We’ve all been shivering with anticipation for Kenyon College Players’ (KCP) annual shadowcast performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. At long last it came this Halloween weekend, met by the usual throng of experienced devotees and Rocky Horror virgins in their best costumes. Most wore the classic fishnet tights and repurposed lingerie, but there were also attendees in Halloween costumes including a couple dressed as Cruella de Vil and one of the 101 dalmatians.
Last year, when no tickets were distributed in advance, people waited for hours in line only to be turned away at the doors. This year, KCP departed from their usual method of admission by releasing three rounds of tickets over the course of the week preceding Rocky Horror, ensuring those lucky enough to submit the form in time entrance into the show, while minimizing line wait times for leftover tickets. Producer Stephanie Kaufman ’23 commented on the ticketing process this year in an email interview with the Collegian. “KCP tries so hard to ensure that people who want to see the show are able to. We implemented a new ticketing system this year in the hopes that everyone who waited in line would be guaranteed to get in,” she said.
After the crowd found seats in Rosse Hall, Sam Neilson ’23 began the show by performing a dance routine in front of the luscious pair of lips singing “Science Fiction/Double Feature.” Neilson darted through the theater, stopping here and there to wrap her arms around an audience member, her expression moving and emotive. Her dance routine was complete with powerful leaps into the air and graceful falls to the ground.
The highlight of the performance was Nate Speidel ’25 as the shadow cast for Dr. Frankenfurter. Speidel’s timing was almost perfect, and his stage presence was enrapturing, both to the fictional audience in his mansion and to the crowd in Rosse Hall. During one scene — the musical number “Sweet Transvestite” — Speidel as Dr. Frankenfurter corners Brad and Janet with a prowling gait in an especially effective moment of blocking. The lighting by Kate Ceniza-Levine ’23 worked well to complement his performance. In the moments before Dr. Frankenfurter dies — just after “I’m Going Home” — Ceniza-Levine spotlighted his figure, the effect dramatic and moving. The lighting was also effective in the two scenes during which Dr. Frankenfurter visits Brad and Janet in their separate bedrooms. Both lighting and set design served to capture the essence of the scenes; sheets were held up in front of bright lights in order to show the dark silhouettes of the actors behind.
Other notable moments in the show included when Hallie Underwood ’24 and Will Newhart ’24 performed the musical number “Over at the Frankenstein Place.” They cleverly blocked the scene by walking up and down the aisles of Rosse Hall as if they were wandering around the grounds of the mansion, braving the storm. The original Janet held a newspaper over her head to keep her hair dry during the scene, while Underwood held a recent copy of the Collegian.
One of the most interesting shadow casts was Penelope Birnbaum ’24, who played the criminologist. Birnbaum put her own twist on the character, distancing herself from the original dry, boorish characterization and leaning into a more sexualized adaptation. Sporting a relaxed tie and a loose fitting suit, her shadow casting was expressive and saucy.
But there’s another part of Rocky Horror that is essential to the experience — the audience members themselves. It is traditional for audiences to make certain callouts at appropriate times throughout the show. For example, when the respective names Brad and Janet are mentioned, it’s traditional for the audience to yell out “asshole” and “slut.” While callouts are a crucial aspect of the experience, it is important that the callouts be done appropriately. This element of Saturday night’s performance was less successful. Audience members screamed callouts at the wrong times, and shrieking and moaning sounded during the best of moments and songs. Rowdy reactions are understandable and somewhat expected for a Rocky Horror performance, but the audience engagement with the show became at many times completely raucous.
This is a tricky dynamic, because Rocky Horror always draws out an excited spirit in the audience. And yet, too much rowdy engagement, or at least, engagement at the wrong time, felt disrespectful and distracted from the performance at hand. Considering the weeks of work KCP put into this show, it’s unfortunate that at times the audience was so deafeningly loud it was difficult to hear or follow the show. Stage Manager Emerson Salome ’25 commented on this dynamic in an email to the Collegian. “I have mixed feelings about the culture of callouts. I know it’s part of the Rocky tradition across America, but in other showings callouts are specific and timed, and I feel like the Kenyon callout tradition skews more towards heckling. I found myself concerned for the feelings and even safety of our actors at times,” she said.
Another troubling moment during the show was when the audience responded to the two sexual assault scenes. Dr. Frankenfurter coerces Brad and Janet into sex, and these are two of the most disturbing moments in the musical. While KCP rightly warned of this, writing in their program that the show “contains use of slurs and depictions of sexual violence,” most of the audience reacted with cheers and whoops. Salome referenced this issue in her interview, saying, “The lack of critical response to a gay sexual assault scene (it was met with cheers) was very disappointing.” Fortunately, there were a few audience members who did express disapproval during the scene. “This is not okay, guys,” one audience member said.
KCP faced other challenges managing such an overwhelming (and intoxicated) crowd. The steps of Rosse Hall were covered with crushed beer cans, cigarette stubs and other trash — a mess that production managers spent hours cleaning up after the performance. Kaufman commented on this in her interview: “Many people sneak drinks in and make a mess in Rosse, which understandably can make it difficult for KCP to get permission from the Music Department to use their space.” While it’s perfectly normal and traditional for people to attend Rocky Horror intoxicated, the level of disregard some people had for Rosse Hall and the work that KCP put into the show was unfortunate.
Considering how important Rocky Horror is to Kenyon’s culture, it would be interesting if KCP considered tweaking how they admitted people. Though the ticketing process was an effective way to manage the immense turnout and the frustration that many felt after last year’s long wait times, it is possible that longer wait lines ensure that only people truly committed to Rocky Horror are admitted into the show.
Despite the rowdiness of the audience, KCP’s Rocky Horror was truly a tremendous success. It was evident how much painstaking work the directors, stage managers, producers and designers put into the performance — from the clever shadowcasting to the lighting and set design, Rocky Horror was a transcendent, emotional performance. Its return next year will be eagerly awaited.