I first saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the late 90s when a middle school friend let me
borrow an edited for tv version, recorded on VHS. It was the beginning of an obsession that has
lasted over 20 years, daring me to dream beyond the walls of my reality at a tender age. The cult
film and its fanfare have always spread a positive message of unity among the strange, where
freaks and Franks could have a sense of community. 2020 marks the 45th anniversary of Rocky
Horror, though few have had an opportunity to celebrate in the last six months.
Chicago’s shadow cast, Midnight Madness, have been acting parallel to the movie screen for
over 35 years and the Music Box Theater has been their home base. Averaging one to two
Midnight screenings of Rocky Horror a month until the theater closed March 17th due to
Covid19. Not only was the scheduled performance on the 21st canceled, so were all other shows
until further notice, leaving Midnight Madness in limbo.
For the Halloween season, the Music Box partnered with ChiTown Movies drive-in theater to
bring patrons a safe experience during their more popular October events. Previously, the Music
Box of Horrors was a 24-hour marathon but this year it mutated into 31 Nights of Terror at the
Drive-In. Nightly late film screenings, trivia, special appearances, and double features on the
weekends. Midnight Madness approached the Music Box and expressed interest in continuing
the tradition of their Halloween performances by working something out with the drive-in.
Opening night was cold and rainy, making me unsure of how the cast was going to pull this off. I
was nervous to go to Rocky Horror as if it were my first time with a big V marked on my face in
lipstick. Most of my adult life in Chicago I attended regularly. Each screening and performance
were unique, no matter how many times I had sat through the film. From break-ups to first dates,
hazing of friends and family, or just looking for an excuse to be publicly intoxicated in my
underwear. Though never a cast member myself, some of my oldest and dearest friends have
been part of Midnight Madness, making tonight somewhat emotional for me.
The shows were earlier in the evening than most are used to, but tickets disappeared just as
quickly as they would any other Halloween season. There was no opening virgin ceremony or a
dance party to warm the crowd up this time. Broadcasting live from inside ChiTown Futbol, the
Midnight Madness cast was presented picture in picture, shadowing in face masks and a little
further apart. Audience participation had also changed; throwing props was prohibited out of
respect to the drive-in and there was no roar of jokes being shouted over one another. This
offered patrons the ability to come up with their own call back lines, though one could hear some
classics shouted down the rows of cars if you had your windows open. Historically honking your
horns or flashing headlights was heavily frowned upon at drive-in theaters, but at Rocky Horror
it is the face of modern fan participation. To cast and audience the differences were undoubtedly
awkward at first, but all were quick to adapt. The discomfort faded as we picked up steam
because despite everything, it was happening.
My friends and I sang along as loudly in the car as we would have in the theater. I noted several
other attendees also dressed up in spicy lingerie or as favorite characters. We disrobed briefly to
get out of our cars and do the “Time Warp” before rushing back to warm backseats, giggling red
cheeked and lipstick smeared from facemasks. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its entire
following is where the punks and weirdos could come together and wave their freak flags. The
tenacity of Midnight Madness to bring that message to the drive-in was a victory in the darkness
of these troubled times.
Originally published in Haunted Emporium Magazine October 2020