Relaunching the timewarp tradition with the Rocky Horror Picture Show

A drawing of lips with drips in the background.
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

In a loud, high-energy auditorium, the Rocky Horror Picture Show this past weekend created an environment unlike any other. With people overflowing into the auditorium, filling the stairs and any other available area, the dark room transformed into a space where fear of straying beyond the confines of society was ignored. 

The show ran performances Oct. 28 and 29 with a different cast performing each night. An additional performance — date yet to be set — will run in December, with a third, separate cast.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cult classic that was created in the mid-1970s in New York City by Richard O’Brien. The show is devoted to the hypersexual life of Dr. Frank N. Furter as well as the couple Janet and Brad as they collide with an entertaining and unexpected cast of characters. 

“It’s raunchy, it’s chaotic, it’s subversive, it’s camp,” Haidee Clauer PO ’22, one of the actors who plays Frank, said.

Upon its initial release, the film gained little attention. Some months later, however, people in the audience began attending and shouting at the film to mock its contents. This audience engagement allowed the performance to evolve into a show about “sexual expression, creative expression and just being your total complete weird self,” Ellie Griffin PZ ’22, who directed the show, said.

Putting on Rocky Horror live is unique in that the film plays behind the actors as they lip-sync the audio, helping it expand traditional conceptions of musical theater — in more ways than one.

“[The show is] so heavy with queer representation, and it poses so many questions about gender roles and expectations in romantic relationships and sexual relationships,” Aidan Trulove SC ’24, the actor who played Frank in the Oct. 29 show, said. 

The whole Friday cast plus Ellie & Abba, Front Row Left to Right: Jonah Ifcher, Lilly Preis, Molly Luce, Paloma Ayala-Abellar, Shanthi Ashley. Back Row Left to Right: Isabella Conti, Nora Butler, Grace Phillips, Mina Petracca, Ellie Griffin, Miles Parker, Abba Wilson
The 5C Rocky Horror Picture Show features a different cast each night they perform. (Courtesy: Abba Wilson)

Putting on a production of the show used to be a 5C tradition, but that trend had disappeared in recent years. Stage manager Abba Wilson PO ’22 and Ellie Griffin PZ ’22 came up with the idea to bring it back and have received a flood of support ever since.

“Our goal is to start the tradition,” Griffin said. “We’re trying to get it so that we’ll pass this on, and people will do it next year, and the year after that, to restart [Rocky Horror] here.”

As this was the production’s return after a long gap, Wilson and Abba saw sizable interest in the show. A month ago, in mid-September, Wilson and Griffin held the first auditions for the show, focusing on making them a positive experience for all those involved. Through posters, social media and word of mouth, 60 people showed up to audition for the 11 available roles. 

“We just had an absolutely fantastic time because the auditions were so casual,” Trulove said. “There weren’t any huge expectations, and it was just a lot of people having fun, and honestly, that’s been the entire process.”

In light of this large number, Wilson and Griffin decided to create three casts with numerous ensemble roles to bring as many people into the space as possible, with the different casts performing on different days.

Alongside emphasizing fun, the director and stage manager also stressed the importance of keeping safety at the forefront of the show. 

“The directors have been very careful to make us all feel comfortable because obviously this is a show with a lot of sexual content, and also a lot of violent content, and so they walked us through every step of the process,” Trulove said. “It’s been actually very relaxing.”

To ensure that this comfort was maintained for the cast and crew, Griffin also worked as an intimacy director for the show. 

“I’m working with the actors to make sure that everything that they do on stage is consensual [and] that they’re portraying sexual acts in a way that is not sexual for them as human beings,” Griffin said. “[I’m] making sure that they feel safe with each other.”

This respect for consent and comfort was also highlighted for the audience as, before the show began, Griffin and Wilson addressed the audience with comments about the importance of consent in all situations — explaining that it’s an important concept to underline in a show that is highly sexual. 

The actors who play Frank, one of the main characters of the production and a key proponent of the sexual aspects of the show, described how playing this role felt liberating. 

Acting as Frank gave “opportunities to be gender queer in your clothing presentation or fashion presentation,” Clauer said. 

Trulove echoed a similar sentiment.

“[Frank is] this character who is playing with gender and is unafraid to show who he actually is,” Trulove said. “It’s been very freeing in that way to just kind of let go of what expectations I have with myself.”

The interactive aspects of the show allow the audience to join in on the freedom. Ava Tiller PO ’23, a viewer of the show on Friday, explained, “the energy was just amazing tonight.” Tiller has seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show many times before, but this was her first at the 5Cs.

Audience participation is a massive part of the viewing. When entering the auditorium, audience members were given a bag full of props to throw and use with the production.

“We interact with the audience, and I think that helps bring it to life on two levels, because you’re getting to see the original movie, which of course is utterly fantastic, and you’re getting to see all the actors doing it right in front of you,” Trulove said.

As an audience member, Tiller also felt this impact.

“I love that we all get to dance together and get the energy up,” she said.

To keep up to date with Rocky Horror’s next showing in December, check out @rockyhorror5c on Instagram.

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