November 14, 2007

Rocky Horror History

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“I would like, if I may (You may NOT), to take you (Take me! Take me!) on a strange journey … ”
The film seemed ordinary enough when it was released in 1975; it was a musical that paid tongue-in-cheek homage to sci-fi b-movies from the 1950s. There was, however, something about this movie that left a very different taste in the audience’s mouths. It was more risqué than audiences were accustomed to and it made blatant and irreverent reference to taboo sexual subjects. Few people, if any, watched the movie during its original run in theatres, and it quietly sank into obscurity, if only temporarily.
Familiarity with this tidbit of cinematic history inevitably begs the question of how The Rocky Horror Picture Show accumulated its wildly enthusiastic fanbase, which is still growing. Some consider Rocky Horror to be a cult film. This is a gross understatement. If anything, Rocky Horror is an institution and has spawned similar productions of lesser films.
According to’s timeline of Rocky Horror history, the first midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show occurred in 1976, approximately a year after the film’s original release. Shortly afterwards, the first call-backs were shouted, which led to the audience’s use of props during the film. These innovations catalyzed the show’s evolution to its most widely-known state, in which a “shadow cast” performs the roles of the characters in full costume and makeup in front of a screen onto which the film is being projected. The audience shouts various callbacks throughout the film. It is standard to yell “asshole” whenever Brad, the male lead of the film, says his name and “slut” whenever Janet, his female counterpart, does the same.
Audience participation, however, does not stop there. While practices vary by location, it is standard for virgins (people seeing Rocky with a live cast for the first time) to have a “V” written on their forehead with red lipstick and to play “Virgin Games” during a pre-show. Lace, mesh and satin lingerie, high heels and maximum skin exposure are strongly encouraged.
Risley Hall is helf its annual Rocky Horror Picture Show last Friday and Saturday nights. I was able to speak with three of the cast members about their experiences with Rocky Horror. What I learned is that while the roads leading to Rocky Horror may vary, it is difficult to tear yourself away from the camaraderie that develops as a result of being a part of a cast. Ethan Meussdorffer Samuels, ’10 is playing Dr. Frank-n-Furter, the film’s sweet transvestite. Samuels played Frank bi-monthly for a year and a half with a cast in Portland, Oregon. When Samuels left Portland to come to Cornell, he left behind a legacy and a new standard for playing Frank. When asked to put his experience as playing Frank into words, he said “There is very little that is better for your self-confidence than standing in front of a crowd of people wearing a corset and realizing that the audience is enjoying it.”
Vlad D.M. Wailer, alias Kolb Ettenger, ’07, describes his experience of playing Eddy, a sax-wielding, motorcycle riding badass, as “… a good time where you get to watch silly movies with silly people. Also, I like sex.”
Vlad’s past forays into the world of competitive air guitar helped him develop his stage presence as a first-time member of the shadow cast. He discussed the apex of his on- stage experience by saying, “At one point, you stop being a member of the shadow cast for Rocky Horror and you transcend into an entirely new art form.”
Devin Conathan, ’08 has played Brad twice during his time at Cornell. This year he will be playing the role of The Crim. When asked about what keeps him coming back to the show, he replied, “It gives me an excuse to wear make-up and shave my legs.”