USC Digital Folklore Archives / Festival
Festival
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Modern Folk Festival

Context:

The subject is a white gender non-conforming individual from Brooklyn, New York. This interview takes place a couple days after the subject and I attend a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show together. I would describe the experience as a weekly or monthly folk festival. People, usually teenagers and usually members of the LGBT community watch this 80s flop movie while poking fun at the film’s ridiculousness. When I talk to them, the subject identifies as gender non-binary, I ask them about their first time going to Rocky as well as what the experience is like. Their first time going was a different cinema in New York City, where they’re from, they reference the differences between that and the rituals we saw in Los Angeles, showing multiplicity and variation. I find these midnight screenings fascinating as they are interacting with a piece of authored work but turning it into their own folk customs. While each place does similar things, there is always variety.

 

Piece:

“Um, so you’re….um so my first time going, sorry if this is not allowed, but you get really wasted before hand, is the idea. Um you dress as revealing as you want to, which is normally a lot, especially for me. Uh, and I went with a bunch of my friends and the lines pretty long but you get through it and then you write, if you’re a virgin meaning that you’ve never gone before to the show you get a V drawn on your forehead with red lipstick. And uh, so I got a V drawn on my forehead cause I’d never been before and we, and then, they yell a bunch of stuff when you get there like “Welcome to the Ro…” OH! It started out with a dance party, that’s what’s fun, they don’t do that in LA, or atleast at the NuArt, but in New York they start with a dance party so they get everyone up in front and everyone dances together and it’s super fun. They do a bunch of other weird shit at the front, just some fun intro games and stuff. Uh, I don’t remember those, it’s just like them yelling things and being silly and doing really short bits. But then, they have all sit down, and they’re like “Oh if you’re a virgin”, meaning that you’d never been to Rocky Horror before, come to the front. So I went to the front, and they like pick out of the people who go up there, and they choose me, as well as a bunch of other people. And they were like “ok, what you guys are going to do is your best orgasm noises”, this is technically a secret, virgins aren’t supposed to know before they go to Rocky Horror but I’ll let you in on it. Um so, we all did our best orgasm noises, and I won actually, I won Best Orgasm Noise, by like audience participation, like so they like clap for, you know, like the loudest clap, my friends screamed a lot for me, so that’s why I won. And my prize was I got to be in the show, which they also don’t do in LA, but they do in New York. So, so what I got to do is be in the married couple, thats like in the beginning because you know how Brad and Janet are at a wedding. So I got to be uh, I think I choose to be the bride, they let you choose though because Rocky Horror is very queer and genderfluid and its whatever the fuck you want. And my hus… yeah, my groom was this very hot person, uh, so they were like “hi, we’re getting married” and like flirting with me and I was like “I can’t handle this, I’m too fragile and gay”. Um, but yeah, I got to be  the bride to their groom and we went up there and I through my bouquet and Janet caught it and uh that was my bit and then I got to sit in the audience. And, uh, then Rocky Horror ensues, which is just like, do you want me to describe it? Ok, so it’s this really shitty movie from the 80s that’s really out there and wild. Uh, and basically how they do it now is they do it live and they like a shadow cast perform the same thing they’ll perform the same thing thats happening onstage [I think they mean onscreen] but like sillier with jokes and more ridiculous and usually very queer. Like the person playing Brad was a…. woman, the person, as far as I could tell, was a woman, the person playing Rocky was a woman, Frankenfurter was a woman. It’s very cool and exciting , very sexual. Um, so I can only remember LA’s calls and responses, but youre, whenever Brad introduces himself on screen you’re supposed to yell “Asshole” and whenever Janet introduces herself on screen, you’re supposed to yell “Slut”. Um, you’re also supposed to make fun off, there’s this one guy who shows up sometimes in between and he has no neck so people will just shout at him about how he has no neck, um. Some more fun call and responses, uuuhhm, badibaba, I’m having difficulty remembering. There’s these people who walk p and down the aisles, I think they’re tech slash security, and they’ll yell things like “Oh Rocky show us how you masturbate” and like on screen Rocky, just like in the movie, not knowing people have said this in real life, will go like. He’ll shake his arm or something. [They demonstrate a arm-shaking movement] Um, just fun stuff like that. You’re also supposes to call out when people start stripping onstage or having sex. The lips! You’re always supposed to go like “ow ow” at like you know, cause you know in the movie is just lips talking, but in the live version, I mean the shadow cast, they’ll have like a dancer which is really fun. Uuuum, yeah it’s stripping, yeah I’d call it burlesque, usually what goes down. It’s a passed on tradition, they people that go the most they’re like dedicated fans and those who go only once in a while, they enjoy what the dedicated fans are doing.

