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The Story Behind L.A.’s Legendary Rocky Horror Picture Show

Picture of Dominic Bertolami
Freelance writer
Updated: 28 April 2018
Rocky Horror at L.A.’s storied Nuart Theatre is still going strong after 40 years—with one of the country’s longest-running shadowcasts. The Saturday midnight showing continues to excite and amaze audiences, delivering a satisfyingly riotous experience that preserves the spirit of the classic film.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become a worldwide phenomenon | © Sebastian Dooris / Flickr

The Nuart Theatre, built in 1929–30 and opened in early 1931, quickly became a staple of the Los Angeles art house film scene. This historic theater, located on Santa Monica Blvd in the Westside, ran independently from 1954 to 1974 until Landmark Theatres purchased it. The distinguished repertory cinema offered hand-picked programming and a double bill that changed daily, and later showed obscure films traditionally shunned by large picture houses.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS), a salute to the 1973 London stage production of the same name, began showing at Nuart after its initial U.S. release in 1975. A parody tribute to science-fiction and B horror movies of the 1930s through the 1960s, it was considered a wash by many film critics but became a cult classic with the subversive scene in New York.

Naturally, the Nuart Theatre picked up a revival of RHPS in 1976, and on December 9, 1977, it began regularly screening the film on Fridays at midnight. It quickly gained a loyal following, and fans seeking to relive the film’s nostalgia began showing up in costume. The audience was quiet in comparison to today’s showings, but it was here that the traditions of dancing in the aisles to “Time Warp” and audience callbacks were created. Soon, shouting “Meatloaf Again” at the dinner scene, among other rituals, became commonplace. In March 1977, Lisa Kurtz Sutton, an American fan and RHPS historian, was the first reveler at Nuart to bring noisemakers for the creation scene and a Teddy Bear to hold up during the song “Eddie’s Teddy.”

Fan and performers after a show | © Sebastian Dooris / Flickr

The film got bumped from its Friday showings in 1978, replaced by David Lynch’s surrealist 1977 work Eraserhead. Rocky Horror didn’t resume until 1985—this time on Saturday nights—sparking near hysteria among the crowd of past regulars, and two years later the Sins O’ the Flesh theatre company was born.

And now, 30 years later and with more than 1,500 weekly performances under its belt, L.A.’s premier Rocky Horror troupe continues to put on a scandalously raucous and side-splittingly debaucherous show. The cast and crew provide their own costumes, makeup, props, and set pieces, asking only for donations at the end of the evening.

It’s one thing to watch something on a 2-D screen, but to have it surrounding you is a complete experience. It breathes actual life into ‘Don’t dream it, be it,’” cast member Nina Minnelli, of the Sins O’ the Flesh shadow troupe, told the L.A. Weekly. “Not only is it something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime, it’s home for those who feel they do not fit in anywhere else. So many people aren’t the type to go to clubs or bars—this show provides a safe, fun place for people to make friends and socialize.

A celebration of alternative sexuality combined with camp sensibilities, the Nuart Theatre’s Rocky Horror is a free-spirited experience for the LGBTQ community and anyone looking for a good time on a Saturday night.