Before last week, the phrase “socially distanced Rocky Horror Picture Show” was an oxymoron. The 1975 cult classic film is famous for its prolific sexual themes. Traditional shadow cast productions, in which cast members act out the film in front of a screen and lip sync the characters’ lines, tend to crank the raunchiness up to 11.
But the Kenyon College Players (KCP) were determined to bring the shadow cast tradition back to Kenyon, even if they had to work around strict social gathering restrictions. On the evenings of April 27 and 28, the cast and crew took to the tennis court beside the New Apartments to stage their unconventional interpretation of the show.
The official event was limited to a capacity of 50 attendees and held within the chain-link perimeter of the tennis court. However, plenty of stragglers — who all adhered to social distancing guidelines — watched from the grass area surrounding the fence, making for a lively atmosphere.
Naturally, a few things got lost in translation. The actors wore masks, and for those of us watching the show through the fence, it was difficult to grasp the full range of their performances. Certain numbers, like “Touch-a-touch-a-touch-me,” were slightly awkward without the actual, well, touching — and the production team seemed aware of this, inserting a gag where actors held a six-foot-long tape measure between the two characters who were supposed to be having sex. The spacious outdoor setting also made for a less intimate energy than the show’s traditional setting in a crowded theater.
But a production of Rocky Horror without some rough edges is arguably a flawed interpretation of the source material. And despite its hiccups, KCP’s Rocky Horror was a ton of fun.
The crew brought plenty of energy, encouraging the audience to participate in call-outs, a staple of any Rocky Horror production. They also held a dance battle between two “virgins” (Rocky Horror code for first-time viewers) during the intermission, which seemed to bring everyone in the space closer together. The set, prop and costume teams also did a commendable job recreating designs from the film.
KCP’s adaptability to the location was also impressive. Actors and crew members moved seamlessly from the makeshift stage to the backstage areas, which were structured behind simple white curtains concealing the back corners of the tennis court. The production team encouraged audience members to use their phone flashlights to help the actors see when entering and exiting from the crowd. It is this kind of participatory spirit that makes Rocky come to life.
My favorite part of the show was the number “Rose Tint My World,” which was choreographed to near perfection. The song is about letting go of one’s inhibitions and embracing a sordid, sensual side of life, which the cast members communicated through exaggerated dancing and flawless comedic timing.
As a huge Rocky fan, KCP’s production was a highlight of my semester. I can’t speak for the virgins in the audience, but I got the sense that everyone was grateful for an excuse to put aside their stresses and dance the Time Warp on a Tuesday night. That alone makes this show a success — kinks and all.