If you go
‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’
When: Midnight, Friday, Aug. 13, and 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14
Where: Calusa Nature Center, 3450 Ortiz Ave., Fort Myers
Admission: $8 in advance, $10 at the door, $5 for members of the nature center
3450 Ortiz Avenue, Fort Myers, FL
On some nights at the Calusa Nature Center, men and women wear heels, fishnets and lipstick.
To raise funds for the nonprofit organization’s animals, the nature center’s planetarium occasionally switches from projecting the night sky to projecting “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the racy adult musical starring Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon, on its white dome. Its summer showings are tonight and Saturday.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is an R-rated cult classic musical featuring cross-dressing characters, crude language and sexual content. When it was released in 1975, the movie was a failure at the box office. But an underground following developed when people started yelling ad-libbed lines, wearing costumes and mimicking the action during screenings.
The family-friendly nature center needed a creative fundraiser and decided to play the movie after hours without the live production usually associated with the film. It was supposed to be a one-time event, an experiment. Some people in the audience, however, decided they wanted more of a commitment.
Kathryn Daiboch, 19, and two others — Josh Eubanks, 20, and Michelle Ritter, 17 — started the campaign to convince the nature center not only to continue the screenings, but to allow the three of them to recreate the infamous live show.
The group of “Rocky Horror” enthusiasts, all of whom were born more than a decade after the movie was originally released, started a shadow cast known as the Velvet Darkness, named after lyrics from one of the songs in the musical.
And they offered do it all for free.
It sounded like an interesting venture for the center, but there was some pause, according to Carole Holmberg, director of the planetarium.
Aside from her concerns over the language and subject matter, Holmberg knew fans were likely to throw items such as toast and rice during the movie. Holmberg, who has been director at the planetarium for eight years, doesn‘t allow food or drinks in the venue during regular hours, and she was hesitant to participate in the live show rowdiness.
But in the end, she decided she was willing to try almost anything for the nature center’s animals.
“I just draped everything in plastic and we went for it,” Holmberg said.
The center and the group decided to give the live show a try in June and July. Everyone’s hope was that the continued movie viewings and the added live shows would attract a wider swath of the local community; one that may not typically show up to watch an educational video about outer space at the planetarium.
“This one brings in a whole ’nother crowd,” Daiboch said.
The first live show was on June 26, and despite not having a full cast or expensive costumes, the trio managed to pull it off. Daiboch was the doe-eyed Janet, Ritter put on a pair of glasses and greased her hair as Brad, and Eubanks strutted in a curly wig, garters and heels to become the film’s beloved transvestite, Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
People in the audience came as their favorite characters and yelled the raunchy audience participation lines out loud.
Nikki Hagel, 20, came dressed as Magenta, Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s diabolical French maid, at the group’s first live show. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was her favorite as a kid. The first time she saw it, she was 8 years old, she said.
The Velvet Darkness crew suggests audience members bring the following items to better enjoy the movie:
■ toilet paper
■ a condom
■ a newspaper
■ a party hat
■ latex gloves
■ playing cards
■ a noise maker
■ water guns
■ wet foods (prunes, hot dogs, buttered toast, etc.)
■ cigarette lighters (flashlights and cell phones work fine)
“I didn’t understand it (then), and I don’t think I fully understand it now,” Hagel said.
Hagel, who had studied theater in high school, started acting as Magenta in the nature center’s live show when she realized the role was available. she became the fourth member of the shadow cast that very night.
In fact, that’s how many of the subsequent cast members have joined. Those who feel the pull of playing a part in the show seem to be unable to resist it, according to Daiboch.
“One by one, we just started getting up,” she said.
Audiences are feeling the pull, too. The July show was sold-out and raised about $2,000 for the center, which first goes toward paying licensing fees to Criterion for permission to show the movie and then to care for the site’s animals.
The hype about the live show has spread through word of mouth and some advertising. The nature center has the show advertised on its large sign facing Colonial Boulevard-facing. The Velvet Darkness has a new website, which is undergoing improvements, and the group has a Facebook page with more than 200 fans.
The cast members also call people on their own and invite them to participate.
“My mom comes every time,” Eubanks said.
Now at rehearsals there are are about 10 or so people practicing their roles. When they aren’t on stage, cast members can’t seem to help but throw out the saucy one-liners that audiences have developed over time.
Holmberg has turned into the “Rocky Horror Mom.” She’s at every rehearsal because she needs to lock and unlock the planetarium for the cast. During the practices and the show, Holmberg helps create the ambience for the different scenes; sometimes that means she just snaps a flashlight on and off. Anything to help, she said.
The cast spends most of the movie scantily clad, something that doesn’t seem to bother them when they are in front of a large and loud crowd, according to Daiboch.
“Chances are we won’t see each other again,” she said.
Josh Steelman, 19, who plays Eddie, thinks the mix of risque and philanthropy is not unheard of.
“We raise money for animals and we have half-naked women running around. We’re almost like PETA,” he said.
Steelman said he thinks the show can be cathartic for people in the audience.
“It’s the whole community coming together saying nasty and derogatory things they can’t say at home,” Steelman said.
Hagel said they are looking to expand to other locations, perhaps to turn it into a for-profit troupe.
“We’re trying to upgrade it every month,” she said.
The cast won’t get paid or get reimbursed by the center for costumes and props. Nor do they want to.
“They’ve asked for nothing, absolutely nothing, and all they have, they’ve purchased themselves,” Holmberg said.
Because of this, the cast of the Velvet Darkness has become the most uncharacteristic addition to the Calusa Nature Center family of volunteers.
“It’s a strange mix, but it’s working for us,” Holmberg said.