Rocky Horror Shadow-Cast Builds on the Past

The original Rocky Horror stage show. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The original Rocky Horror stage show. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This year’s annual Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow-cast performance at SLC is coming up Saturday at 11 p.m. in the PAC. The performance comes less than two weeks after the remake production of Rocky Horror aired starring Laverne Cox.  

2016 is new in some ways for the SLC show as well. While there is a lot that stays consistent from year to year about Rocky Horror, as the performance largely stays true to the movie, there is some room for innovation. When asked about anything new in this year’s performance, the shadow-cast director Mallika Sundar hinted, “in terms of the parts that I can control…let’s just say that it’s meme-worthy. It’ll be a meme-worthy pre-show.” She added, “Compared to previous years, we have a lot more first years in the cast. Which is wonderful, I love the first years…They bring joy and light to the production. They still have the spark of hope in their eyes.”

Rocky Horror performances alongside the movie have had a long history since the original movie’s premier in 1975. Shadow-casts have become a unique combination of creativity, ritual, and community. Even those who are in the audience, not performers, often enthusiastically participate through calling out additions to the script and wearing costume-like clothing.

Rocky has a lot of meaning, especially for the LGBTQIA+ community and others who may feel excluded by mainstream culture in some way.  Sundar said, “Personally for me, Rocky has always been about acceptance of oddities. And that ranges from being queer, being trans, being fat. Literally anything you could possibly think of, Rocky is about acceptance, and then taking that acceptance and making it sparkly and sexy. And like, I think that’s just fantastic. That’s personally why I think Rocky is so special.”

A devoted following has formed around Rocky Horror since its premier, and this following has created something much greater than the movie itself. “Rocky itself has developed its own community…it’s not a part of the movie, and it’s not a part of the Broadway show, it’s not a part of the revived production, it’s the Rocky community. And that will exist for however long it lasts into the future. It’s something that’s outside of regular social institutions. It’s formed something completely different,” the director explained. 

For some, it brings friendship and a sense of belonging. Sundar said, “It’s definitely been a major source of community, especially on this campus. Like, the Rocky people—that’s where I found a good portion of my friends. […] And like, outside of the Sarah Lawrence world, it’s just been this gathering point for like, all of the weirdos, who are looking for people just like them. And that’s been sort of a community-building aspect.”

So far, this production seems to have avoided the rumored “curse of Rocky Horror,” which comes from an anecdotal history of performers being injured outside of rehearsal but during the show’s preparation. Sundar’s hopes for this year include “that it happens without anyone getting injured. That’s been an issue in the past. It’s called the curse of Rocky Horror. It’s [that] you can’t make it through one production without someone getting some sort of injury. Last year someone got run over by a car. One year someone got stabbed with an x-acto knife.”

However, for those who have not attended a Rocky Horror performance before, those involved mean for the Rocky community to be safe and welcoming. Sundar recommended that those who are unsure about Rocky Horror “show up, sit down, [and] let the experience wash over you.” 

She continued, “Honestly it’s so much fun—Rocky is about fun. And if you don’t feel comfortable, you can leave. I encourage that, and there are some parts of the movie that are a little bit disturbing.” That includes when there is not always clear consent within the narrative, and some of the terminology used in the movie has fallen out of popularity. Sundar explained, “It does use the term transvestite and transsexual, which a lot of people are like, ‘oh, we don’t use those terms anymore,’ but at the same time, there is an older generation of people who still use those terms and apply them to themselves. So, what I’ve personally come to understand is that we need to respect the labels that people use for themselves. And, if Frank says these words, those are the words he uses for himself and we can’t say, ‘oh that’s wrong,’ because that was the time period and that’s what people would call themselves.”

As the 31-year-old movie retains its importance, the Rocky Horror community has grown over time and continued a history of inclusion. This year’s shadow-cast production looks to be an exciting take on the Rocky Horror tradition.

J.M. Stewart '18

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