November 7, 2013

Rocky Horror Returns to Risley

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It’s been called many things: The longest-running theatrical release in the history of film. Culturally significant, according to the National Film Registry. Number 36 of the 161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do. An absolute thrill.

Yes, my friends, it is once again that time of year when Cornell students shed their inhibitions (and their clothes) and congregate in Risley’s Great Hall to partake in what may be the most wildly unique event that the University has to offer: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

It all began in 1973 with the release of a musical tribute to the science fiction and horror B-movies of the 1950s that would later become fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the like. Titled simply The Rocky Horror Show, the musical combined elements of sci-fi, humor, horror and all-around bad taste, set to some catchy rock ‘n’ roll songs. While moderately successful overseas and at regional theatres in the United States, the show never found its footing on Broadway, closing after a mere 45 performances.

The musical would soon be adapted to film, with many of actors and actresses reprising their roles for the screen.  Featuring early, over-the-top performances from Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry (Nigel Thornberry!) and many others, the show is off-putting and offensive in all the right ways.

After a small release in 1975, the film was picked up by small movie theatres in New York and eventually nationwide to be shown in midnight screenings a la 1936’s Reefer Madness and many John Waters films. The movie developed a cult following — one of the first films to do so — and paved the way for films like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and The Toxic Avenger. A unique following began to develop around these midnight screenings, with audience members dressing in costumes, singing and dancing along to the songs, using props and, perhaps most importantly, speaking in a complex language of callbacks and shout-outs that vary from venue to venue.

I fondly remember my first Rocky Horror, six long years ago. My mother brought my younger brother and me to a midnight screening at our local underground movie theatre. Surrounded by cross dressers and degenerates of all ages, I was engrossed by the tale of transvestites, aliens and cannibalism. It wasn’t until the credits were over, as I picked rice out of crevices I hadn’t known existed and climbed over mountains of toilet paper, that I realized just how special the event I had just seen truly was.

The folks over at Risley faithfully recreate this experience every fall in one of the most enthusiastic and entertaining performances I have seen. Proceedings begin with a pre-show, consisting of a few simple, painless initiation games for the “virgins” (those who have never attended Rocky Horror). You can attempt to lie, but it is never hard to spot a Rocky virgin. After the conversion, the show commences. A live cast will accompany the film, projected on a large screen, enacting the action of screen around the audience while lip-syncing and running about. Performers will supply some relevant callback responses to the dialogue on screen guaranteed to make you laugh, but the audience is often free to include their own as they see fit. During certain numbers, most famously “The Time Warp”, the audience is also encouraged to shake their groove things with the cast members. The entire performance makes extensive use of audience participation, so come up to the lab with an open mind and an enthusiastic mood.

Like learning to play an instrument or crystal meth, Rocky Horror is something everyone should try once. It may not be for everyone, but you’ll never know until you go! I look forward to seeing many of you there; I’ll be one of the many men in a dress.

Performances of Rocky Horror will take place Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m. Doors open at 10. Tickets are $7 at the door.