Doing the time warp (again)

“The Rocky Horror Show” returns to downtown Academy

Two years prior to the 1975 release of the cult classic film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a theatrical production called “The Rocky Horror Show,” written by Richard O’Brien and directed by Jim Sharman, premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

“While it may not be the scariest flick,” wrote Katie Coryell for Breaking Character, “it sure will get your toes tapping.”

“Campy trash,” wrote Time magazine.

A symptom of the cult status of “Rocky,” audience members are encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters, shout at the stage and produce props on cue. These lines range from lighthearted and silly to raunchy and not safe for work. Props range from playing cards to newspapers to gloves. A script is available online that provides guidelines on what to call out when, and what to bring out when, and interested readers may peruse this script at their own discretion.

Why this pop culture lesson? Almost 50 years after the production’s initial London run, for the third time in twenty years, the Academy Theatre in downtown Meadville is putting on “The Rocky Horror Show” during the Halloween season.

“Rocky” is a spooky show, making it ideal for October. But, despite what the name might suggest, the production dives heavily into comedic themes rather than horror themes, according to Darryl Whitney, administrator at the Academy. 

“It’s more about the hilarity of poking fun at the cheesy horror movies of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s,” Whitney said. “The song ‘Science Fiction (Double Feature)’ takes us through a lot of those different horror movies, like ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’”

Another reason “Rocky” appealed to the Academy is the opportunity it presented to have live music accompany the show, which supported the theatre’s mission of educating the Meadville community as a whole and involving a diverse demographic of individuals.

“We like to think of ourselves as a warehouse for all the community to come in and to pick out different aspects of art, whether it be visual, (musical), acting,” Whitney said.

Whitney was very pleased with the turnout for the initial weekend. Between Friday, Sept. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 1, over 282 people attended, more than 100 per evening. These numbers are unusual, in a good way, for an opening weekend at the Academy, and translated to an energetic crowd, Whitney said.

“Typically, in the town of Meadville and the surrounding areas, a lot of people won’t go out to see shows that they don’t know anything about,” Whitney said. “They’ll wait for their more adventurous friends, maybe, to go and see those shows.” 

Whitney sees the large turnout those first two nights — and the amount of fun that attendees were having — as a good sign.

“It makes us very happy because we think that the community is definitely going to embrace this production,” Whitney said.

The community, at least the college students in said community, will soon have another production of “Rocky” to embrace. Later in the month, the Student Experimental Theatre group at Allegheny will be bringing “Rocky” to the college via a shadow cast of the film. In a shadow cast, actors lip sync lines and songs while the movie plays in the background.

A notable dissimilarity between the play and a shadow cast, according to Whitney, is that the former contains live actors who can interact with the crowd. 

What is unique to “Rocky” as a whole is the aforementioned script that originated during early screenings of the movie and that audience members refer to throughout the production, tossing out jokes and poking fun at the characters. Richard O’Brien is not able to respond to someone in the crowd should they throw out a line, but an actor portraying Riff Raff in a stage production can play off the quip to create a unique watching experience. 

Aside from playing both Dr. Scott and Eddie, Whitney is also responsible for managing the box office, marketing and reaching out for sponsorships. 

Another actor who plays a role at the Academy is Julia Kemp, ’17, artistic director and usherette for “The Rocky Horror Show.” Along with the production committee, she helps decide what shows to put on each season. With “Rocky,” Kemp assisted with auditions and the casting process, working closely with director Ted Watts, Jr. 

“We’re a small nonprofit with just two full-time staff, and so we kind of wear a lot of hats,” Kemp said. “For this show I was (also) costumer (and) choreographer … I also helped with the set and did a lot of the set dressing.”

Given the high turnout for the opening weekend, Whitney is looking forward to seeing what word of mouth will do for future “Rocky” performances. Through articles in The Meadville Tribune and posters around town, the Academy ensures that the community is aware of its current goings-on, but what tends to draw people to the theater, especially those who might have been on the proverbial fence, is the encouragement of those they know.

Whitney believes that the 10 p.m. showing after the Halloween parade on Saturday, Oct. 29 — an already popular event — will bring in particularly large numbers.

As for Kemp, she is excited to continue the exchange of energy between actors and audience, since “Rocky” thrives on viewer participation and passion.

“The response has been really great,” Kemp said. “People are having a lot of fun. It’s a show that comes with a built-in fanbase, so the audience is already on our side before they even meet us.”

“The Rocky Horror Show” will continue at the Academy on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. until Oct. 29. Tickets are available on the Academy website. Those who attend the downtown stage performance but are looking to time warp some more can swing by Allegheny’s shadow cast production Friday, Oct. 28, or Saturday, Oct. 29, at 10 p.m. in the Henderson Campus Center lobby. Admission will be free for everyone — not just for those who are shivering with antici … pation.