Wow, two posts in one week! Must be a sign that exams have passed (for the moment)!
Well, earlier this week I fulfilled my cultural quota by experiencing my first New Orleanian parade. Then yesterday I decided to actually participate in something on my university’s campus (other than classes), and I went to a school production of The Rocky Horror Show! You read that right, The Rocky Horror Show, not The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They’re different. Before Rocky Horror’s debut on the silver screen, it was a musical stage production that took the 70’s by storm. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the movie version, so it’s a very special year this year, but the original Rocky Horror Show actually first hit the stage in 1973. In that year it won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical, and when it was adapted into a movie in 1975 it had the longest running film release in history, a record that still stands to this day. Despite this fact, however, the film was basically considered a flop in its early days, until a small group in New York City began to have a little fun with the show.
A lot of people refer to certain movies as “cult classics,” but I think none embody that term in the truest extent quite as well as Rocky Horror. Why do I say that? Because going to see a Rocky Horror production feels a lot like participating in a cult! Nowadays, because of it’s star history on both the stage and screen, it’s very traditional for a local acting group to take over a movie theatre and screen the movie to a live audience while simultaneously acting out the play down below the screen. It sounds bizarre, but it’s some of the best fun! Most major cities have their own acting group (shoutout to the Rich Weirdos of Orlando!) that does the production anywhere from once a year to once a week. And yep, there are people that come back to watch. Every. Single. Time. It’s a common practice in the beginning of each show for the cast to do some sort of countdown. They make the whole theatre stand up, and say things like, “If you’re seen this production over a hundred times, sit the hell down.” And they will count down by random intervals until the only ones standing are first-timers, or as they’re referred to, the “Rocky Horror Virgins.” And the virgins are certainly in for a treat, because if you’ve never seen the show live before, you probably have no idea what you got yourself into.
As the film garnered popularity in certain pockets in the US throughout the 70’s, audience members who had seen the show many times began talking back to the screen, saying things that were timed well with the lines so that they combined together to make people laugh. For instance, the narrator has a line in which there is a long pause and then he says, “It’s true.” So it’s the perfect opportunity to ask an outrageous question (I believe last night someone shouted, “Is it true you had sex with Donald Trump?”), which if it is timed correctly elicits thunderous laughter. Fan groups also began dressing up to go to the theatre in outrageous costumes, and groups which became known as “shadow casts” got together to perform parts of the show during the movie. The fun spread like wildfire. Certain “callback” lines became staples, like shouting “asshole” every time Brad’s name is said, and then shouting “slut” after Janet’s name. Just as this show was breaking boudaries in theatre production and culture, it was breaking the rules of what it meant to be a member of the audience. Many local groups have their own unique traditions, and their own lines that they like to ad lib. But everyone, virgin or veteran, is encouraged to play along and add their own flair.
While I lived and worked in Orlando, I was able to see the Rich Weirdos perform their shadow cast version at the movie theatre in City Walk three times. I went in costume my first time, wearing a black and orange corset-style leotard and fishnets, which was loads of fun. I had the pleasure of bringing a few different friends to experience the show as well, some for their first time. I always tell first-timers the same thing I was told: first off, nothing in the entire world is off limits to make fun of during the show, so take a deep breath and let go of any anything in your mind that could be offended. Secondly, you’re not going to watch a movie. You’re going in order to participate in a fun experience. Do not attempt to hear what is going on in the movie, and just go with the flow.
So now that I’ve talked way more than I expected to about the history, the shadow cast traditions, and the Rich Weirdos, what I really wanted to tell you about was the play! How did it compare? Well first of all, I was absolutely blown away by the raw talent of that cast! So many fabulous voices. Each actor and actress really embodied their role and I was thoroughly impressed. The costumes were incredible, the set was versatile and functional, and the music was performed by a live band!!
But as I expected, the stage show was definitely a different experience. One thing that I hadn’t even thought about was the age of the audience members. When you go to one of the movie screenings with a shadow cast, the movie is rated R, so you have to be 18. And the shows are almost always screened at midnight, so no one brings kids. For this reason no one has any qualms spewing profanities or making extremely overt sexual references. But I was surprised at how many parents brought their kids to this show! I wondered if maybe they were somehow related to a cast member, or if the parents simply didn’t know. In any case, the language was toned down just a bit. There is always an opening spiel, reminding audience members not to hurt any of the cast members and not to throw anything directly at other people, etc., but it’s usually done by making as many offensive comments as possible. The usherette who introduced the show (shoutout to Annie! You’re fabulous!) was absolutely fantastic, and walked a fine line between tastefully theatrical and wildly inappropriate. It was a perfect balance. Secondly, this show had a lot more “virgins” than I was used to (and it didn’t even involve a virgin sacrifice…) so a lot of people didn’t know what to do. Thankfully there were a large number of cast members placed strategically around the room to shout out traditional lines, but most of the audience didn’t chime in. (And there’s always that one guy who knows so many more callbacks than the rest of the audience, and has a voice loud enough to be heard by the entire theatre. Shoutout to that guy for being awesome) And in true theatrical form, the actors paused politely so that they could be heard whenever people did shout. So as a result, for the first time I actually heard the majority of what was being said on stage. A lot more of the lines made so much more sense to me, and I also now understand why certain things get shouted when they do.
Perhaps the most disappointing: no one got up and danced to the Time Warp. I was in shock. A few stragglers attempted to dance in the aisles, but they sat back down when everyone else remained in their seats. I mean, COME ON PEOPLE!! Everyone knows the Time Warp, even if it’s your first time at the show! I mean really, it’s just a jump to the left, and a step to the right . . . Thankfully everyone did dance at the end. I think if I have any complaints at all, it’s that the cast didn’t do more to encourage us to get up and dance.
All-in-all, the show was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate Halloween, and I am definitely excited that I have now experienced the show in its original form. It was well worth it. Wish you could have seen it too? Well guess what, they’re putting it on again TONIGHT! 8pm, Tulane University’s Dixon Hall (right next to Tulane’s uptown campus library). $10 for students, $15 for adults. If you’re in the area, you should be there. If you want a bit of extra fun, buy yourself a participation kit for $5 extra! If you’ve never seen the show before, it’s a good intro to this true cult classic. If you’ve seen the movie in the comfort of your own home but never seen it live, then it doesn’t count. You’re still a Rocky Horror virgin, and you have to come out and see it for yourself live.
And perhaps one of these days I’ll gather up some friends and make it over to see New Orleans’ shadow cast group, The Well-Hung Speakers. It’s definitely on my bucket list. So for now, Happy Halloween friends! And remember, if you find yourself stranded with a flat tire in the rain and decide to go to the nearest castle to use their phone…castles don’t have phones!