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I can’t quite say that I expected to witness the captivating sight of my scantily-clad peers running through the Warch cinema with a large dildo in tow when I envisioned my college experience. Nor did I foresee myself yelling “slut” at the same screen I watched freshmen orientation presentations on during welcome week. Yet, these two occurrences both highlighted the Halloween weekend of my third year in college.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an eccentrically unique experience with an equally one-of-a-kind history. Originally released as a movie in 1975, the film flopped in theatres. Viewed solely by the mainstream audiences who partook in such activities as theatre-going, it was an atrocity that was pulled from cinemas that same year.
It was not until 1976 in New York City when the film began its resurrection. Fascinated by the film, the manager at The Waverly took a chance and decided to show the film at midnight, hyping the audience up with the movie’s soundtrack and transforming the theatre into a vibrant festivity. This ensued a weekly tradition of regulars who sat in the front rows, eventually growing familiar enough to adlib parts of the movie, yell the film’s first call lines and dress as the film’s characters.
From this, showings of Rocky across the country grew into spaces where queer communities could gather and openly express gender and sexuality. Not long after the Stonewall Riots, this was a necessary outlet to escape from the mainstream. It was a place where people of the White-heterosexual-monogamist-Christian dominant society–like Brad and Janet–were freaks, and queer-kinky-polyamorous subcultures were celebrated. With interactive aspects of the show like none before, The Rocky Horror Picture Show united the parts of society the world wished to keep excluded.
Today, although the production is accepted and enjoyed by a much larger audience, the show still holds true to its roots. This shined through at the showings this past weekend.
Over a year of being separated as a campus has brought forth a degree of isolation for every individual. For queer students, however, a particular set of additional challenges came forward. These might have looked like living in a place where your identity was suppressed, or not being able to dress in a gender-affirming way or moving back to a town where you don’t know anyone else who shares your identity.
For all students, and especially for those who are queer or in an otherwise marginalized community, this meant losing the ability to connect with others on campus in some capacity.
This past weekend, I saw Lawrence students come together and connect with one another at Rocky in a way that I had not remotely seen since pre-pandemic times. Beyond the shared call lines and laughter at the movie, I witnessed my peers expressing their gender and sexuality with such openness that was difficult to achieve over a year of Zoom calls and quarantines. Since this was my first time attending the show, no other experience during my time at Lawrence has quite lived up to the openness I saw that night.
Like the original resurrection of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the showing at Lawrence allowed students–especially those who are queer–to come together and feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.