We have picked up this article from the archives of eugenerockyhorror.com website. This describes the history of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Perhaps that is a lofty claim for our cast, but 1999 was the first year in several that Eugene had no riots on Halloween, and I don’t think that I’m the only one to give our show a big part of the credit.
Before I explain how it is that we came to receive this honor, let me give you some background. Forbidden Fruit, in its current state, is a Rocky Horror cast and crew of 18 people; all but two are students at the University of Oregon. It has been difficult for me to piece together the history of Rocky Horror in Eugene, as I, as well as the bulk of our cast, weren’t even old enough to see it when it was in it heyday. What I have gathered is that Eugene kind of missed the boat in the 80’s.
According to Mike Bennett, one of our non-student members and our current Criminologist/Archivist (an appropriate combination), Eugene had no regular cast until 1990. At this time he founded a community cast that performed in the Bijou, Eugene’s art cinema, but the next year the Bijou refused to host them anymore due to an unfortunate incident involving a ruined screen caused by a poorly-aimed hot dog. Rendered venue-less, the group disbanded, leaving Eugene, once again, without this cultural cornerstone.
Forbidden Fruit was founded a few years later, in 1995, by Michael Doherty and Jenn Vincent, both theater students at U of O. They put together a cast, and performed about three shows a year for two years. Mike Bennett was recruited into this cast pretty early on in the game. Again, the problem was with location. They tried a few places around campus, with limited success. They finally found a good location in Agate Hall, a building east of campus which houses a sort of run-down auditorium that holds about 300 or so people when fully stocked with chairs. It was a little ways from the main campus, so while the location wasn’t ideal, the space was perfect.
As is typical with any student group, the rate of turnover is high. I joined the cast in the fall of ’97 along with my good friend and current roommate Jessica Obrist and several other newbies. Michael Doherty had graduated at the end of the previous year and Mike Bennett took over the director position. At this point we were really trying to create some order out of chaos. Jessica joined as Columbia, I ended up playing Riff Raff, and I managed to convince a guy I scarcely knew at that point from my dorm to play Frank. We really poured our hearts and souls and limited finances into putting together our costumes and learning our parts.
That Halloween weekend featured two evenings of Rocky Horror. The truly excellent cast from the Clinton Street Theater in Portland performed Friday night and Forbidden Fruit performed the second. Maybe we were inspired by their performance, because, while we didn’t quite measure up, we put on a pretty good show. We also performed again that spring, in the same location.
The following year also brought a good deal of changes. This was the year that our cast somehow caught the eye of the EUGENE ANTI-RIOT COMMITTEE (not its real name, but I’ve never found out what it is really called). For several preceding years, Halloween had seemed to bring out the worst of the people in Eugene. Without fail, every Nov. 1 newspaper had headlines about cops tear-gassing crowds of people near campus, public property being destroyed, and other examples of mutual antagonism between partyers and cops. This had become so predictable that a committee was formed to COMBAT THE RIOTS. And it seemed that one of their main courses of action was to cram as many people into a performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show as they possibly could.
And that, naturally, was where we came in. All of a sudden, we had a huge venue (they wanted us in the ballroom of the Memorial Union in the middle of campus), a $200 budget for costumes and props, prizes donated by local businesses, and free admission for students in costume. Rocky Horror was pretty much the main event on campus that night.
Mike Bennett had resigned as director since he moved to Corvallis, so Jessica took over that job. She decided quickly based on the size of the task at hand, and the relatively poor turnout at our past non-Halloween shows that this show would be our sole performance of the year. We recruited some new cast members to fill in the holes created by last year’s graduates and started rehearsing hard, striving to look like, well, like we did this every weekend. We easily spent the $200, finally being able to buy some things that we never thought we’d actually have.
The show went extremely well. We came very close to selling out the ballroom, with just a few empty rows in the back—somewhere around 550 people. Our cast was strong, a bit spotty perhaps, but all in all very good, considering our lack of experience. Working in the ballroom was great. We had an enormous, beautiful dressing room, a nice big stage/floor area, and an actual spotlight. It was disappointing to only have one show that year, but we consoled ourselves with our success. After all, while there had still been some rioting, but we had been thanked for preventing them from being any bigger…
Apparently they meant what they said, because we were rewarded with our sponsorship again this year. Jessica’s time was tied up in a theater department production, so I became the director. Fortunately we hadn’t lost too much of our cast to graduation, and what holes we had were filled in by people hand-picked according to their willingness to work hard on the show. We were once again given $200 for costumes and props, which was spent making our already good costumes great, at least by our standards.
I’ll spare any more details about what it took to put this show together and just sum it all up by saying that the Halloween show went unbelievably well, by what I’m hoping could be anyone’s standards. We also, for the first time since I’ve been part of the cast, took a road-trip up to Portland, and performed Oct. 23 at the Clinton Street Theater, where we were very well-received (and they very kindly gave us their spare coffin and wheelchair). Our cast was across the board very prepared, talented, dedicated, easy to work with, and all-around wonderful. And, we were also lucky enough to have recruited eight magnificent trannies, glorious both in appearance and in performance. We apparently had gained something of a reputation from last year’s show, because not only did we sell out the ballroom, we had about 100 people standing in the back, and had to (sadly) turn some more away.
So would we be wrong to pat ourselves on the back for the Nov. 1 headlines being completely devoid of riots?
In spite of a high turnover rate, infrequent performances, and constantly changing venues, Forbidden Fruit has managed to create a good number of its own traditions. The main thing we have to cater to around here is a very uneducated (if enthusiastic) audience. Since we don’t have regular shows, most audience members here have at best a vague notion of the audience participation elements. (Any regular Rocky Horror Attendee would probably be shocked by the grand shift of the audience from house to stage during the virgin call. We sacrifice literally hundreds of virgins in a night.) So, to combat the prevailing silence at our shows, we have started to plant “trained” audience members to sort of guide the rest through the show.
We’ve also come to put a large emphasis on the comic elements of the show, and will frequently diverge from what’s going on on the screen if we think it will get some laughs. For instance, instead of space outfits, Riff and Magenta wear U of O marching band uniform jackets with garter belts, Frankie stands at the edge of the diving board with his arms spread out and shouts “I’m the QUEEN of the world!”, and, in Eugene, everyone dances with the midget.
So while it may not be true Rocky Horror tradition, we have a great time here. I feel like there’s no limit to the possibilities for the future, especially if we find a director who isn’t so foolish as to take 18 credit hours trying to organize a show. We’ve already done two performances this year, and we’re hoping to try again in the spring. And while some of our virgins never lose their deer-caught-in-headlights look, many seem to succeed in setting aside their inhibitions for the night, and leave our show with that glint in their eyes, and we know that they’ve at least had a taste of what Rocky Horror is all about.