Athens and Ohio University are home to many different traditions. However, the familiar sounds of the “Time Warp” mixed with the sight of fishnet tights and red lipstick can only mean one thing: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is back in Athens.
Though many cities and towns have screenings of the 1975 cult classic film starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and – yes – the famous Meatloaf cameo, Athens’ annual Rocky Horror show has a bit more excitement and commotion thanks to the Lost Flamingo Theater company.
“I’m extremely grateful to LFC, Lost Flamingo Company, for giving me and everyone else this opportunity,” Halle Dray, a senior and choreographer for Rocky Horror, said. “It’s really great that it’s a group of people from all backgrounds and all majors coming together and sharing this common passion.”
Lost Flamingo Company, or LFC, hosts a shadow cast performance of Rocky Horror at The Union, 18 W. Union St., every year. A shadow cast performance means the theater group casts each role, puts together an ensemble, rehearses the show like any other production, but performs with the film projected behind the group while the performers lip sync the lines and songs.
“We had to recast pretty much all of the roles,” Olivia Wallace, a senior and director of Rocky Horror, said. “So we had to deal with all that. This is a bittersweet moment for me because it's my first time actually directing, but it's also my last time directing because it's my last semester with LFC. So I'm really excited, but I already told the cast, ‘You guys are probably gonna see me cry a lot this weekend.’”
The group’s version of Rocky Horror also practices gender-blind casting, which is casting based on the actor, not the original gender of the role. Additionally, members of the production highly encourage the audience to utilize the show’s callouts, where audiences can participate by responding to specific lines or characters in the production with funny sayings known by hardcore fans of the show.
LFC is OU’s only student-run theater group. The cast, crew and directing staff are all OU students. Each semester, the group puts on four productions: three plays and a musical. Though the musical varies each spring semester, every fall semester, Rocky Horror is the chosen musical for students to continue on the community tradition. There are always three performances: Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the weekend they choose near the end of October.
They begin the process by rehearsing in Bentley Hall prior to The Union performance. Then they move to The Union on Wednesday night for their final dress rehearsal before opening night on Thursday.
Final Dress Rehearsal
On the Wednesday, the group gets to The Union a few hours before the show begins. After everyone helps load in the projector screen, the props and the rest of the materials for the show, they start to set up the catwalk and the other platforms that attach to The Union stage.
Once load-in is finished, the cast bonds a bit to warm up for the rehearsal. Then, they start to get ready, putting on their costumes, makeup and game faces for the performance.
Though the students say they feel excited for the show every year, after being forced to take a year off in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, their excitement is greatly increased.
“This year has definitely been really exciting and very nostalgic just to be able to come back and do the same show all over again but with new people and under new circumstances with COVID and everything,” Nathan Stanley, a senior playing Dr. Scott, said. “It’s definitely been a bit of an adjustment just trying to learn where we have to tweak things and where we have to make things more accessible in terms of COVID safety, but it’s been super worth it and it feels just like the old times just with a little bit of something different.”
The final dress rehearsal is the first time they perform the show without masks, so they get to see each others’ faces and better connect on stage.
“It’s a mix of excitement and nervousness, because I know I haven’t been on stage in two years — same with the rest of us,” Dray said. “We’re not using masks on stage, so it’s very new. It’s nerve-wracking but refreshing, and it feels really good to be able to do this.”
Through the rehearsal process, the group collectively revived their love of theater post-pandemic, and grew closer with each other — forming friendships to last a lifetime.
“I think it’s really fun to be able to play (Columbia) because I’ve never actually been able to play a role like this before, and it’s just really fun for all of her energy to be able to do,” Sophia Robson, a freshman playing Columbia, said. “And I get to work with (Makenzie Price), and it’s such fun because we have so many scenes together. I’ve made so many friends doing this role.”
Makenzie Price, a senior playing Magenta, said she appreciated working with Robson, who even helped Price adjust her Magenta costume to perfect it for the role.
