Language and Performance: At the Late Night Double Feature Picture Show

“How does one know that such heightened awareness is called for– in other words, that a performance of verbal artistry is underway?” (Ahearn 2012:172). Audience participation is vast in midnight productions of Rocky Horror, when “the audience utilizes intertextuality to create interperformance” (Locke 1999:1). From shouting response lines at the movie on the screen in front of them, to interacting with the shadow cast on a stage or at the front of the theater, to throwing various objects up in the air that correlate with movie lines, the audience is what keeps this cult movie a classic. There are typically rules presented prior to the show, catered to each theater. For example, at the Lips Down on Dixie production in Atlanta, Georgia, no lighters or outside food are allowed to be used as props in this way, due to the historical nature of the theater where they hold the production every Friday night.

Julia Novak notes that “Bauman and Briggs concern themselves with verbal art in a very broad sense from the point of view of linguistic anthropology, often dealing with performances that involve a high degree of variability, improvisation, and audience participation, as well as an element of ‘foreignness’” (2011:175). As Jihan Mourad explains, veteran audiences will have their lines shouted out in perfect harmony with the movie’s sound, making it seem “as though the characters in the film are participating in the conversation with the audience” (2017:27). In one scene of Rocky Horror when two of the characters go out in the rain after their car breaks down, the audience is expected to spray their spritz bottles or squirt guns up in the air. In another scene, a character announces that “Dinner is prepared,” to which the audience completes, “It’s Shake-’n-Bake and I helped!,” which, as Liz Locke mentions, is “alluding to a 1970’s commercial for Shake-’n-Bake” (Locke, 1999:1).


Works Cited

Ahearn, L.M. (2012) Performance, performativity, and communities. In Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 160-183.

Locke, L. (1999) “Don’t dream it, be it”: The Rocky Horror Picture Show as cultural performance. New Directions in Folklore 3:1-3. Accessed May 7, 2017. https://astro.temple.edu/~camille/rhps1.html

Mourad, J. (2017) Phantasmagorical cult movies: a Rocky Horror case study. The Medium: Concordia University’s Undergraduate Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies 5:26-30. Accessed May 7, 2017. https://issuu.com/themediumjournal/docs/the_medium-vol5-finalcopy

Novak, J. (2011) Contextualising the performance. In Live Poetry: An Integrated Approach to Poetry in Performance. Amsterdam and New York: Editions Rodopi, pp. 173-220. Accessed May 7, 2017. Google Books.