Campy horror musical "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" has a special place in Milwaukee.
Since its release in 1975, the film has become an interactive sensation – even more so at the Oriental Theatre, which has the record for the longest continuous run of the film in the United States.
The wild costumes, flying props and racy interjections all make for a one-of-a-kind movie experience. What seals the deal, though, are the always exuberant theatrics of the cast of Sensual Daydreams, the live-action re-enactors that bring the on-screen antics of "Rocky" out into the audience at every midnight showing.
The group has performed alongside the Oriental's "Rocky" screenings since 1992, but the live-action choreography goes back much further than that.
"When it was first shown back in the day, there wasn't necessarily a cast," said Jerry Dunk, who performs as Dr. Frank-N-Furter and serves as Sensual Daydreams' cast director. "People would just show up and do things – they would come dressed up, or people would stand up and do some scenes – and then eventually that evolved into a cast of people doing things regularly that got the OK from the theater to use more of the theater space and the stage and that type of thing.
I think there was even a cast there before them, but there was a cast called Celluloid Jam there before Sensual Daydreams, and then Sensual Daydreams came from some remnants of that other cast."
None of the original cast members still participate, but Sensual Daydreams' current members still have a wide range of seniority among them.
"I've forever been telling people, 'Oh yeah, I've been doing it 10 years,' but it's been longer than that, because I've been telling people that for years," said Dunk. "I'd say I've probably been directing it now for about 10 years and I've probably been doing it almost 15 now. We're at a time right now where we have a lot of new people, but we still have someone that's been in there probably close to 10 years themselves, we have a 6- or 7-year person, and we have a lot of people that are just a year or two in."
All cast members are responsible for getting their own costumes and learning their parts more or less on their own. They don't get paid for their performances, but that doesn't put a run in any of their nylons.
"'Rocky Horror' is all really just for the insane love of the movie," said Dunk. "We don't have to pay to see the movie, so I guess that's an advantage when you're a big fan, but we're actually paying just to go there and run around like fools in front of an audience."
The cast has their fair share of fun each night, but they don't take their shows too lightly.
"We're known as one of the most accurate casts as far as being accurate to the screen and having good costumes and that kind of thing," said Dunk. "Since we've been doing it so long, I just kind of like to keep up a good level of accuracy. Every cast has something good going for it, but we've seen other casts before that we're like, 'Did they even try to make their costume look the same?'"
This summer the cast has been performing twice a month instead of their regular once-a-month schedule. Even during their usual schedule, though, Sensual Daydreams still holds a regular meeting at the theater to take care of behind-the-scenes business like putting together "survival kits" – bags of throwing fodder like rice and toast that unprepared audience members can buy before the show.
They also use their meeting time to discuss upcoming theme shows, which make for popular twists on the classic movie nights.
"Some theme shows are just obvious things that a lot of casts will end up doing. For instance, a zombie show. What cast wouldn't think of doing a zombie show?" said Dunk. "During the year we'll always have a switch show, where we all put parts in a hat and pick one out and whatever we pick, that's the part we're going to perform. For the other theme shows, it's pretty much something we toss around ourselves."
Though the themes change, the draw of this quirky midnight movie and Sensual Daydreams' live show is something that continues to pique the interest of new and old audience members alike.
"A lot of people who have never been there before are sometimes a little worried about going because they hear, 'Oh, they give you a hard time if you're new,' or this or that," said Dunk. "You really don't have to worry about what's going to happen. It's just such a fun, accepting atmosphere. People can dress how they want, be who they want and just live out whatever they want to live out on that particular night.
To me it's one of those experiences everyone should try at least once, but then again there's always the danger that you might get hooked on it. There's something in it that makes you want to do it over and over. "
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.