Fishnets, corsets and community-building at the 5C Rocky Horror Picture Show

Group of students pose for the camera in costumes
Full Rocky Horror Picture Show cast | Courtesy: Olivia Ivan

Eager 5C students clad in fishnets, corsets and colorful makeup swarmed the auditorium in anticipation of the second annual Halloweekend production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The production ran Oct. 27 and 28 in Pomona College’s Seaver Labs and Scripps College’s Balch Auditorium, respectively.

Originally released in Sept. 1975, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” follows the story of engaged couple Janet and Brad as they encounter raunchy scientist Dr. Frank-n-Furter and the eclectic group of characters that live within his mansion.

Simultaneously campy and seductive, the show features absurd musical sequences, over-the-top costumes and science fiction-esque murders. While the script remains consistent among all renditions of the show, different casts integrate their own unique on-stage embellishments in their final productions.

Audience member Jamie Miller PZ ’26 explained how the show offered an alternative to the regular night-life experience at the 5Cs.

“I’m not a huge party person, so it was a great opportunity to dress up and have fun with friends without feeling like a typical 5C party,” Miller said.

Ella Lehavi SC ’24, who plays Brad, spoke on being an actor in the show.

“I feel like the cast here is very supportive,” Lehavi said. “It’s an environment where you get to do that. Lots of silliness, lots of shenanigans and I enjoy that part.”

As the lights flickered off in the theater, the live actors made their way to the stage and began with an opening burlesque dance performance to the iconic “Science Fiction/Double Feature” by Jamie Donnelly. With the theatrical cult classic film projected behind them, actors lip-synced to the dialogue, performed the musical sequences and moved around the auditorium to reenact the on-screen choreography.

While the cast performed on stage, the audience also took an active role in the production. A unique aspect of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is the concept of playful heckling, in which the audience is encouraged to joke about the film’s content and make callouts.

Audience members routinely yelled out “Asshole” and “Slut” when Brad and Janet entered a scene. This “heckling” is a long-standing tradition of the show’s live production.

“This show has always been a space for queer individuals to express themselves,” Trulove said. “It offers a form of electric, vibrant community that I deeply value and enjoy.”

Cast member Elise Thuresson CM ’24, who plays Janet, described performing with an interactive audience.

“The energy goes up to a whole nother level when you have an audience cheering for you and reacting to things you do,” Thuresson said. “When I got to go on stage with the audience, I think I stepped up my game.”

Miller spoke further on the immersive experience of the Rocky Horror show as an audience member.

“My favorite parts of the show were when cast members would run through the audience while acting out a chase scene, or when the audience would use props like glow sticks and playing cards to help tell the story,” Miller said.

Challenging both heteronormativity and gender norms, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” situates itself as a distinctly queer film. Throughout the film, Dr. Frank-N-Furter describes himself as a “sweet transvestite” and sleeps with both the male & female characters. Moreover, Brad gives a final musical solo in which he describes his gender nonconformity.

“I feel like stepping into [the role of Brad] proves that I can go on stage and I can wear more revealing clothes and do more feminine bits and still have that [masculine] side of me perceived,” Lehavi said. “I don’t need to adjust how I dress myself and make myself take less space in the world just because I’m afraid people won’t see me for me.”

In addition, the tradition of live production and callouts has been upheld by queer communities. Director Aidan Trulove SC ‘24 commented on the show as a site for queer community-building and empowerment at the 5Cs.

“This show has always been a space for queer individuals to express themselves,” Trulove said. “It offers a form of electric, vibrant community that I deeply value and enjoy.”

Lehavi spoke further on the significance of fostering community among both the cast and audience.

“I think that the fact that you have so many people here who have a theater background and [others] have no theater background at all really shows that this show is not just a production, but a community,” Lehavi said. “I think that being able to have this level of vulnerability with people and bond over something as fun as this [production] has been just really, really nice.”

Actors challenged themselves to collaborate with cast members to produce provocative, vulnerable moments on stage. For the audience, these were among the show’s most memorable scenes. Performers comedically simulated intercourse behind a curtain to reenact Dr. Frank-n-Furter’s seduction of Janet and Brad. Furthermore, many of the actors spent a majority of the performance in lingerie costumes.

“The most challenging part of the show was definitely getting comfortable showing a lot of skin and being sexy on stage,” Thuresson said. “[It was] very out of my comfort zone.”

As the show came to a grand conclusion with characters Riff-Raff and Magenta returning to their home planet of “Transsexual” in the galaxy Transylvania, the audience erupted into enormous applause for the wildly talented performers. Students exited the theater with a newfound love for the gender-bending and fantastically absurd Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Rocky Horror plans to have an additional performance of the show in December. You can keep up to date with Rocky Horror on their TikTok @rocky.horror.5c and Instagram @rockyhorror5c.

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