Pittsburgh Does the Time Warp Again

From 1978 to now, Pittsburgh's shadow cast celebrates diversity through Rocky Horror.

Junior Chamber of Commerce Players. Photo by Joel Brewton.

On a regular Saturday night around midnight at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, a poster stands outside, illuminated in flashing bulbs, advertising The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with a pair of luscious red lips emblazoned in the center. Aside from the sound of an occasional passing car, the Potomac Avenue business district is quiet.

Inside the theater, it’s a much different scene. A troupe of performers from The Junior Chamber of Commerce Players (JCCP)  gleaming with a sheen of sweat and glitter, clad in ripped fishnet stockings, corsets, and high heels act out The Rocky Horror Picture Show as it plays on the screen behind them. Audience members yell callbacks at the movie, throw items like toast and toilet paper and sing and dance along as the movie plays.

For those new to the world of Rocky Horror, or “virgins” as they’re called, the film follows Brad and Janet, a newly engaged heterosexual couple whose car breaks down on a road trip. After stopping by a nearby castle to call for help, their road trip turns into a journey of self-expression, gender fluidity, and open sexuality.

Junior Chamber of Commerce Players shadow cast performs while “Rocky Horror Picture Show” plays on the screen behind them. Photo by Joel Brewton, courtesy of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Players.

Though initially bombing on release, it developed a cult following of devoted fans who attend midnight screenings, to see shadow casts where performers like the Junior Chamber of Commerce Players act out the film as it plays behind them.

According to cast archives, Pittsburgh’s history with Rocky Horror has existed since around 1978, with the first shadow cast known as “The Cast With No Name” performing on May 4 and 5th, 1978 at the King’s Court Theater in Oakland, which eventually closed in 1990.

It was that first summer when Beth P. experienced The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time. She had just graduated high school, and she and her friends decided to go see it together. That night then turned into many more weekends spent watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show and participating in its traditions, including dressing up.

Years later, Beth says she can still remember every word of the movie. “No one can ever, ever say, ‘damn it’ without me going ‘Janet,’” she recalled with a laugh.

Junior Chamber of Commerce Players. Photo by Joel Brewton, courtesy of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Players.

There was something special about the movie and the shadow cast production that brought Beth and her friends back to see the same movie over and over again.

“[It was] the audience participation, the music, [the] overall message that the movie gives people,” Beth said, “But for me, you know, I [was] trapped in the suburbs and we didn’t have a lot of diversity at the time. And it was really cool for me to see other [queer] people and I was struggling with coming out.”

Rocky Horror screenings in Pittsburgh continue to give queer people safe spaces decades after the first shadow cast performance. For some, it’s helped to expose people to language they would not have used to understand themselves, like JCCP president Sam Bassett.

“I’m nonbinary and I don’t think I would have the language of who I am without Rocky. The show has exposed me to so many different kinds of people in a safe space of silliness,” they said. “It’s a place to try new things and see what it makes you feel.”

Photo by Joel Brewton, courtesy of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Players.

The Rocky community extends beyond the Steel City, across state lines, and even around the world. From August 3 to 7 Rocky Horror fans flocked to Providence, RI for RKO Con, hosted by New England shadow cast RKO Army.

“It’s a great means of finding people in nearly every city that will get you better than online,” Bassett said. “Through Rocky Horror, I have been able to see other cities and lifestyles that have helped me grow as a person.”

In 2024, the JCCP will be hosting Yinzcon, its own convention and bringing in Rocky Horror fans from all over the country and the world to celebrate the film and the community it created. QBurgh will be there.

The JCCP will be performing on August 28, September 17, and throughout the month of October. To learn more about the JCCP, visit jccppgh.com or follow them on social media with the @jccppgh.

Photo by Joel Brewton, courtesy of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Players.