“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is more than an objectively bad movie-musical from the ‘70s according to the Madison-based shadow cast at Velvet Darkness; it’s a legacy, a cultural monument and a beacon for anyone who feels outcasted.
The director of the group, Lantry, has been involved with Velvet Darkness for over 25 years. Over this time, cast members have come and gone, and the group’s name has gone from Dark Refrain to Decadence to Tiny Fools before landing on Velvet Darkness 15 years ago. The group’s spirit, however, has remained the same.
“‘Rocky Horror’ itself started as bad movie etiquette: people showing up at midnight matinees and just making fun of the show. Those of us in the performing cast
Velvet Darkness members don’t gain any profit for their performances. Their shows are free in order to maintain the spirit of how “Rocky Horror” started. Any money received from venues or sales of prop bags goes back to the show for costumes, props and transportation costs.
“It’s a cultural monument, and it’s a symbol of a time,” Lantry stated. “If we lose our monuments, we lose our history and we forget how we got to where we are now. There are a lot of queer and weird freaks and geeks and a lot of cultural cross-sections at ‘Rocky Horror.’ It’s a beacon, and it brings people together.”
On Oct. 26, Shannon Hall was packed with audience members in their best Transylvanian attire for the 10 P.M. showing of “Rocky Horror,” featuring Velvet Darkness. Keeping with tradition, audience members shouted one-liners in synch with the movie, used noisemakers and threw props such as toilet paper and playing cards into the air.
Members of Velvet Darkness were dressed up as the movie characters and acted out the film, which was projected right behind them. The lively bunch, which included people of many ages and from walks of life, was a hilarious addition to the already outlandish film.
Velvet Darkness finds performers everywhere and accepts people regardless of theatre experience or apparent qualification to play a certain role.
“The point of being up here on the stage and the point of what we do is not being great actors or great performers,” Lantry said. “It's about carrying on that culture and allowing the audience to change it.”
Performing in “Rocky Horror” has helped Lantry overcome stage fright and personal hardships. The first time he performed the show, the feelings associated with standing in front of an audience and performing such eccentric roles as Rocky and Frank weren’t pleasant ones. “At the time I was 18 years old, and I had some serious body issues,” he said. “This was a punishment worse than death: make myself get up there on stage and have people look at me, make myself seen.”
After years of performing the show, Lantry has grown as a person. He said that at this point, after performances in nothing but a thong and cowboy boots and still receiving applause, he’s not afraid of people or social situations anymore.
“It's the experience of knowing that no matter how much I screw it up, the audience is going to love it,” Lantry stated. “That's why we do what we do. It's an act of bravery to be up on this stage, but if you take it too seriously, you're missing the point.”
Today, “Rocky Horror” has become a huge part of Lantry’s life and identity.
“Rocky Horror” is a place for anyone seeking acceptance or just wanting to have fun. Lantry explained that it’s the audience participation and the cast active participation that makes it different each time, and what makes it worth coming back to.
There’s one more chance to catch a hilarious Velvet Darkness show this Halloween season. They’ll be performing on Wednesday at the Flix Brewhouse at 9:30 p.m.