Pandemic be damned. One Portland man was determined to keep a long-standing tradition alive despite theater closures due to Covid. Which meant showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show to an empty theater for 54 weeks straight. Now, with the world slowly opening back up, audiences are ready to return once more to see the cult classic on the big screen.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has screened every Saturday night at Portland’s Clinton Street Theater for the past 43 years. The theater was forced to close last year on March 15, 2020 due to the pandemic. But Nathan Williams was determined not to break the long-standing tradition, so he made sure to be at the theater every Saturday for the past year, screening the movie without an audience in attendance. Though he admits he’d sometimes sneak a friend into the projection booth.
“I watched it alone. I watched it during the snowstorm. I was in a position to keep a flame burning, to keep a torch lit. I’m just a guy holding a torch for the city of Portland, for all the weirdos, for all the people who don’t have a safe place to call home, we’re home.”
Williams serves as the emcee for Rocky nights at the theater. Owner Lani Jo Leigh allowed the magic to continue happening in an empty void because she wanted her theater family to know the midnight screenings would still be waiting for them when things got a chance to reopen. She offers this.
“It’s just kind of a silly little thing, but it was still a sense of hope. This is what normal is. Normal is we play ‘Rocky Horror’ on a Saturday night, and that’s what’s happening.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show was the first movie to screen to an audience when the Clinton Street Theater reopened on April 3. The theater has been standing in the same location since 1914, and is one of Oregon’s oldest movie palaces. Lani Jo Leigh managed to keep the theater operating during the pandemic thanks to grants, loans, fundraisers, donations and a lowered rent from her landlord. She goes onto say this.
“On one hand, I would get really depressed and upset and anxious, especially in the beginning, but then people just kept coming and saying, ‘You mean so much to us, this place.’ I would think ‘I don’t have the money this month’ and somehow, someone would just send it. It just felt like a miracle all year. I felt like Jimmy Stewart in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.'”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show hasn’t missed a Saturday screening since it debuted at the Clinton Street theater in 1978. The theater has one of the longest unbroken streaks for the cult classic musical anywhere in the world. And the pandemic didn’t shatter that. When the theater reopened on April 3rd, only 50 audience members were allowed to enter the auditorium for its first showing in over a year. The movie is no longer playing at midnight, with a 9pm start time due to Coronavirus restrictions. Though it is noted that it’s always Midnight somewhere. The following information is provided for anyone who wants to attend one of the upcoming Saturday night screenings.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is shown at 9 p.m. Saturdays at The Clinton Street Theater, 2522 S.E. Clinton St. The pre-show and “virgin games” begin at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online at cstpdx.com. Attendees are invited to use and throw props, with the exception of water guns or open flames. Under COVID-19 precautions, audience members must stay seated or standing in front of their assigned seats.
This story originated at Oregon Live. Stay weird, Portland.