Orange County School of the Arts

The Frida Cinema: Redefining the idea of a safe space

After a night of singing, sweaty dancing, and the chanting of raunchy lines in unison, Maegan Bishop stepped out of the Frida Cinema and onto the streets of Santa Ana. The cool night air met her body clad in nothing but a white lacy bra and silk tap shorts. Other than her wiry cat-eye glasses she was dressed perfectly for the part of Janet Weiss. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) was one of the Frida’s most popular monthly events and was particularly packed tonight.

The small non-profit art house theater thrived on its community support almost as much as the community thrived in the accepting environment the Frida provided. This year the Frida released a statement that their establishment would be a, “Safe Community Space,” meaning that they would not tolerate any discrimination or harassment of people in their theaters based off of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, etc.

A man on a bicycle rode by her.

“Honey you forgot your shirt at the bar,” he said.

Bishop stopped walking.

Would such behavior been tolerated five steps earlier?

I asked. “Hold on! Hold on!” She yelled as the FaceTime connected. The screen on my phone was black and fumbling sounds swished in the background. A light switched on. Bishop was lying on her bed in a soft knit tee.

“Sorry,” she said. “I was watching a movie.” This was no surprise.

 The Frida Cinema: Redefining the idea of a safe space
Maegan Bishop

fullsizerender11 The Frida Cinema: Redefining the idea of a safe space

Another one of Bishop’s skills is being able to sew and design costumes and fun ensembles. She’s told me before that she watches movies for style inspiration rather than plot.

“No problem” I say. “What movie?”

“The Stanford Prison Experiment”

“Oh,” I reply. “Well anyway…tell me about how that made you feel.”

“I was shocked, naturally” she said. “But then I just laughed it off.”

Would she have reacted the same way five years earlier? It was that long ago when I first came into contact with Bishop at a 20-hour fast at Trinity Presbyterian church. The sleep and food deprivation I was under left me with few things to remember about my fasting experience. I remember chugging bottle after bottle of vitamin water. I remember giving a PB&J sandwich to a homeless man who told me Satan was king, and in the midst of it all, I remember Bishop, her doc martens hopping around as she sang “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” in a mock Aretha Franklin voice.  Her enthusiasm glowed in comparison to the other church-goers. They deliriously washed people’s cars and skirted around the girl with artificial flowers pinned in her hair.

“I joined the church for the community,”she said.

But the girl who found inspiration in the Stanford Prison Experiment couldn’t find community at Trinity. It wasn’t only a matter of acceptance that made this difficult. She came to realize that she didn’t share the same beliefs as the people who went there. She was bullied for being loud and obnoxious and her only friend there was a boy named Jason.

During his eight-grade year Jason came out as gay to one of the church counselors.

“It’s ok,” they said. “Everybody sins.”

It was after that that he left the church. Bishop left shortly after.

Her ninth-grade year she was accepted to OCSA, the Orange County High School of the Arts. Again, she sought community, this time in an arts oriented crowd. The school had a reputation for its policy of acceptance regardless of background, so much so that in August of 2016 a street preacher showed up on campus brandishing a sign that shamed the LGBTQ community as well as other religious groups. OCSA’s mission statement said that they provide a, “Creative, challenging, and nurturing environment.” Unfortunately for Bishop, those qualities did not fall in that order. The bulk of her OCSA experience was a challenge. Bishop said she “lived in constant fear of triggering or offending other people… OCSA accepted ideas more than they did people like me.” She went about her OCSA experience with  the same empty bank of friends.

It was a long time before she discovered the arts district community tucked into Santa Ana. Her first two connections with it were the vintage clothing shops and the block party music festival, Top Acid.

“The kids were cool and the bands were cool,” she said.

But even when she was swaddled in the warmth of a mosh pit, she could still feel a draft of coldness between her and the other kids. The disconnect was still palpable.

It was when she finally went to the Frida’s RHPS that she reached the pith of Santa Ana. She had been going to RHPS in Long Beach since seventh grade. She could remember the first time she had ever been. It was fun and free. The character of Brad hit on her which made her blush. Her second time at the show she came up to Brad and tried to talk to him again.

“He didn’t remember me,” she said. “But then the girl who was playing Rocky hit on me so it was cool.”

Cool being the operative word here. But that wasn’t the focus of  the Frida’s RHPS. According to Bishop, the Frida Cinema’s show was “way more fun,” than Long Beach’s show. The theater was more packed. The kids were younger, “and more geeky,” Bishop added.

I can attest to this from my RHPS experience there. As the show began giant balloons about 20 inches in diameter began to bounce around the crowd. The beats of the fast-paced music were interrupted by a loud pop. The words “Young Man! You’ve just lost your balloon privileges!” were shouted into the dark.  So many people in the crowd chanted so many of the lines of the script by heart. The theater had become a room full of a hybrid species of half-observers half-performers, all of whom played off of one another’s energy.

Bishop said that if the sweet geeky kids went to a top acid concert, “they’d get looks and scowls” from the cool kids. Here they could flail around in second-hand lingerie and glitter without anyone batting an eyelash.

When I asked Bishop what triggers her the most she said it was when people don’t take her seriously.

“That’s why I want industrial piercings…and tattoos!” she said.

fullsizerender3 The Frida Cinema: Redefining the idea of a safe space
Rocky strikes a pose

She has one tattoo now, a stick-and-poke exclamation point she gave herself on her ankle.

“It’s kinda small,” she said. But it was the easiest tattoo to show people too. All she had to do was lift her pant leg a little.

When Bishop isn’t going to class she works at a sign and graphics store. Her last task was to string together the blue metallic sequins that go on the back of Sparkletts trucks. They are not the same glam sequins she’d be wearing to a RHPS, but they’ll do for now.

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