Although The Rocky Horror Show was first written for stage - opening in London in 1973 and on Broadway in 1975 - it is the 1975 film version, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which has launched the delicious tale of Dr. Frank N. Furter and his various assortment of cohorts into immortality. Quickly becoming a midnight sensation at theaters across the country, the film inspired not only devoted fans but a surprising bit of performance art which came to be associated with every running. Costumes, dancing, recitation of lines - both in tandem with and in response to the scripted dialogue made The Rocky Horror Picture Show less of a movie than an event, and the legend has followed its release for more than four decades.
Still popular now with Halloween-inspired viewings and via television and DVD (which doesn't capture the interactive experience, alas), a new live broadcast is set to air on Fox on October 20, demonstrating the still irresistible appeal for fans of all generations. But if you want to get the full original experience of the musical written by Richard O'Brien, then the Civic Theatre is the place to be September 9-17 when The Rocky Horror Show hits the stage and brings its cast and audience along for the ride.
Directed by Beverly Redman, chair of the IPFW Department of Theatre, the show will feature all of the elements people have come to expect as part of the Rocky Horror experience, even if most of the behavior is strictly against normal theater protocol and etiquette. Redman has her own fondness for the musical, and she says the opportunity to work with Phillip Colglazier and the Civic Theatre was something that came up quickly upon her arrival in Fort Wayne over a year ago.
"When I first moved here a year-and-a-half ago, I met with Phillip just to talk, and he said 'I'd like for you to direct for us sometime in the next couple of years,'" says Redman. "When we talked about this upcoming season, the timing for this was perfect since I could begin casting and rehearsals before the academic year began. And I've loved Rocky Horror since I was living in Baltimore and was attending a School for the Performing Arts, so I was happy that this show fit perfectly into the slot I had available for doing something with the Civic."
Redman isn't the only new Fort Wayne transplant involved in the production. John Byrne, who arrived last year to assume duties as artistic director at Fort Wayne Dance Collective, is also a long-time fan of the musical, which he says he first saw when peering around a wall to surreptitiously watch while his parents had it on the television. He, too, wanted to be part of Fort Wayne's active arts community, beyond his already busy schedule with FWDC, and decided to audition for the role of Rocky, Frank's buff creation.
"I've been obsessed with the show since I was five years old," says Byrne. "When I saw the Civic was producing it, I got up the courage to audition. I thought, being that I represent the Dance Collective, I wanted to grow our relationship with the Civic and represent the dance community."
Having been cast as Rocky has brought Byrne into some new rehearsal situations, and he's clearly a fan of everyone involved.
"These rehearsals are the most fun I've ever had. Beverly brings such depth to what we're doing, and it's very fresh. I'm learning so much from the process, and I'm totally star struck at these rehearsals. I'm just the biggest fan of everybody in this cast."
Redman says having someone like Byrne, who brings years of diverse dance training and experience to his role, opens up new possibilities for her direction. And she's enjoying the process with both veteran and younger performers, preparing them for the unusual performance experience they're about to have.
"We're going to have people come to our last weeks of rehearsals to show the performers what it's like to have people coming up and dancing along with 'Time Warp' and calling out lines from the theater. They're getting ready for what the audience might say and how they might play along with us. I've told them to expect it, and a couple of the younger performers have found sites online which gives them an idea of some of the things the audience might say so they're prepared. I've done shows before that have broken the fourth wall, but this is a little different. The actors have to be ready for whatever comes."
While the show invokes happy feelings for those who turn it into a dance and sing-along party, Redman does note that there are some dark themes underlying the comedy, some of which are different in the stage play and the film. There's no "Meat Loaf for dinner" in the stage version, but there are still some disturbing concepts being presented.
"There's a murder, there's human experimentation," says Redman. "This creature is being created for Frank's pleasure. This play was coming out in the early 70s, and as we came out of the 60s there was a lot of turmoil. The Vietnam War was still going on, and there were radical politics and gay rights being discussed. In music there was glam rock, and rock stars were dressing up in these kinds of outfits too. I attended a school for the performing arts and lost a lot of friends to AIDS, and this was before this thing was on the horizon."
After Rocky Horror winds up, Redman will have a busy season ahead at IPFW where she'll continue her streak of horror with Little Shop of Horrors next April. She also directs Six Characters in Search of an Author in December. Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, directed by Craig Humphrey, and Stupid F*@%ing Bird, a spoof of Chekov's The Seagull, directed by Jeff Casazza, round out the IPFW season.
Although she's having fun with Rocky Horror and its cast, the show does bring back bittersweet memories of her late friend from high school, a young man whose photo is framed in Redman's office. Her earliest experiences with Rocky Horror were shared with him, and those memories seem to further fuel her passion for her Civic debut.
"Rocky Horror is really a political piece," she says. "The world is complicated, and we're a diverse collection of humans. The show is asking people to accept everyone, no matter what their sexuality. Be who and what you are, and let others be who and what they are."