 

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hippie Hill: Stoner Festival

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. They have been smoking weed since age 13. We celebrated 4/20 a couple of days before I interviewed them and I knew they had gone to this event, so I asked them about it. Stoner culture is folk culture because for so long it was illegal and now that it is legal this festival is being encroached on by corporations which is fascinating.

 

Piece:

“Hippie Hill is a tradition where at the Golden Gate park, at 4:20, on the day 4/20, stoners meet up, thousands of stoner’s meet up there and just smoke ridiculous amounts of weed together and it’s been going on for decades. So I went and it was fun and there was ridiculous amounts of people. I don’t know exactly who started it, probably Deadheads back in the 70s or 80s or something. It opened at 9am, there was not a lot of people there. But pretty much these people hanging around this park and there were these booths were like there was like a lot of like bougie weed companies promoting themselves. The amount of times I heard the phrase “UberEats for weed” was ridiculous. And they were giving away swag and stuff. And uh but then there was also all these really ghetto people that were like selling weed but like, I don’t wanna say really ghetto, but they were really ghetto. And it was like slowly over the course of the day more and more people showed up and there was like area that was like munchieland where they had all these foodtrucks. It was organized by this one weed company which specializes in growing, but like it used to be super underground. It’s only been medical for like a little bit and this is the first year it’s been recreational. I don’t know when the companies started hoppin’ in, but the festivals been going on since the Deadhead were a thing. I have no idea, this was my first year.”

 

Childhood
Festival
Foodways
Game
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Easter

Main Piece

The informant told me about Greek Easter and its associated traditions as practiced in Northern California. Greek Easter occurs one week after regular easter, and the celebrations the informant attends are at a local park. Classical Greek dances are performed, as well as an egg cracking game. Eggs are hard boiled and dyed red before they are used for the game. Two people each take an egg, and then the two people hit the eggs together until one egg cracks. The first person to have their egg crack is the loser. Nothing is won or lost. There is also a traditional easter egg hunt for “little kids,” as the informant called them.

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Outside San Diego

Language: English

The informant’s grandmother is “very Greek” and the informant always visits for Greek Easter. The informant commented that Northern California has no Greeks, but even so, about 100 people would come each year. Presumably, Greek Easter is a very important holiday for community building.

Context

The traditions included in Greek Easter are performed only at the specified time of year, one week after the traditional Christian Easter, and only among other Greeks.

Notes

The game with the eggs is perhaps indicative of the importance of strength in Greek culture; you want your egg to be the strong one, the one that doesn’t crack. The influence of American easter “traditions” is also very interesting. The easter egg hunt was invented by corporations, and although it has influenced Greek Easter to a small extent, the participation is limited to “little kids,” which reflects the fact that as the children grow up they will perhaps ‘age into’ Greek cultural traditions.

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz: Persian New Year Celebrations

Main Piece

“Nowruz happens on the spring equinox, it’s the New Year so it’s celebrating new beginnings and whatnot. So then you set up a table called the halfsin table, and it has…I don’t know how many… and they all start with S in farsi. and it’s stuff like an apple, which represents…something. You spend time with family, jumping over this fire thing…people light a little fire and jump over it, from the old year to the new one.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: Persian–American

Location: Washington D.C.

