Grab your fishnets: Rocky Horror at the Commons this weekend

Nick Bonadies
Spectrum Editor

In a town with no shortage of activity on Friday and Saturday nights, The Rocky Horror Picture Show – a performance of which comes to the Commons this Friday night at 10 p.m. – is a unique choice for a number of reasons.

As a stage show, there’s a full cast and arsenal of props, costumes, lighting, the works.  But the actors don’t speak or sing – they mime to the campy rock ‘n’ roll B-horror sex musical flickering behind them, and that’s before the audience starts flinging toast in the air.

“When you go to most theaters, you feel like you’re going somewhere where you have to, you know, be quiet and listen,” Beth Reid, a junior in VCUarts, said.  “Granted, that’s a good thing, but mainly for a higher quality of film that deserves to be watched in that manner.”

Reid also acts as a regular cast member with Orgasmic Rush of Lust, a Richmond-based Rocky Horror troupe – her familiarity with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to say the least, is intimate.

“With Rocky, you really get to participate,” she said. “It gives you a chance to be important to a performance, rather than kind of an untalented bystander.”

The crux of any live Rocky Horror performance is a pervasive element of “audience participation”: dressed in outfits ranging from risqué to bizarre to gloriously trashy, audience members get up and dance the “Time Warp,” join onscreen partygoers in cheering the notorious Dr. Frank-N-Furter with noisemakers and – most notably – contribute their own spoken lines.

“If only we hadn’t…,” Susan Sarandon’s character Janet Weiss utters. An audience member will cut her off with “…made this movie!”  There’s no silencing such outcries; they’re so encouraged and integral to the performance that many Internet fan-sites stockpile suggestions for what to yell, and when.

Reid, a Painting & Printmaking and Art History double major, first attended Rocky Horror screenings at Norfolk’s Naro Theater as a junior in high school and has been a cast member with Orgasmic Rush of Lust for a little over a year. OROL (whose name comes from lyrics sung by Rocky Horror’s titular character: “And the only thing I’ve come to trust / is an orgasmic rush of lust”) is the only group in Richmond staging “Rocky Horror” regularly, usually at Movieland on Boulevard every other weekend.

They return to VCU to perform every October as part of VCU Fall Fest, a university-planned series of events celebrating “all the exciting, eclectic variety that makes up VCU and Richmond.”

“It’s not a proper show unless there’s a good audience, a lot of throwing of things,” Reid said.  “As (audience members) become regulars, they’re pretty much performers by that point.  They learn callbacks, and it becomes their responsibility. … It’s their job to go out there and make people feel uncomfortable – or make them laugh – or whatever else.”

Rocky Horror has its origins as a surprise-hit London stage musical in 1973. Tim Curry starred as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a cross-dressing, diamante-heeled alien mad scientist who holds an innocent newly-engaged couple captive in his castle. A movie version spawned two years later, replete with awkward pauses and bizarre (if fascinating) acting choices by Curry and his captives (Sarandon and Barry Bostwick).

The film died a quick death.

It took a New York City movie house known for its midnight screenings to bring Rocky Horror back from the dead, receiving a print of the film just months after it flopped in mainstream cinemas.  Suddenly, the awkward pauses were replaced by gags and insults shouted by inebriated moviegoers.

Members of this small but persistent following returned every week in ever-growing attempts to out-camp one another, and by 1978 fans nation-wide were dressing as their favorite characters and flinging toast, dried rice and playing cards at the screen – and each other – at key moments.

For the show at the Commons on Friday, all necessary props will be provided on-site.

“Keep in mind that it’s not meant to offend,” Reid said.  “A lot of tasteless things will be said, but they are not directed at anyone in particular.”

“At our particular show you can expect to get sprayed with water,” she added. “So perhaps bring an umbrella, if you do not want that … Or just get out your handy school newspaper.”

The Rocky Horror Picture Show will take place at the Commons Plaza this Friday, October 15th at 10pm.  While all official props will be provided, attendees are encouraged to come dressed to the nines, and, according to Reid, need not feel bound by “traditional gender conventions.”

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