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The Civic’s Rocky Horror revives the “midnight movie” experience
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Rehearsals have been under way at the Fort Wayne Civic Theater for a while now, and a few days before curtain, the cast is just finishing up “heckling week.”
And yes, “heckling week” is just what it sounds like — people sit in the audience during rehearsal and shout things at the actors. “The actors are getting used to the fact that people are going to be yelling things at them,” says Director Beverly Redman. “We know don’t know exactly what the hecklers are going to be saying, but we have a sort of typical ‘heckler’s script’ we’re working with.”
The actors are also going to get stuff thrown at them. They have a general idea of when and what projectiles will be hurled their way, but of course a little extra preparation always helps. “They (the actors) are dealing with it really well,” Redman says.
For this particular production, audience participation comes with the territory. In fact, it’s encouraged — the Civic is selling “prop bags” at the door with toilet paper, plastic lips, rubber hot dog and a few other items that’ll bring a smile of recognition to thems of a certain age…
The Rocky Horror Show, which begins its run at the Civic on September 9, is the stage version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a movie which is usually described as a cult classic, and (sort of) introduced the larger world to Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry and Meatloaf (the singer).
It’s probably safe to say most people don’t know that Rocky Horror was a stage musical before it became it became midnight movie staple. In fact, the stage version enjoyed an extensive, award-winning run in a series of increasingly larger playhouses in London from 1973 through 1980.
US productions of the show met with more mixed results — some were just plain flops — and when the film version made its way to screens in 1975, it was met with a collective “what the hell is this?!” and seemed set to vanish.
But then a funny thing happened. The movie was featured at regular midnight movie screenings around the country. Audiences would come over and over, dress up in costume, dance along with the “Time Warp,” and shout and throw things at the screen on cue. You could pretty much go to theaters all across America and see versions of these rituals. “I hear it gets complicated,” says Redman, who went to midnight screenings in College Park Maryland, “like there’s a typical collection of things shouted in the Midwest, different things shouted in New York… certain scripts evolved in different locations.”
The “midnight movie” experience has pretty much gone the way of pay phones and Burger Chef, but Rocky Horror — the “cult” movie — seeped into the culture somehow. Lots of people know the songs, lots of people get the references. In the last decade or so, it’s experienced a sort of revival as a stage production.
This time, though, it incorporates elements of the “midnight movie” experience, a pseudo-scripted audience participation. The Civic is even offering an 11:59 PM performance on September 17.
It sounds like a nightmare for an actor — know your lines, know your cues, know your choreography, and be mindful of the fact that at some point, a large chunk of the audience will shout “SLUT!” at you while you’re trying to deliver cheesy dialogue with a straight face. “That’s why we have heckling week,” Redman says. “Some of it is hilarious. We’re getting our laughs out now. Every once in a while a magical moment occurs and an actor is able to respond without losing the flow of the show. So, we’ll see. When you throw that element in, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The plot? Well, here’s the short version — one stormy night, new couple Brad (Chris Rasor) and Janet (Kearston Anderson) stumble upon the spooky castle of Dr Frank (Billy Dawson), his servants Riff-Raff (Evan Hart) and Magenta (Janna Fisher), and his creation Rocky (John Byrne). It’s a knowing, campy, and fun take-off on old horror and sci-fi movies, with a great soundtrack.
More insightful cultural observers than Your Humble are fond of pointing out how one era’s “shocking” is another era’s “quaint.” Perhaps that’s true to an extent in the case of Rocky Horror — the fun is still there, the tunes are still there, but the show may not seem as weird and (ahem) transgressive as it did in 1973. Maybe. That said, The Rocky Horror Show is still a long way from family entertainment — the Civic production is Rated R for adult themes and language.
The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents The Rocky Horror Show — Rated R
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Friday, September 9 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, September 10 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, September 10 at 11:59 PM
Friday, September 16 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, September 17 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, September 17 at 11:59 PM
Tickets:$29 Adults; $24 Seniors (any performance!); $17 Age 23 and under
Buy Online at fwcivic.org or call (260) 424-5220
Audience participation is encouraged. Rocky Prop Bags will be on sale at show for $5 each. For the comfort of others, please do not bring your own props.