“We both fit the roles crazily well,” Price said. “I’m really glad we got to work together. It’s been great.”
Once the group goes through the final run-through of the show with the correct staging, lighting and props and in full costume and makeup, they pack up and go home to get rested for their opening night.
Opening night and performance weekend
On the Rocky Horror performance nights, the cast and crew get to The Union around 5:45 p.m. By then, the line of audience members has already begun forming outside. The group has an hour and 15 minutes until the doors open to the public, so they spend the time listening to music, getting ready for the show and having a lot of fun.
“This cast has been so much fun to work with,” Destery Gunther, a junior ensemble, or “whorus,” member, said. “Especially when we finally combined both the ensemble and the leads so we could all work together as one. It’s really nice to get to know my friends in different parts of the company. Rocky is the show that, I think, if you have the chance and the opportunity to see it at least once in your lifetime, you should.”
At 7 p.m., the doors open. The audience pours in, finding the perfect spot to sit, stand or crowd around the bar or stage. In the hour before the show starts, audience members are invited to dance and sing along with the cast, who are walking around and dancing on stage to get everyone comfortable. Then, at 8 p.m., the games that the group calls the “virgin sacrifices” begin.
The virgin sacrifices are for first-time Rocky Horror viewers to play fun, sexual-oriented games and get excited for the show. The games include switching clothes with a partner, eating an oatmeal cream pie out of people’s hands and more.
Soon after, Wallace and assistant director Zoe Korns read the “Rocky Horror Virgin Oath” to the audience, asking them to pledge their allegiance to the lips and for all they stand for. The audience understands that by repeating back the oath, they’re in for not only a fun, sexy and a little bit wacky of an experience, but they’re also entering a space of freedom and no judgment.
Then, the show begins. Everything’s the same as the final dress rehearsal, but with much higher stakes and excitement due to the audience’s attention.
Rocky Horror’s message of individuality, comfort in one’s own skin and acceptance no matter who is radiating through every dance move, song lyric and acting choice, but it’s the show’s lead, Frank-N-Furter, that has really been the star of driving this idea home in viewers. Through his wardrobe, sexual encounters and no-holds-barred confidence, Frankie has inspired countless people to “not judge a book by it’s cover.”
Playing the iconic role is Chris Smith, a senior at OU who previously played the criminologist in the production. Smith is from Athens and feels Rocky Horror is the perfect annual event for the community.
“To have Rocky in Athens is such an amazing thing because I feel like many times there’s not enough confidence for the people in this area, I feel like there just aren’t as much outlets for LGBT people, and to have this in this area is just great,” Smith said. “It’s a way for people to get out and be themselves and have fun, and see people having fun, see people who are like them who are onstage.”
Rocky Horror’s no judgment policy has inspired so many to “Don’t dream it, be it,” but there has been a significant impact on queer culture. Smith and the rest of the cast feel it provided a space for anyone who had been “othered” in society, or cast aside due to not fitting the heteronormative mold. Through the show’s depictions of queer sexual relationships and the lack of a need to label oneself, Rocky Horror became a beacon of acceptance for queer people.
“Being in Rocky is such a great opportunity,” Smith said. “I first saw this when I was probably like eight or 10. It was kind of a sexual awakening moment throughout that time of my life. And to be in the show right now with all of these people and be around queer people and accepting people and wonderful people, it’s amazing. To have this role that was such a cultural shock at the time and has turned into this amazing thing just means so much to me.”
After the show ends, the audience gets to mingle for a little bit with the cast. They rest up to perform on Friday and Saturday night, and then Sunday they move everything out of The Union. After that, the 2021 performance of Rocky Horror is officially finished. However, the memories the group made this year and the impact the show had on them will last a lifetime.
“This might be our last chance to ever be on a stage and to ever perform in the theater because we’re going to go out into the real world and have our big girl, big boy jobs,” Dray said. “It’s just really special.”
Photo by Jesse Jarrold-Grapes.