Dammit, Janet: If you love Rocky Horror, don’t miss RKO Con

It’s just a jump to the left, then a step to the right … into Downcity Providence. It’s time for RKO Con 2019.

RKO Con is a celebration of 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A commercial flop in its initial release, the movie was re-released as a midnight showing in 1976 at the Waverly Theatre in New York City and was selling out, with many people seeing the show multiple times. It gained so much popularity that people started interacting with the show — yelling insults and praises, and throwing things (hot dog, anyone?) during the movie screenings to show their enthusiasm. It’s through this tradition that the cult following of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was born, and from that, shadow casts began gaining popularity.

Shadow casts are the dedicated lovers of Rocky Horror who don costumes, makeup and sometimes a motorcycle to act out the film in front of the screen while The Rocky Horror Picture Show plays behind them. Picture it, you see Eddie singing “Hot Patootie,” and in front of it, there’s someone dressed as Eddie mimicking his motions, dance moves and generally rocking out to the song, just like you would in the privacy of your own living room. In RI and the local Massachusetts area, if you’ve gone to see a Rocky Horror movie, you’ve seen the RKO Army.

The RKO Army takes its shadow cast name from RKO Pictures (meaning Radio-Keith-Orpheum), which is a film production company that is referenced in Rocky Horror. You might also remember the nod to the company in the song, “Science Fiction, Double Feature,” and it is the tower that Dr. Frank-N-Furter climbs up to try to save his creation, Rocky, at the end of the movie. The shadow cast RKO Army had its genesis in 1981 when members from multiple casts came together. It had a rocky (ahem) start with many different casts coming and going. It was originally known as the Rhode Island Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast, then the Creatures of the Night Cast, which came to the A.P.P (Absolute Pleasure Players) in the late-1980s, early-1990s. The cast continued to perform with some regularity, though bouncing around from theater to theater, until the early 2000s when what is now known as the RKO Army was born. 

There’s something about the cast of the RKO Army that is plain inspiring. They are people of every shape, size, gender and age, and they all have one thing in common: they love Rocky Horror and in one way or another, it’s helped them learn something about themselves. Roy Rossi, who oversees the RKO Army and RKO Con says, “Rocky Horror is not life. Rather it is a temporary escape from normal life. Normal life necessitates we do things we need to do to survive and thrive, but it may fall short in fulfilling one’s inner expressions. Since it began, Rocky Horror has provided a temporary escape from whatever normal life is for people by providing an environment for their inner expressions to come out.”

Now enough history, let’s talk convention! August 1 – 4 (with a pre-event on July 31) RKO Army will host The National Rocky Horror Picture Show Convention. This is the third time that PVD and the RKO Army have hosted it; it seems to come around to PVD every three years or so. This convention is absolute pleasure. It’s four days of Rocky Horror goodness, but also includes RKO Army’s Shadow Cast as they’ve begun to do other movies with the same Rocky Horror idea. Can you imagine The Room with a shadow cast? It’s happening, and it’s glorious. (And if you want to see it, it’s at 10pm on Thursday, August 1 at Dave & Buster’s in Providence Place Mall.) The con also features exclusive panels like costuming, information on partici…pation and plenty of dance parties. The main event of the convention is when more than 30 shadow casts from around the country join together to put on the main event: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There are awards, pre-shows and plenty of virgins up for the taking. No, not that kind of virgin. In the Rocky Horror community, a virgin is someone who has never seen the show before. They are christened with a big red “V” on their head and, well, I can’t tell you the rest. It’s secret. But I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I had my Rocky Horror cherry popped in 2014 by Bill Lange, a longtime member of the RKO Army.

The con takes place in a few settings; opening night is on July 31 with the Rocky Horror Floor Show at Alchemy. Thursday, August 1, starts the con with mixers at Dave & Busters in the mall, including a talent show for con attendees. It continues to Friday, August 2, with a Texas Donut Breakfast, and goes all the way to 1am. Saturday is the main day with panels, vendors and the previously mentioned Rocky Horror at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket. (Don’t worry, Rhode Islanders; there are buses so you don’t even have to drive!) Sunday concludes the con, and I’ll be hoping it comes back again. There will be more than 300 Rocky Horror lovers at this convention, and Roy Rossi reminds attendees that this is not a comic con, this is a community convention. And I think that’s the thing about Rocky Horror and the RKO Con; it’s about coming together with people who love what you love, do what you do, and find something in this movement that makes them feel uniquely them and understand that it’s okay to love yourself, be you a sweet transvestite, a literal alien or just a goody-goody looking to find a telephone.

So, get ready Providence. Let’s do the Time Warp again.

RKO Con takes place Jul 31 – Aug 4 at multiple locations. For more info, go to rkocon.com For more on what it’s like to be a member of the RKO Army, or to be a member of a shadow cast, read our interview with Roy Rossi at motifri.com/royrossi.

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