Off Limits

It used to be about the movie, man.

It's not offered at any of your finer acting schools, and it certainly won't be found in the theater section of the New York Times, but performing along with the Rocky Horror Picture Show -- a tradition carried out at movie houses nationwide by cultish followers of the 1975 flick -- is a true art form. At least it is to someone at the Esquire Theater, at Sixth Avenue and Downing Street, where the movie and its accompanying drama have been on display every Saturday at midnight for the last eleven years.

But maybe not for much longer. In mid-March, while Bev Gerrish was in Pennsylvania attending the annual Rocky Horror convention, she and her troupe of twenty performers, Denver's Dynamic Tension, were fired by the Esquire after a five-year run and replaced by a new cast. The move was "an effort to improve attendance and to enhance our marketing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show," says David Kimball, the Denver city manager for the Landmark Theatres chain, which owns the Esquire. He cited declining attendance, a decrease in repeat business, a lack of respect for the theater's property, a high rate of turnover in the cast and "inconsistency in the quality of the performance."

Quality of performance? Since when was a volunteer cast of nuts who dress up in costume, yell out lines and throw rice, toilet paper, hot dogs and toast ever critiqued -- let alone fired -- because of the quality of their performance, Gerrish asks. She believes the real story is twofold, having to do with the ambitions of a rival troupe called Elusive Ingredient, headed by former members of Gerrish's cast, and the movie's waning popularity.

"They told me last June that if they couldn't double their money, they would cancel it and start showing other midnight shows, and that this is a very old movie that is still clanking along, that it has an audience but not the one it had ten years ago," she says. "I thought, okay, that's business."

But Gerrish also believes that some of her former cast members simply don't like her and lied about her to get her fired (a charge they deny). "This is the same old cast; it's just new leadership," says Anthony Gasich, who goes by the stage name of T.J. Hooker. Gasich, who moved to Denver from Los Angeles about five months ago, has performed in both casts and says a lot of people were afraid to challenge Bev, so they simply went around her. "It maybe wasn't the best way to go about it, but it was the only way it could have been done."

The scandal has inspired broken loyalties, hurt feelings, legal threats and a massive, nationwide argument on the Internet's largest Rocky Horror message board, alt.cult-movies.rocky-horror, between people who support Gerrish (the majority) and those who back up Elusive Ingredient. "It was three or four days of the most amazing frenzy you have ever seen," says Gerrish, who bought a computer just so she could get in on the chat.

Kimball admits that the situation is a sensitive one, and he has monitored the chatroom, even posting a couple of messages himself, but he says the real reason for the transition is -- like most things -- the bottom line. "The numbers have got to pick up, that's the thing," he says, adding that attendance had dropped to about 35 people per showing, much lower than the 100-person mark the theater is shooting for. "There has always been the possibility of cancellation, but we really wanted to save it. We wanted to try one more thing before we threw our hands up. So we just decided to try something a little different."

Kimball says the new group has promised to get the word out about the show in every way it can, including buying advertising and distributing fliers. Although he warns that the show could still be canceled at any time, the new cast is "really aggressive and trying to make this an event again." In fact, Elusive Ingredient, which debuted on Saturday, arrived in hearse limousines -- in the tradition of a Hollywood premiere -- and handed out bags full of props for the audience to throw.

But Gerrish and some of her cast members plan to find a new theater (which may be problematic since the movie is often licensed to only one theater in a city), and they're circulating their own flier, which reads in part: "On March 20, 2000, [we] received a letter stating that a new cast was being brought in for reasons that are vague and unjust. The theater never gave us the respect to work with us if there was a problem, let alone tell us of a problem. This new cast has no experience. We feel that this new cast undermined us and the theater helped them. At one time this new cast called themselves our friends. Please join us in boycotting Colorado's Elusive Ingredient and the Esquire."

Hopping mad

After taking in the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday, many people will complete the weekend's entertainment by eating gobs of marshmallow bunnies, chocolate bunnies and even chocolate-covered marshmallow bunnies. But Easter isn't so sugarcoated for some of our long-eared friends.
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