After a two-year stint at the city-owned Lon Chaney Theatre, the fishnet wearing, rice-throwing, oft-cussing cast members and fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show are out and off to a tougher neighborhood.
While they continue their weekly productions of the cult classic at The Palace, just south of downtown, some cast members say inflexible city officials who disapproved of their risqu production forced them to leave the City Auditorium's tiny theater.
It was "because of the nature of our show and the hours of our show," contends Anthony Ocava, director of both the show and the theater group, called Midnight Depravity.
The weekly Saturday night production, an improv performance acted on stage with the 30-year-old film playing in the background, begins at midnight and often stretches until after 2 a.m.
City Auditorium supervisor John Carricato says that Rocky Horror chose to leave, and solely for financial reasons.
"I have never witnessed the play," he says. "I don't want to judge any of our tenants."
Two weeks ago, Carricato told Ocava that there would be a rate change for the group's rental of the downtown theater. Citing an underenforced city ordinance, he told Ocava that the $40-per-night price he had paid beforehand would increase more than sixfold. Ocava would have to pay $250 for a standard 12-hour theater rental, effective immediately. Carricato also told Ocava that a security guard would have to be present during the midnight showing, a cost that Ocava would likely have to bear.
"I would go into the red right away," says Ocava. "Moving it to $250 was insane."
Rather than pay, Ocava moved his production to The Palace, at 117 W. Las Vegas St., near the outskirts of Dorchester Park on South Nevada Avenue. Midnight Depravity performs there without charge, a perk that Ocava arranged through his business negotiations with the owner. But he worries that the new location is not as safe for his largely teenage audience.
"It is in a bad neighborhood," he says. "That part of town has a bad reputation."
Rocky Horror's departure from the City Auditorium coincides with major administrative changes at the 83-year-old building at 221 E. Kiowa St. In late July, the auditorium's former supervisor, Bob Wade, was fired because of "personnel issues," according to city officials who would not elaborate. Wade was under police investigation last month for sloppy accounting practices, but the district attorney's office decided not to press charges.
Lamont Gizzi, city manager of recreation services, says there were several incongruities between city law and the way Wade ran the auditorium, including theater rental prices.
When asked whether he was concerned that either of the two other major theater groups might leave the Lon Chaney to avoid paying elevated prices, Gizzi responded, "It concerns me more that we were not following our policy."
Carricato, who was appointed supervisor shortly after Wade left, says he will negotiate an agreement with each theater group.
"We are going to clean up the way we do business by putting our customers under contract," he says.
Despite Carricato's assertions to the contrary, some Rocky Horror cast members think that within such talk of cleaning up lies the reason they had to move on.
"We wish we hadn't been the casualties of the new regime," says Jonathan Eberhardt, who plays Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a transvestite from outer space. He says that the production is not as ribald as city officials might imagine.
"Sometimes, it is just four-letter words and fishnet pantyhose."