For Nathan Williams, the show must go on. And on. And on.
When the coronavirus forced the Clinton Street Theater to close—the second time a global pandemic has shuttered the century-old moviehouse—it didn't just put staff out of a job and threaten the existence of a civic institution: It risked ending a tradition that stretches back 42 years.
Since April 1978, the theater has screened the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday night, without interruption. Midnight showings of the hyper-campy musical, where fans dress up, play games and sing along, have taken place at theaters across the country for decades—but no place has done it longer than Clinton Street.
Williams, 39, attended his first showing in 1999. A woman with voluminous cleavage drew a V on his forehead in lipstick, branding him a "virgin." Sixteen years later, he took over as emcee, hosting screenings twice a month.
It appeared the streak would end in March, as the governor ordered cinemas across Oregon shut down. But, at the behest of Williams and theater manager Pierce Anderson, the movie has continued to play at Clinton Street every Saturday—sometimes for private audiences of less than 10, but more often just for Williams and two friends.
"We end up chatting in the back as the movie plays and sometimes get distracted," he says. "Other times, I find myself in the back, watching it for the 78 millionth time."
For Williams, it's not just about maintaining a record.
"Rocky Horror at Clinton Street is a shining beacon that has lit up the lives of countless people who had no other place to go and be themselves," he says. "We're keeping that alive, even if just in spirit, so people know there's a place that will always exist where they can go, let their hair down, and not worry about being judged."
Of course, the longer the pandemic continues, the murkier the future of the Clinton Street becomes. On Sept. 12, he's hosting a livestream "telethon" to raise money for the theater.
"People still need this space," Williams says. "I need this space."