Language: English

When I asked the informant what the holiday means to them, they responded with the following:

“It’s interesting because I didn’t grow up in a super Iranian household, but this holiday was a way to connect with my Iranian heritage…I don’t speak Farsi or whatever but this is a way for me to connect with the heritage.”

Context

The informant has one Iranian parent and did not grow up in a strongly Iranian community. However, she still thinks very fondly of Nowruz and engages in celebrating it each year with her father, who is her Iranian parent, and her brother.

Notes

The formation of an individual’s identity is an intriguing process, and it is interesting that the informant feels an emotional bond to the holiday despite not having many other cultural ties to Iran. Regardless of identity, holidays such as Nowruz seem to bind families closer together.

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

V Day in Russia

Main Piece

“On the 9th of May, we celebrate victory over fascism, because its Russia. [Laughs] There’s a military parade in almost every city with tanks and…how do you say, the soldiers. In Moscow, we have this one major theater, and all the veterans would meet up there. If you want to pay tribute, you bring flowers to that lawn in front of that theater. There are barbeques and pop up shops everywhere. My family tries to go to…I celebrated every year until last year because I had exams, but usually my family goes to this restaurant across the street and has barbeque there. It’s a time to honor history…lots of documentaries are shown. It’s about remembering the people who fought the Second World War.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: Russian

Location: Moscow

Language: English

The informant feels different now than compared to two years ago. For her, two years ago, Victory Day represented strong pride for “my [her] country” and “my [her] people.” She had what she called “personally mandatory crying sessions” due to the stories veterans told. The informant wrote poems about the day and the time [in WW2].

Context

In the last two years, the informant moved first to the UK and then to the United States and has presumably learned about history that lessened her pride in her country. The informant heavily implied but never explicitly stated that she no longer feels as strongly for Russia as she used to. For reference, since moving to the United States she has bought and displayed a large American flag in her room.

Notes

It’s incredibly interesting how national holidays and patriotism can play a role in identity, but it is even more interesting that the informant has had their identity changed so much by living in America.

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Halloween Festival

Context & Analysis

The subject is from Ashland, Oregon—a relatively small town in Oregon that is an extremely tight-knit community. She expressed to me that Ashland has a rich tradition of festivals—particularly ones that involve floats. I asked her to elaborate on a few of her favorite festivals and she brought up Halloween. The subject has a lot of pride for her town and it’s traditions and it’s interesting that this is a tradition that involved the entire town. The shut-down of the town reflects the ‘suspension of regular life’ that often is related to festivals, even more so because of the size of the town. I find it unique and interesting that stores will hand out candy.

Main Piece

“The biggest festival in Ashland is I’d say probably Halloween, um my town is really really big on parades, so there’s always like a huge parade for fourth of July, the festival of lights, Halloween. And it starts at like, 3—3:30? And, um, everybody meets at the library and they shut down, like, the main strip of town. Um and everyone dresses up in costumes, there’s always costume contests and there’s always like a run the morning of and it’s this giant parade you walk from the library all the way down to the plaza in all of your costumes and you get candy from all of the stores you get to, like trick or treat um and you go around and there’s like food and it’s fun and um everyone just has such a good time and people go all out. Like my town is just….so extra [laughs] it’s unbelievable.”

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Festival of Lights

Context & Analysis

The subject is from Ashland, Oregon—a relatively small town in Oregon that is an extremely tight-knit community. She expressed to me that Ashland has a rich tradition of festivals— the subject has a lot of pride for her town and it’s traditions and it’s interesting that this is a tradition that involved the entire town. I asked her to elaborate on a few of the festivals and she mentioned that her favorite is the Festival of Lights. The Festival of Lights takes the weekend following Thanksgiving which signifies the entry into the winter, or the ‘holiday season’. Despite not necessarily being a religious celebration, I find it interesting that the festival chooses to feature figures traditionally associated with Christmas (i.e. Santa, Mrs. Clause, etc.). Additionally, the fact that the subject can name the precise restaurants where the appearances take place underscores the small town’s community and the importance of the event to her.

