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I have never been to a showing of the movie, nor have I even seen it. I have heard that it is quite the experience. People dress up, yell things at certain parts of the movie, and even throw toast?!

My question is why is this done? Is there a reason or significance for the actions during a viewing?

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As a shadow cast member for the longest-running chain of midnight showings in the world, I love to see that people are still interested in Rocky Horror! shameless self-plug for Sensual Daydreams – Shotgun Ninja Apr 10 '13 at 18:35
I've been to two and it's all about audience participation. Anything from dressing up to random dancing, singing, getting on stage and acting out parts and having a great time. – DustinDavis Apr 11 '13 at 15:31
up vote 14 down vote accepted

As detailed in the documentary "Midnight Movies: From the Margins to the Mainstream," The audience participation phenomenon grew out of the "midnight movie"/"cult" experience in the 1970s; people who identified strongly with the themes and characters came back to the show again and again. It began with a type of cosplay (dressing up as characters), then callbacks (interacting with the dialogue) and then shadowcasting (acting out the movie beneath the screen, often with interpretations).

Props were an offshoot of callbacks -- the first included the use of water pistols and newspaper to simulate a couple caught in the rain, and the sparking of lighters when the line "There's a light…" is sung. Some props have fallen out of fashion due to theatre restrictions. The throwing of toast is an example -- cleaning up bread crumbs is more difficult than sweeping up rice -- and few theaters allow open flames anymore.

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The flames have been somewhat replaced with cell phones (similar to at concerts). Sadly, Rocky has fallen out of most places due to a combination of cost and its availability on home video. For quite a long time, a cinema doing a midnight rotation was the ONLY way to see Rocky. – Andrei Freeman Mar 12 '12 at 2:05
Yes, I have dressed in fishnets and gone to many of these in my dubious past. Not only were we utilizing water pistols, rice and toast, but we also used to throw Kit Kats on stage when Rocky said 'time for a break'. We were also encouraged to yell 'BORING" whenever the narrator was on stage, 'SLUT' whenever Janet talked and 'ASSHOLE' for Brad. Don't tell my mum. – Nobby Feb 15 '13 at 2:02

A showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is different from everything else you have seen. If you are open minded and if you love cinema, you should watch it as soon as you have a chance. You don't need to know anything about the movie (you really shouldn't in my opinion, that's part of the magic), just don't watch it at home.

The movie was a box office failure in the U.S. in 1975. The producer, Lou Adler, decided to move it to the midnight movie circuit in 1976 to try to get some of the investment back. That was when the cult began.
At first, the movie was a success among the transvestite community and science fiction fans, but then it got out to the general public and became a national sensation. It is hard to explain why it happened, but the snowball effect is easy to understand: you are watching a movie with a crowd of people dressed up exactly like the characters, who know every single line in the script and each time there is a more questionable quote they shout back at the screen with a witty comment or a sexual joke. So it can happen pretty much anything.

I probably didn't answer your questions, but the fact is there isn't an straight answer to the why, what or how. You will understand everything after you go out and watch a night session of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Edit just to add a few things about the movie itself. This is a musical/comedy. It's a tribute to classical science fiction movies and, at the same time, it carries a strong message about liberty and about exploring the limits of one's sexuality. It has a brilliant soundtrack and a simple (almost naive) humor. Whether live or at home this is not a movie that everyone will enjoy. Not everyone enjoys musicals, not everyone will laugh (specially if you are watching it alone) and the sexual content may be a little too much for some people. Nevertheless, it is a unique live experience.

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Hmm, maybe this is what I did wrong then. I watched it at home, and completely hated it. Don't really see myself enjoying a 'proper' viewing either though, but to each his own I guess :P. – Stephan Muller Dec 10 '11 at 17:09
@Litso It's not a movie for everyone. I added a few details about the movie itself so that people can prepare for what they are about to see ;) – nmat Dec 10 '11 at 23:04

There is a link here that goes over all the props used during a Rocky Horror Picture Show showing. The toast, for example, is thrown when one of the characters proposes a toast (these guys are nothing if not literal).

If you want, try watching the movie at home. It's an okay movie with a HUGE amount of camp in it. However, if you go to a midnight showing with a bunch of people who act out some parts of the scenes, it becomes something more akin to a 4-D showing (so to speak). I went to a midnight showing once a LONG time ago, and they usually have 'virgins' (people who have never seen the movie before) come in front before the showing, and have some of the women try and give their best fake orgasm. Like I said, a LOT of camp...

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