Student Experience: Rocky Horror Show
Fans of The Rocky Horror Show: You can stop here. Trustus Theatre has tickets for students at $25 apiece, showing through Nov. 5. Dig your black corsets and fishnet tights out of your closet and get ready to give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
For those of you who have never heard of The Rocky Horror Show before: Please read on.
The Rocky Horror Show first came to stage in 1973. A film version of the musical, dubbed “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” made it to the big screen in 1975, and starred Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the “sweet transvestite” villain of the film. (You might know him as the hotel concierge in Home Alone 2.) The plot follows a naive young woman named Janet Weiss and her fiancé Brad Majors. On their way to break the happy news of their engagement to their high school science teacher, their car breaks down outside of a strange, European-style castle in the middle of the New England countryside. When the couple knocks on the door to use the telephone, they stumble into a glitter-infused, otherworldly dance party, hosted by the seductive Dr. Frank-N-Furter. The rest of the plot involves erotic dancing, infidelity, epic musical numbers, a teleportation device and, above all, sexual liberation.
It makes sense that a show about letting loose and giving into base desires has a wild fanbase. Live Rocky Horror shows are famous for their audience participation. After 40 years, a good many of the “callback” lines are tradition — for example, Brad and Janet’s names are always followed by an emphatic “ASSHOLE” and “SLUT.” Some theaters, including Trustus, sell audience participation goodie bags ($3 for one and $5 for two) containing a lighter, three or four playing cards, a water gun, a newspaper and lots of confetti. Some seasoned audience members even dress up as their favorite characters for the show. If this sounds interesting to you, but you’re worried about attending the show with no squad and no experience, fear not. I did it so you don’t have to.
As a disclaimer, I attended a performance over fall break, so only a few USC students were there. I met a freshman from Capstone whose ticket was Row A, Seat 1, and who said her Frank-N-Furter wig, corset, and fishnets were in her closet in NYC. I also met a student who had glasses and a plaid shirt like Brad, but was not, in fact, dressed up as Brad. I got my own costume (Janet Weiss) from Goodwill the day before —white ballet flats, a white empire waist skirt and a white utilitarian bra (and a pink cardigan for walking around in daylight). A surprisingly small number of people were actually in costume, although many adults bought feather boas from concessions to wear over their “night out on the town” clothes. I’d say the dress code was theater-dressy with a dash of sex appeal.
Although 75 percent of the adults attending the show bought wine by the bottle from the theater bar, I’d recommend watching the show sober. It’s the only way you’re going to pick up on the audience cues. A list of common refrains and actions (like when to throw confetti or shoot water into the air) can be found in the program, but the official audience script requires a response after almost every line. Luckily, there was a guy standing in the back of the theater who belted out each obscure line for the convenience of the virgins (virgins being the technical term for people who have never attended a live performance of this cult classic musical). After a while, you start to get the hang of it. (For those of you with delicate ears or strict parents, this show involves a lot of R-rated yelling/cursing. Be warned.)
This particular run of Rocky Horror is the sixth at Trustus; Scott Blanks, who played Dr. Frank-N-Furter in every previous production, directed this production. The in-house talent blew me away: the costuming was extravagant, leathery and tight; the vocal range of Magenta and Dr. Frank could fare well on a Broadway stage; and the dancing ranged from child’s birthday party to strip club. In addition, the theater felt like a collaborative, fun atmosphere, even before the show — I heard the players warming up with “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas.
One of my favorite parts of attending the show was interacting with the non-millenials in the audience. I saw multiple women who could have been my grandmother rocking out with the “pelvic thrust that really drives you insa-a-a-a-ane.” Buttoned-up fathers were shooting water guns into the air like little kids. The group seated next to me was particularly noisy during the unveiling of Rocky and his perfect, muscular body.
After the show, I asked one man if they’d been to the show at Trustus before. “We saw it here in high school,” he said. “Me and my wife drove from Pennsylvania to see it again.” My own mother, who covers her eyes when she sees televised nudity, told me to make sure to buy tickets. “It’s definitely part of the college experience,” she said. “You’ve got to go at least once.”
As Janet and Brad lose their clothes onstage, so the audience lose their inhibitions. It truly felt freeing to shoot a water gun into the air while a performance was going on and to yell profanity at the actors without being escorted out. The Rocky Horror Show is an integral part of a classic coming-of-age narrative — it’s a little wacky, a little raunchy, but ultimately the best show you’ll see all season. As the MC said before the show began — “It’s a Thursday night, so you might feel the need to be well-behaved. We’d prefer you not to be.”