets 'Rocky' apart is that it's perfectly built for audience interaction.

A 14-year-old girl named Tereasa is standing outside the theater in a short skirt and fishnet stockings, with devil horns on her head. 'Does your mom know you're here?' I ask her. 'No,' she says. 'Well, uh, sort of.'

'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'

What: Special Halloween screenings

When: 9 p.m.

and midnight, Friday, Oct. 27 (no cabaret); 9 p.m. (alternate cabaret) and midnight (official cabaret) Saturday, Oct. 28; 9 p.m. Sunday,

Oct. 29 (official cabaret); 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31 (official cabaret)

Where: Clinton Street Theater,

2522 S.E. Clinton St., 503-238-8899

Cost: $8, all ages