'Rocky Horror' comes to life on Long Island

The ZEN Room "Rocky Horror" shadow cast troupe

The ZEN Room "Rocky Horror" shadow cast troupe includes Megan McFly, left, Alice Underwood, Elisa Sabella, The Opera Phantomess, Tyler Michael, Shannon Blue, Hugo Reinhardt, Rose Repetti, Donovan Carroll and Nick Secor. (Credit: Aaron Zebrook)

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By day, Jordana Dlugacz and Megan McFly are a tax assessor for the Internal Revenue Service and a day-care teacher, respectively, and Chris Emanuel is a former banker. But on the first Saturday of every month, they don fishnets, heels and heavy makeup to perform "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at Bow Tie Babylon Cinemas.

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" -- a quirky combination of musical, comedy and horror -- premiered in September 1975. Dlugacz's cast, The ZEN Room, is named as a reference to the film's depiction of a den filled with candles and hookahs. The group follows long "shadow cast" and midnight screening traditions associated with this cult classic. While the movie plays, actors in front of the screen perform scenes in full costume and makeup, speaking out loud or lip-synching their lines.

"It becomes three-dimensional," says Dlugacz, 38, the Long Island troupe's producing artistic director. And "the price doesn't hurt," she says. "It's $8 to see a movie and a live show."

Dlugacz founded ZEN, which stands for Zydrate Enthusiasts Network, in 2009 as a shadow cast group for the lesser-known movie "REPO! The Genetic Opera." In October 2011, The ZEN Room did its first "Rocky" in Bellmore, and eventually found a permanent home in Babylon. The troupe recently brought its production to Port Washington Cinema to give Nassau County a taste, and plan to return periodically.

TRADITIONS

The experience begins even before the doors open. As spectators line up outside, several cast members "will go through the line and ask if they are what's known as a 'Rocky Horror' virgin," says Emanuel, of Westbury. They use lipstick or eyeliner to draw a "V" on the foreheads of those who have never been to a live show before.

When midnight nears, it's time for the "Virgin Ceremony," which could mean any number of silly contests, such as trying to say a phrase with more and more marshmallows in your mouth, or giving the funniest answer to "What put you on the naughty list this year?"

"When we do the virgin games," says McFly, 28, of Oceanside.

"Everyone wants to see how people react."

AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION

The audience is encouraged to shout out callbacks -- established phrases in response to certain characters or scenes, or ad-libs they deem appropriate -- says Emanuel, 34, who has played the role of Frank-N-Furter, and also searches for stage plays the group can take on in addition to the shadow cast. "We also encourage them to get up and do the 'Time Warp' when that particular scene comes up," he says.

It's all about the interaction, explains Dlugacz. Besides the callbacks and "Time Warp" dance, there are prop bags, which "Rocky"-goers can purchase from The ZEN Room or assemble on their own. Emanuel says a standard prop bag might include a flashlight or glow stick, a newspaper, a noisemaker, a deck of playing cards and a roll of toilet paper, all of which have designated uses in the film.

NEW WRINKLES

The crowd usually ranges from teens to 50- and 60-somethings. Some from the older set arrive in T-shirts from the midnight screenings at the now-defunct Uniondale Mini-Cinema in the 1980s or are "Rocky" veterans who performed in shadow casts of the past.

Cast member Hugo Reinhardt, 23, of Syosset loves sitting with his ZEN Room friends backstage, with the "opening music playing, all singing in hushed tones so nobody can hear," he says, getting "super hyped up and energized for the show."

The actors like to add new jokes -- something seasonal or tied to current events and trends -- to keep regulars entertained. Every few months, they rotate roles.

"It's a great way to keep things fresh, to entice people to keep coming back," says Reinhardt, who wants audiences to always wonder: What will they do this month?

'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' shadow cast

WHEN | WHERE 11:30 p.m. Saturday (and the first Saturday of each month), Bow Tie Babylon Cinema, 34 W. Main St.

INFO $8; 631-669-3399, movietickets.com

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