Theater Location: 323 Sixth Avenue, New York City, NY
Theater Status: Currently IFC Center
The Waverly Theater was a Walter Reade Group theater in New York City that was the first location in the country to play The Rocky Horror Picture Show as an exclusive, on-going Midnight-only movie on a weekly basis. It played there from Midnight on Saturday, April 3, 1976 (doors opened Friday, April 2) closing on January 28, 1978. It is commonly mis-reported that it opened on April Fools' Day of that year, which was a Thursday. The Rocky Horror Picture Show Official Fan Club was started by members of the Waverly's regular audience in 1977, prior to their relocation to the 8th Street Playhouse on July 21 1978.
Because of the early success of Rocky Horror at the Waverly, The New Yorker at 88th and Broadway in Manhattan (also owned by the Walter Reade chain and one of The First 30 US Theaters) added Midnight screenings on Friday and Saturday nights in June of 1976 and soon after at Reade's Festival Theater (at 57th at 5th Avenue) as well, where it remained until early 1980.
Audience Participation at the Waverly began on Labor Day weekend of 1976, when repeat-attendee Louis Farese yelled out their first call-back, "buy an umbrella, you cheap bitch", at Janet during the beginning of "There's a Light." The first Screen-devoted, costumed audience members at the Waverly appeared a little over a month later, on Halloween of 1976. Audience members began appearing in costume regularly after that, performing to the soundtrack LP before the show. The audience reaction was positive, but they were discouraged by the management, causing the team to move to the New Yorker for a brief time in early 1977. Lack of enthusiasm from the audience had the crew returning quickly to the Waverly, where things began changing as the cult took hold. By Spring of 1977, the focus at the Waverly began to shift towards the performers with a pre-show cast featuring Bill O'Brien as their first Frank N Furter, though things changed dramatically after the debut of Dori Hartley as Frank in mid 1977 (after abandoning her assignment to create a costume to appear as Columbia). Not coincidentally, the theater began getting press coverage, and the Waverly became the most talked-about venue of the era, with help from the Fan Club Newsletters.
The first use of props at the Waverly began in April of 1977, when folks in the balcony started tossing confetti at the wedding scene. Within days, they began tossing rice.
Unfortunately for the Waverly's devoted regulars, the theater management was unhappy with some negative reaction from outsiders and non-regulars, and decided to drop The Rocky Horror Picture Show from their roster in January of 1978. They began began showing other cult films in its place, leaving the cast and Fan Club without a home for several months. On July 21 1978, the 8th Street Playhouse picked up the film, and the madness began again for the best-known fan-driven cast in Rocky Horror history.
In 1982, the Waverly became a twin theater, with 2 screens (the Waverly 1 & Waverly 2). In February of 1992, Shock Treatment was shown at the Waverly 2 on Friday and Saturday nights, eventually switching to the Waverly 1 through the end of July, 1982.
The historic building, originally built as a church in the early 19th century, is currently operated as the IFC Center with 3 screens.