Cast brings 'Rocky Horror' bizarro bonanza to Tampa Pitcher Show

It's a Saturday night, and a crowd forms outside the theater. Ladies and men are dressed for the evening — lots of them in lingerie.

Outsiders might call what happens next even more ludicrous.

Calvin Mynatt calls it fun.

"It's a change for a straight, Christian, 20-year-old man to end up putting on heels, fishnets and a face full of makeup," Mynatt said. But "it's a scandalous piece of history."

One he and friends are keeping alive in Carrollwood.

Mynatt is one of 40 actors from across the Tampa Bay area in a cast called Cheap Little Punks. Their forte is a shadow cast production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The actors perform the movie live while it plays on a screen behind them. William "Cash" Cashman, co-director, said the Punks is the only group to host it in Hillsborough County, although the cast hail from all over the area, including Pasco County.

It happens at the Tampa Pitcher Show and thrives on audience participation. It is part of a movement that has lasted nearly 35 years and turned the film into a cult classic.

The show is not for everyone, but some of the Punks insist there is meaning behind it.

"If you come with an open mind," Mynatt said, "you might take away something a little bit deeper than makeup and heels."

• • •

For those who somehow missed it, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a rock musical chock-full of taboo topics and colorful characters, like transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter and a guy named Rocky Horror whom Frank-N-Furter brings to life Dr. Frankenstein style. A flat tire strands newly engaged couple Brad and Janet at Frank-N-Furter's castle, where they get stuck doing lots of what they otherwise wouldn't, like the Time Warp — a song and dance the movie made popular — and sleeping around.

Cheap Little Punks has performed the show since May 2009, but the road to their N Dale Mabry stage was a long one.

"Thirteen theaters in three different counties said no," said Cashman, 35, who directs the production with Natalie Grist, 21. Rocky Horror “had a horrible name, especially here in Tampa."

Cashman used to be part of a St. Petersburg cast of actors and wanted a place to gather a new group to perform the show. Last year, he asked a Tampa Pitcher Show manager what she thought of the idea.

Her response?

"About a minute of obscenities," Cashman said.

In a good way.

Ever since, at 11:30 p.m. the first and third Fridays and Saturdays of the month, the cast puts on the show and the audience gets permission to interrupt it.

"Calling it weird is not really doing it justice," said Mynatt, a Hillsborough Community College student from Carrollwood who plays Frank-N-Furter.

Each night starts with a pre-show, put on by the cast or a local band, followed by the call for "virgins," people who have never seen the show. On a recent Saturday night, a cast member picked virgin volunteers for a game called transvestite relay race. The three guys and three girls had to strip to their underwear and switch clothes in front of everyone. The initiation is different every night.

"It's a rite of passage," said John Guyette, 23, who lives in Westchase by day and plays the part of Brad by night. "Once you're embarrassed, it's all uphill from there."

Yet it's an inclusive atmosphere, said Drew Hackworth, 27, a Wesley Chapel resident who works as an IT consultant at a New Port Richey firm.

"It's fun," said Hackworth, who dresses as the film's criminologist and maintains the Cheap Little Punks' website. "It gives people a place to go that's really non-judgmental, where people can come and be themselves no matter what type of person they are."

And, Kris Botha said, it's all a heck of a lot of fun.

"You yell at the screen. You scream at the air," said Botha, 26, an office manager who lives near Seminole Heights and sometimes plays Dr. Scott. "You'd have to be on drugs to enjoy it at home alone, but the live show is a wild ride of ridiculousness."

In some ways, the show is for anybody. "Gay, straight, bi, black and white, Hispanic, different backgrounds, different religious beliefs," Botha said. "It's a melting pot."

In other ways, it isn't.

"My dad doesn't want to see me dance around in ladies' underwear," said Guyette.

Sometimes, he said, people walk out because of the foul language or scantily clad cast members. Others aren't fazed.

"I'm in college," said Kelli Serio, 20, of Valrico. She saw the show for the first time last month and enjoyed it. "A lot of things don't shock me."

From flop to classic

Up to 150 people watch each Tampa performance, Cashman said.

Years ago, such notoriety seemed like a long shot. When released in theaters in 1975, the flick flopped, Mynatt said.

But when a New York City theater brought it back, something curious happened. According to Rocky Horror folklore, the Waverly Theater — now the IFC Center in New York — started showing the film around April Fool's Day, 1976, and kept it on as a recurring midnight movie. Nine months later, somebody named Sal Piro showed up to see it. He became a regular.

"Piro yelled at the screen on his way to the bathroom," Mynatt said. "The next week, so did everyone else."

The audience's clever commentary during gaps in on-screen conversation caught on. Now fans nationwide yell audience participation lines throughout the show. Costumes, props and shadow casts also emerged, and the trend repeatedly popped up in other theaters.

Today, the once-flop of a flick is known as the longest running theatrical release of a film in movie history.

Here, it continues to be popular among mature audiences.

Anybody who sees the show should "understand they're not coming to see My Dog Skip. It's about sexuality and a forbidden way of living," Mynatt said. "So many people say it's such a scandal to even play" the movie.

But in it, he has found nuggets of wisdom.

"My favorite quote on the planet is from Frank-N-Furter," Mynatt said. " 'Don't dream it; be it.' That's something that you hear from your parents and all of a sudden, it's coming from the Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Arleen Spenceley can be reached at (813) 909-4617 or aspenceley@sptimes.com.

If you go

The Cheap Little Punks perform the Rocky Horror Picture Show at 11:30 the first and third Friday and Saturday of every month at the Tampa Pitcher Show, 14416 N Dale Mabry Highway. $7. Call (813) 963-0578 or visit cheaplittlepunks.org.

Cast brings 'Rocky Horror' bizarro bonanza to Tampa Pitcher Show 07/01/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 10:01pm]

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