It's been seven years since Chicago R&B singer/librettist R. Kelly first unleashed his increasingly-complex miniseries, Trapped In the Closet, on the world. As the next several dozen chapters are set for their premieres on IFC (the first, Chapter 23, appeared several weeks ago), independent theatres around the country are hosting midnight sing-alongs of Trapped in the Closet in the style of other recognizable works. Last weekend, the Music Box Theater in Robert Kelly's hometown of Chicago was among them, and a few intrepid friends and I went to check it out. The space was packed, and we met lots of different kinds of people. A selection:
The girl in line to get into the theater who asks you what your spirit animal is. This actually happened to us while we were in line to enter the theatre. She wore three different denim pieces and was genuinely curious as to what our spirit animal was. I played along and told her mine was an otter, which was the first animal that came to mind. She seemed deeply concerned at this answer. Her male companion self-identified as a grizzly. All right then.
Don't Be That Guy Guy. Probably has a Movember page but hasn’t actually raised any money to fight cancer. Usually plays hotheaded gangster Twan when his friends reenact Trapped. Spends far too much time arguing on the Internet about whether or not it’s okay to say the “n” word while quoting rap songs. Is wrong. Gets way too overzealous about pantomiming the “I pull out my Beretta!” part, gleefully unaware that that is actually pretty problematic considering how much gun violence has gone on in Chicago over the past year.
The genuine Kells scholar. Appreciates R. Kelly from an academic standpoint and is ready to tell you all about all the reasons that this is not a mere hip-hopera. Has analyzed every chapter down to the last raindrop sound effect and phone ring and what it says about Robert Kelly's life, his work, his family and his personal demons. Of course she knows how R. Kelly came up with the vocal design for Bridget and that Sylvester is actually Kells' middle name and which family members Randolph and Pimp Lucius are based on, and more. She can tell you all about the choir Kelly sang in in high school and all the ways Trapped in the Closet exemplifies Wagner's Ring Cycle and his notion of the Gesamtkuntswerk. (Actually, if you want to listen to actual Kells scholars discuss all of this in a rather fascinating manner, including everything from his roots to the connections to Theodor Adorno and Wagner, check out the R. Kelly edition of Jenny Benevento and Paul Riismandel's Sell Out podcast, taped at Homeroom Chicago's "R. Kelly 101" event.)
The organizers, who really, really want this to be the new Rocky Horror Picture Show. There's always going to be debate over what constitutes a cult film or a cult classic and when can something be called a cult classic and what denotes the cult canon and so on and so forth. The ability to turn a screening of a film into an event will inevitably always be a marker of consideration—recent abominations like The Room have inspired events all over the world, although whether or not they have the staying power of a Rocky Horror remains to be seen. The promotion team behind the event, who put on screenings like this all over the country, sought out to make Trapped into an event like screenings for Rocky or The Room, complete with props (handing out spatulas and condoms) and a pre-show ritual, in this case, an R. Kelly dance party of some of the singer's most recognizable intimate jamz. We'll see if this catches on.
The person who is too drunk to be anywhere. Well over half the audience, not that there's anything wrong with that. Bellows along to the first two chapters and can't remember much else, but just catches up with the repeated last word at the end of every chapter. Other than that, their main contributions are applauding whenever Twan says/does anything and screaming "OH SHIT, IT'S OMAR!" when Michael K. Williams first appears. Oh, and dancing (badly) in the aisles during Reverend Moseley's service.
And, just to jog your memory/send you down a Tuesday morning R. Kelly rabbit hole, here's the first chapter of Kells' masterwork again for you.