The student-run cast of Rocky Horror at U.Va. screened “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in Newcomb Hall Theater Friday evening, a semesterly tradition drawing an enthusiastic audience of die-hard “Rocky” fans and new viewers alike. Bubbles blew, toilet paper flew and cast members shed a layer or two as the 1975 cult-classic played behind a live shadow cast reenactment.
Jacob Wasserberg — treasurer of Rocky Horror at U.Va. and second-year College student — called the show “a place to celebrate strangeness and difference and something truly beyond the pale even for mainstream queerness.”
Based on a stage musical written by Richard O'Brien, the 1975 release of the film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has evolved from a box office flop to a cult-classic beloved for its campy celebration of LGBTQ+ sexuality.
The film follows newlyweds Brad Majors and Janet Weiss as they stumble upon a haunted lair run by Frank-N-Furter, a gender-bending, dangerously seductive mad scientist. As Brad and Janet fall for Frank’s charms, the mansion reveals itself to be a pleasure den where song-and-dance orgies conceal murderous secrets.
“It's Frankenstein with horror, comedy, musical [numbers], homosexuality, cross dressing… It's spectacular,” Wasserberg said.
University students in revealing costumes brought scenes from the movie into the Newcomb Theater aisles, making the action feel immediate and immersive. A character collapsed on an audience plant in a dramatic death sequence. In one scene, two actors climbed over the chairs in the audience. Dance sequences in the aisles brought the audience to their feet.
Thunderous applause greeted fourth-year College student Amelia Millard’s entrance as Frank-N-Furter during the iconic number “Sweet Transvestite.” Second-year College student Meg Deasy and Isbelle Jordan, president of Rocky Horror at U.Va. and fourth-year Batten student, played bright-eyed virgins Brad and Janet. The co-stars shed their modest costumes as their characters shed their inhibitions. Fourth-year Architecture student Renee Erickson sparkled as the metallic-bikini-clad Rocky, Frank-N-Furter’s monstrous creation and golden boy.
For Ashley Reeves, shadow cast member and second-year College student, performing in “Rocky” offers a sense of freedom, body positivity and inclusivity unlike any other club on Grounds.
“You don't get to dress in a corset and heavy makeup all the time,” Reeves said. “There's so many things that I've been so insecure about, or very private about, but I can share them with this club and feel free.”
Second-year College student Natalie Para, fourth-year Education student Amber Duncan and fourth-year College student Jibz Brence rounded out the main cast as Frank-N-Furter’s ghoulish servants.
According to fourth-year College student Cassie Lipton, who played doomed delivery boy Eddie, cast members were given creative freedom in the interpretation of their characters.
“You get to basically do whatever you want,” Lipton said. “It's open to your creativity. I played Eddie like, really, really sassy, which is kind of a little bit of a different take, but I had a lot of fun with it.”
The wacky, raunchy atmosphere at “Rocky Horror” made the show seem spontaneous, but the shadow cast members spent hours in the rehearsal room preparing for their performance. Rocky Horror at U.Va. rehearsals usually involve some messing around, Lipton admitted, but then the cast gets down to business.
Jordan has directed “Rocky Horror” for the past two semesters and said she uses PowerPoints to add structure to rehearsals, where she runs through the movie with the main cast and ensemble cast members, or “trixies.”
“Being both the director and a performer can become challenging,” Jordan said. “But my cast has always been very good about rehearsing around me when I’m busy directing something else. It can be tiring, but it can also be a lot of fun to be constantly moving and staying tuned for where you’re going to be next and where you need other people to be.”
At Friday’s screening, club members marked “virgin” moviegoers — those about to experience the shadow cast show for the first time — by drawing a red lipstick “V” on their foreheads. The cast later invited these newcomers to join a series of competitions called the “virgin games,” the victors of which won a brief feature in the show.
The shadow cast production encouraged — almost mandated — audience participation, and a front-row crew of “callbackers” led the crowd in a series of pre-rehearsed chants that commented on, responded to or parodied the lines in the movie.
A considerable subset of the audience knew the callbacks by heart, screaming at the movie loud enough to occasionally drown out the actors on screen.
“Rocky Horror” scandalized, sparkled and sang until its dazzling finale, when a quartet of leads danced in shiny red corsets and boas. The Rocky Horror at U.Va. shadow cast stages a “Rocky Horror” screening every semester — check out their next performance to watch these talented, confident performers do the “The Time Warp” again.