It’s Just a Jump to the Left: Doing the Time Warp with Salt Lake’s Latter Day Transvestites

Cali Litton, Jen Ogle and Susan Steffee have been using rubber fish and twinkies to embarrass Rocky Horror Picture Show Virgins at annual screenings since 1995. Photo: Peter Anderson

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.  There is a place in Salt Lake City where all are dressed like they just stumbled out of a lights-off orgy of 70s punk rockers and 50s sci-fi villains.  These creatures of the night pack into the Tower Theatre under the cover of late-October darkness.  They swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh—giving themselves over to absolute pleasure.  Toast, uncooked rice, toilet paper and squirt guns may or may not be involved.  Sounds like a good time, yes?  But be careful: it’s not easy having a good time.  Even smiling can make your face hurt. 

If I’m confusing you, then you are, whether you knew it or not, a Rocky Horror Picture Show Virgin.  Capital V.  Don’t feel too bad.  If Rocky Horror was popular enough that everyone had heard of it, it wouldn’t deserve its queen-of-all-cult-movies reputation.  Allow me to cut through the inside jokes for a moment to deliver you the hardboiled facts like a professional journalist: tickets have already gone on sale for the Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast performance at the Tower Theatre.  It’s a Halloween mainstay that Salt Lake’s own Latter-Day Transvestites have been bringing us since 1995.  A dozen crew members and a cast of nine (plus five or so extra trannies for good measure) regale the audience with their own semi-slapdash rendition of the cult musical while the movie itself plays on the screen behind them.  That’s really all you need to know: It’s a very weird thing that people have been doing literally nonstop since the mid-seventies.  I would only add that, to enjoy such a raucous performance, one ought to imbibe heavily—prior, during and after, if at all possible.

Susan Steffee has been emceeing the show for over 20 years, and she’s seen it all.  “Last year somebody complained about excessive drinking on stage.” Susan says, “[I thought] ‘Really? I just shoved a rubber fish in a guy’s butt crack, and you’re upset because I’m up here drinking?  What the fuck is wrong with you people?’” Thank you, Susan.  That right there is consummate Rocky shadow cast gumption: a little booze, some light ass play, and a general dismissal of anything that’s not fabulous, silly and fun.  But back to that guy with a fish in his ass.  I’d bet you money he had a big red “V” for virgin painted on his forehead at the time.  See, back in Rocky’s heyday of midnight shadow cast shows every month (and in some cases more frequently), coming to a show for your first time meant getting hazed in any number of sexy, well-meaning ways—right up there on stage.  These days, however, the virgins outnumber the experienced.  If it is your first time, you can probably sink back in your seat and just go to your happy place while the cast selects a few of the rowdier virgins to accost with Twinkies. 

In exactly what manner one might expect to be accosted with a Twinkie is something you’ll have to find out in person.  “The virgin sacrifice is a big secret [among shadow casts] all across the country,” says director Jen Ogle.  She assures me it involves “lots of horrible things that you have to be there to find out . . . whipped cream is a factor, bananas, Twinkies . . . clothes disappearing.”   The sexual perversion is all in good fun, of course.  The show is really about good vibes, bad musicals, robust blood alcohol content and, most importantly, having a safe place to flaunt your inner weirdo.  “It’s one of those places where, if you want to dress a little oddly, you know you can come here.” says Steffee, “Nobody’s gonna be like: ‘oh I’m punching you in the face.’ . . . No, they’ll say: ‘nice costume! By the way, I can see your balls.’”  Then again, if your balls have stage fright, you can trade the assless chaps for whatever you damn well please. “There are certain costumes that really stand out.” says tech master Cali Litton, “We once had some guy who’d never seen [the movie] . . . come in a full Tigger costume.” 

The whole shebang is a heap of fun, and Rocky Horror veterans will tell you: the more you get into the mindset, the more fun,  you’re going to have.  There are six shows scheduled this month, beginning on the Thursday before Halloween.  “We have a wait list every single night.” says Ogle,  “We have at least fifty people waiting outside.” Buy your tickets early because standing in line, in the cold, in fishnets and a bustier is no way to spend an evening.  It’s time to don your boas and platform heels, creatures of the night, and leave the kids and devout Mormons at home, because what goes on at a Rocky Show is bad for them, but good for relieving your . . . tension.

Cali Litton, Jen Ogle and Susan Steffee have been using rubber fish and twinkies to embarrass Rocky Horror Picture Show Virgins at annual screenings since 1995. Photo: Peter Anderson