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Transvestite Phoenicians: Get Ready For the Phoenix Music Version of Rocky Horror Picture Show

Rocky Horror at the Firehouse. The name of the event says a lot, when you think about it. Is it a bunch of firemen (and women) putting on the infamous play that later became a celluloid cult classic? No, and apologies to all the ladies swooning at the thought of that particular idea. This is the Firehouse Art Space, and the people putting on the show are not your average thespians. In fact, there is nothing average about this production of Rocky Horror at all.

The brainchild of co-directors Sheri Amourr and Ting Ting (whose real names were not divulged), at the Firehouse represents the second production at the 14-year-old art space, which doubles (triples, quadruples, etc.) as a gallery, living quarters for artists, retail shop, and performance space. The Firehouse is located just north of Roosevelt on First Street in downtown Phoenix and offers one of the more unique experiences of any art tour you might take around town.

The production is based on the campy film version, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was based on Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show, written in the early 1970s while O’Brien was out of work. The popularity (and maybe peculiarity) of the stage show, which debuted in 1973, spawned the 1975 film version.

According to Amourr, bringing the film to life in a stage version is “incredibly challenging,” but it seems this version of the story is the one she and her co-director really gravitate toward.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 40 years, you’re probably familiar with , a sendup of second-rate sci-fi and horror movies that mixes fantastic rock ’n’ roll and transvestite Transylvanians with a theme of the power of transformation. Protagonists Brad and Janet are stranded in the middle of nowhere while on a trip to see an old professor. They wind up guests of Dr. Frank N. Furter, who along with his fellow Transylvanians, have been doing some rather interesting experiments, very similar to those of Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein. Without giving the rest away, there’s also a monster named Rocky.

For Amourr, the musical has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. The 40-year-old, who plays Janet, primarily is a dancer and started doing the “Time Warp” at age 3 with her uncle in her grandparents’ living room. As a teenager, she began attending showings of the film, learned all the songs, and embraced the role she eventually would play years later.

“In high school, I was in the choir, and I sang soprano. Susan Sarandon [who played Janet in the film] has a very high voice, and I rocked those songs,” says Amourr, who is not short on confidence but whose enthusiasm and passion for the project eclipse any hint of pretension or ugly bravado.

She and Ting Ting are guiding a talented group of performers and artists in transforming the Firehouse’s backyard stage area into the film’s main setting, the castle of Dr Frank N. Furter and his primary underlings, Riff Raff, Columbia (a groupie), and Magenta.

Though the film is set on a cold and rainy night, Rocky Horror at the Firehouse takes place during a haboob and features a combination of live action and video.
The setting change has as much to do with the limited budget of the production as it does with the prevailing attitude around the Firehouse that they can make anything better by being themselves. Amourr said the cast wanted to “make this local [and] make it for real. Brad and Janet are, in our version, coming from Glendale. They’re in downtown Phoenix, but to them, that’s the middle of nowhere.”

Fans of the film and stage play will notice subtle script changes but nothing so drastic as to throw off the feel of previous productions. Amourr and Ting encouraged the cast to get very familiar with the film.

“[The film] was almost a third director,” reveals Amourr, who says it was useful for the actors to get comfortable with the scenes they will re-create by watching them as often as possible, even during rehearsals, which began in January.

Local musician Andy Warpigs was the first member of the ensemble to be cast and will put his unique perspective into the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter. Warpigs is a talented performer whose clever blend of folk and punk rock has garnered him an impressive following over the past several years. He will bring panache to the role that probably would make Tim Curry (who made the role famous) more than proud if he were able to attend one of the performances on Friday, May 29, and Saturday, May 30.

“I’m excited to get to play with something that I love this much,” Warpigs says. “That’s a rare opportunity, and it’s an even rarer opportunity to get to do something like this with your best friends and the performers you admire most.”

A self-proclaimed choir kid, Warpigs jokes that he spent much of his time in high school drama class drunk, which the theatrical people seemed to accept a little more readily than the average student at his school.

Local musician (and New Times contributor) Serene Dominic will appear as Eddie, a former paramour of both Dr. Furter and the groupie Columbia. Eddie enters and exits in a blaze of glory, which is something Dominic seems to embrace wholeheartedly. Ironically, Dominic once interviewed singer Meat Loaf, who played Eddie in the film version.

“The role of Eddie is exciting because it is kind of like the rock musical triathlon. There’s your standard singing and dancing, but then you add cycling and dying to the mix. And it’s all concentrated into three minutes. So there’ll be plenty of time to do drugs and make phone calls backstage before the curtain call,” says Dominic, who along with Warpigs and numerous Valley musicians will provide live and recorded music for the production, to give the show an even greater sense of local pride.
During an early May rehearsal, it became more than apparent that this is a talented group of people who almost unanimously expressed their appreciation for the open and constructive atmosphere created by Amourr and Ting.

This atmosphere also is the product of the Firehouse’s leader, local artist Michael 23, who like Dr. Frank N. Furter has created an opportunity for new (and more experienced) artists to learn, thrive, and flourish in the art space.

The man known as 23 started the gallery in 2001 after a 10-year run, spanning most of the 1990s, at the Thought Crime gallery. He is excited about what Rocky Horror at the Firehouse means for the community.

“I think people should come out to see the Firehouse and to see a long-running art space. It’s important to us to have a front-row seat to see what’s happening downtown,” said 23, just as it is important for those who have never set foot in the Firehouse to get a front row seat for this production.

“I’d like to see the show be successful both nights with a solid audience,” he says. “It’s going to be fun to see both shows, with this kind of crazy crew of people who have come together — [to] come see people do anything, achieve anything, right before their very eyes.”

Interestingly, the future of the Firehouse is in a state of transformation, like many of the characters in . On June 14, the city of Phoenix’s Parks and Recreation Department will be accepting proposals for someone to maintain the “Firehouse Site” — located just north of the Firehouse gallery — which will house a restaurant and, most likely, a bar.

“Apparently, we’re going to have to put together a million-dollar restaurant/art space to compete. To me, it’s gentrification. We’ve been slugging out here for 14 years,” says 23. “They took away a third of our parking, for street improvements, and now they are opening a space with our name down the street that we won’t be able to afford. It’s ironic that it’s a literal fire station and we’re the Firehouse. We’re not really sure if Phoenix cares for its arts community.”

23, a longtime player in the Valley art scene, has seen the changes happen over the years based on his experience with both Artlink and First Friday.

“It’s important to keep some kind of continuity in the arts downtown so that there’s some kind of history. We have this kind of organic, long-running community here . . . There is a significant infrastructure of living, working artists [in downtown Phoenix]. We’re having to learn to adapt and survive,” says 23, who did provide his real name.

Amourr, though, summed it up best.

“There’s a lot of us who have made it a big priority to make the Firehouse better. This is a very DIY production, but I think we’re going to rock it like crazy,” she says. “This is going to be the most elaborate production ever done at the Firehouse. I feel like we’re just really showing, ‘Hey, look what we can do.’”

To which Dr. Frank N. Furter might have purred, “Don’t dream it, be it.”

Rocky Horror at the Firehouse is scheduled to take place Friday, May 29, and Saturday, May 30.