Main Piece

“The Festival of Lights takes place at, like, night at, like, usually 7 or something like that—maybe not quite that late, yeah. Um, but there’s a parade and you go downtown and it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, um, and, like, Santa comes down to the plaza and he goes up into the balcony of one of the restaurants called…I think it’s the Bookroom? Or maybe it’s Granite Tap House. I think it’s the book room [nods]. It’s gotta be the book room. Um, and he comes out on the balcony so does Mrs. Clause and one of the reindeer—‘cuz you know they’ve been, like, coming down the street—and they turn off all the lights in the town. And then they count down from ten…[she pauses for dramatic effect] and every single Christmas light lights up and my town becomes a winter wonderland [she smiles broadly]. Um, and then you can get hot chocolate afterwards and there’s caroling—people who like stand and sing carols and it is—ugh, it’s so much fun and so quintessential small town.”

Festival
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Shakespeare Festival

Context & Analysis

The subject is a theater major at USC and is very proud of her hometown of Ashland for hosting one of the most highly regarded theater festivals in the country. She described to me a lot of the inside details of the festival and elaborated on the different theaters and plays that have been featured. It’s clear from her narrative that she is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and the town itself, and it was interesting to hear the information from someone who is so involved in both aspects of the festival.

Main Piece

“Ok, so the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a regional theater company—one of the most highly regarded theater companies on the west coast and in the US—like really spectacular—and it runs usually from February to November—it has three theaters. They do usually 12 plays between the three [theaters]. The one that has usually the most plays in it per season is usually the Angus Bomer Theater and they do all sorts of plays in there. They’ve done musicals, they do Shakespeare, they do new works in there, it’s just, um, whatever fits the space best…and then there’s the Elizabethan which is, like, the oldest theater there and that is their outdoor theater and they usually do between, like, three to four plays in there. Usually Shakespeare and a musical. I know this season it’s Oklahoma [the play]. But I’ve seen Richard III in there, Hamlet in there, it’s really nice but also it gets really cold. And then there’s the Thomas Theater which is, like, their new kind of ‘black box’ style theater where they can switch up the seating however they want to do it. They’ve done some Shakespeares in there—like last season they did Henry IV part one and part two. It’s just meant for smaller audiences. It brings tourists from like all around the world, sustains the economy of our town and is a really really good place for diversity. They’re really big on, like, being inclusive and diverse. In fact, their production of Oklahoma this year has same-sex couples and it should be really good! They’re very big on not only producing works by authors of color but also making sure people of color are cast and are on all of their teams.”

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Musical
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.

 

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Noodles for Long Life

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. My dad visited her a few times, and picked up a lot of the culture alongside her. Though his knowledge is not as deep as hers, he still knows quite a bit.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“And then, the um, New Year’s observance is that they don’t use knives for three days, um… can’t remember if it’s three days before New Year’s or three days before three days after… I think it’s three days after. Three days, including New Year’s and two days after. When they…so they do all their cooking all their food prep in advance, so they don’t have to touch a blade. Um, because New Year’s is a Shinto holiday, it’s a life affirming religion whereas Buddhism is the religion of death. And so, um, they- they prepare huge quantities of food, enough to last for three days. And then they don’t use knives for three days. They don’t want to take life, they don’t want to do anything with a blade. Oh-Shong-Atsu. It’s the same day as our New Year’s. Oh and they take their last bath of the old year on the thirty-first, and then on the first- on New Year’s day they eat long noodles, you know, noodles for long life. And they eat o-mochi in the morning. I can’t remember why they eat mochi, you probably wanna look that up. But they definitely eat noodles first thing in the morning.”

This is such a cool way to live. To apply symbolism, usually saved only for literature and movies here in America, to your everyday life is a whole other way of being. After the interview, my mom corrected a few pronunciation mistakes my dad had made, but all in all said his cultural memory was pretty accurate. A few times as a kid, we ate noodles first thing in the morning as a way of referencing my parents’ time in Japan. It was delicious and fun, and I will try to keep the tradition going with my children.

 

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