History: Genesis (1981-1983)
JANE PICKENS THEATER, Newport, RI Sprint, 1981 – Aug, 1982 (Weekly Fri & Sat nights)
CINERAMA, Providence, RI – Feb, 1979 – Mar 1983 (Weekly Fri & Sat nights)
The true linear trace of RKO Army begins in the summer of 1981. Bob and I were out of Rocky Horror, but despite our bad experience in Providence we still loved The Show. I had transferred to Newport for my job. There, I discovered the Show was again playing at the JPT. Bob & I checked it out. Chuck was still there, but he was no longer alone. We discovered some other newer cast members from the Providence cast that were also not happy with their experience there stop going to the Cinerama and instead went to Newport to get the opportunity to perform. Thus began a 2nd and completely separate Rocky Horror adventure for us.
This was the unforeseen origin of what we now call RKO Army. It was a coming together of like-minded people who saw Rocky Horror as something unique and special and that could be built upon.
Having a place to do the show was needed, but the most important element of the relationship was at the Top. In complete contrast with the Cinerama manager, we had an owner in Mr. Joe Jarvis who gave us a Home beyond just a theater. For a cast to go beyond mere existence and into a state of growth and improvement, it requires both cast desire and a positive venue. NOW we had that. Mr. J saw us as friends, not a burden. He cared enough to extend the run thru the fall and winter, which he had never done before. Because of that, we had our first Halloween weekend in 1981 (the year before in Providence the cast was banned from performing on Halloween weekend). That night it all came together. We had become a real cast. Unlike Providence, we experienced the concept of family for the first time that would become the key ingredient that makes all casts run.
We became a real cast instead of people just showing up in this sense – We became organized. This may be a concept that people take for granted today, but previous to this it was a matter of people showing up and finding out at the show what would happen that night. Now, we actually communicated and planned ahead. There was still a separate Friday night group operating on the show-up-and-figure-it-out model, and we eventually brought them into our cast.
We continued to grow in 1982. We began our own weekly newsletter, a streak that was to continue every week we had a show for over 10 years. We did our first road show at the UA Theater in Groton, CT. Audience members saw us do a few shows there and formed their own cast (“Hedonistic Theatre”). We did our first non-theater road show ever at URI on May 1, 1982, a double header.
We were proud of what we had created. We had something special. We had a cast that acted professionally and got along. We proved that being serious and having fun were not mutually exclusive. We had props and could store them. We had regular lights. This was all part of the Genesis of the RKO Army, then called the “Newport Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast” (In those days, there were no cast names).
Meanwhile, we gathered news from Providence that the original cast up there had indeed faded out sometime early in 1982. Later in 1982, a 2nd cast formed in their absence with completely new leadership. Other than perhaps two carryover cast members, it was a completely different group which was established when previous leadership attempted to come back in a few months into it.
Our run ended after a year in August of 1982. We were dead in the water. We did a 3rd road show at the UA theater as per a previous agreement with that theater, but a new cast was just getting started there so we knew that would be our last.
Those of us still with a love for Rocky Horror and willing to travel found avenues. Some of us joined up with the newly formed Groton cast and made new friends there while we lost old ones from Newport. Some of us also started to make our way into the 2nd Providence cast. Being part of those two casts kept us going when we had nothing else.
A few of us continued to perform in the Groton Cast. However, that 2nd Providence cast also came to an end.
In early 1983, a 3rd very informal “cast” formed. It was known as the “T Shirt and Flashlight” cast as it was basically just an incomplete group getting up and performing what they could. It was made up of a few Newport cast members plus a few from the first Providence cast. No spotlights, just flashlights. Costumes were at a minimum. They were not getting in for free as cast and there was no cast leader. But the movie was still playing their on Friday and Saturday nights on auto pilot.
Then, something unexpected happened. We learned thru the “T Shirt and Flashlight” cast that the Cinerama was coming to an end. We went there on the last night under cover sneaking in as members of the T-Shirt and Flashlight cast. We needed to sneak in because the same management was still there. We did the last movie ever run in that building on 3/19/83. It was an epic night, sold out. We went into the movie expecting to be thrown out as soon as each of us got up and performed but we were at least going to get our “moment”. I recall the Jerry the Manager coming in and seeing us, but he just let it go. It was the only show RKO Army could say we did as this cast at that special place in RHPS history.
Ironically, the last ever picture show at the Cinerama was what pulled us and the remaining Providence/Newport community back together and launched us into what would become our history. The Cinerama ending was actually a great opportunity for our cast. We were never going to get it going under Cinerama management, but now it opened up the possibility of getting it going again at another theater. It’s ending allowed us an opening to get a foothold and a fresh start at reviving our cast.
It’s unfortunate, but the unforeseen Death of the Cinerama had to have occurred to remove the unmovable roadblock for this cast to Live. The Cinerama was destroyed by wrecking ball in the summer of 1983. From the rumble, we have pieces of it’s brick. It was replaced by a CVS, which is still currently thriving there now. The CVS store and it’s parking lot are in the same exact spots that the Cinerama had been. Genesis complete.