Last Friday evening, the doors of Rosse Hall burst open to a torrent of students clad in fishnet stockings, glittery boas and colorful makeup. People danced and drew on each other’s faces with lipstick as the room filled with electric anticipation for Kenyon College Players’ shadow cast performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
As the 1975 cult classic began to play, members of the shadow cast took the stage, mimicking and lip-syncing their counterparts in the film projected behind them. Simultaneously, a cast of “Transylvanians” moved through the aisles, interacting with the crowd. Audience members, led by the Transylvanians, shouted the callouts traditional to viewings of “Rocky Horror,” mocked the bizarre moments of the film. While many showings of “Rocky Horror” are characterized by a ragtag shadow cast’s improvized stumbling in a movie theater, this performance was highly polished as the result of incredibly hard work. The show’s director, Talia Light Rake ’20, detailed the extensive process of mirroring the film.
“At the beginning it was tedious, and it was really challenging, but slowly I started to figure out the best ways to get people to pick up their actions and then we started to learn as we watched more,” she said. “[Choreographer] Maria Huey [’21] was a godsend, watching those videos, writing down everyone’s moves and then teaching it to everyone.”
This carefully rehearsed performance had a delightful sense of theatricality thanks to elaborate choreography and vibrant costuming. The joyful and lively production quickly took the focus of the audience, and the film playing on the screen became secondary.
In a show often known for its unsettling moments of provaction, theisproduction was notably respectful of everyone involved. A scene depicting sexual assault is masked in comedy. The traditional callouts, altered in this production to be less offensive, make fun of the film by using sexual slurs and transphobic and homophobic commentary.
“I think that ‘Rocky Horror’ is amazing, but it also is extremely problematic,” Light Rake said. “And so I wasn’t about to let Kenyon experience ‘Rocky Horror’ without giving them a framework to let them view it in.”
A panel, held a day before the performance during Common Hour in Peirce Lounge, provided this framework. Assistant Professor of Sociology Austin Johnson, Film Production Manager Martha Gregory, Assistant Professor of Drama Anton Dudley and Assistant Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Timothy Bussey, led the panel, sharing their opinions and expertise about the film.
The panelists discussed how progressive the film was for its time in that it presented an acceptance of queer identities. They explained how the film was able to separate sex from identity and bring sex into conversation in new ways. The panelists, however, tempered their analysis of the progressive components of the film with an examination of the problems it presents. Dudley illuminated how the film fit the format of the traditional musical; it features a world of otherness, in this case an exoticized sexual one. Johnson pointed out that although the film’s presentation of queer people was groundbreaking for the time, it is also more exaggerated than representational. The discussion also covered the outdated terminology used in the film like the blanket usage of the term “transvestite.” The panelists discussed consent as well, as there are moments in the film where these boundaries are pushed and crossed.
A desire to be inclusive and respectful was evident in the way the production brought attention to many of the issues discussed at the panel, instead of re-enforcing them. For example, during moments of sexual assault, callouts like “coercion is not consent” were used to make this moment more about the ethics of sexual consent than an uncomfortable attempt to make sexual coercion comical. Ronan Weber ’20, who starred as Frank-N-Furter, described how validating the experience was and how important the show is for the queer community.
“Having a night where I could be so feminine, wearing corsets and fishnets and high heels and tons of makeup and everyone still saw me as the identity I wanted to be was incredibly important. [‘Rocky Horror’] is, at the very least, an opportunity to be sort of like, ‘Yeah this isn’t what you expected, but you are still respecting me and that’s what matters,’” he said.
(Collegian arts editors Mae Hunt ’21 and Ulysses Yarber ’21 were members of the ensemble in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”)