‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ to hit WCU stage
Transvestite. Transsexual. Transylvania.
Three words that immediately conjure images of extravagant parties, mad scientists, death, rock-n-roll, Meatloaf, aliens, sing-a-longs, freedom and sexual liberation. What “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” did, and continues to do, for society can never be overstated. Originally written as a stage musical, the story hit the big screen in 1975, cueing a new dawn in acceptance and understanding in everyday life. It kicked the door down for punk rock, 20th century cultural evolution, independent filmmaking and LGBT rights by simply stepping over the line of what it means to truly be yourself in a sometimes stifling world where being one-in-the-same is “easier” than being one-in-a-million.
“It’s in our human nature to judge characters immediately in film and in stories,” said Kristen Hedberg. “The thing about Rocky Horror that gets people who are maybe extremely conservative is that the two main characters, Brad and Janet, are very conservative, law-abiding, well-mannered citizens, who happen to encounter this world of aliens. They have to adapt and change to survive, and what it brings out of them is so different than what would happen if they were in a human social scene.”
A professor of voice at Western Carolina University, Hedberg takes a seat in an empty row in the Hoey Auditorium on campus. Onstage there are numerous musical theater students milling about, all getting ready for another run through of the stage production of cult classic, which will take place Feb. 19-21.
“Doing Rocky Horror is such a challenge because there are traditions that are expected to be upheld because it’s a classic,” said Hedberg. “But, you also want to give it new life, and the students are working really hard from that perspective — to make the characters come alive from the page.”
The scene of actor Tim Curry singing atop a throne in glittery fishnet lingerie is as iconic to the culture and political climate of the 1970s as images of Nixon waving goodbye from a helicopter, the gas crisis, Studio 54 or Vietnam. It was an era of societal change, one whose ripple effects can still be felt today. An although, from the surface, Rocky Horror looks to be a weird, B-list type of film, once you dig deeper you soon discover a rabbit hole of revelry, rebellion and revolution.
And yet, even with all that said, Rocky Horror remains, at its core, a rollicking adventure into the curious mind of humanity, as well as a pinnacle in what it means to be a stage performer.
“It incorporates dance, voice and acting — all aspects of theater,” said Alex Drost. “It’s completely fun and ridiculous at the same time, where you have this newly wed couple crossing paths with a group of aliens. They are taken in, suddenly things happen, everything goes wrong, and voila, you have a show.”
A 20-year-old musical theater major at WCU, Drost plays Dr. Frank N. Furter (Curry’s transvestite mad scientist), a true creature of the night.
“Dr. Frank N. Furter is the man in charge, who created Rocky, who created the atmosphere for the Transylvanian aliens,” Drost said.
So, what’s been the hardest part of playing the doctor?
“I’ve discovered it’s very difficult to walk in heels,” Drost laughed. “Embodying the female characteristics and qualities of the character has been a challenge, but it’s also been so much fun.”
Sophomore musical theater major Kylee Smith plays Janet Weiss, the naïve female who, with her fiancé Brad Majors, stumble across a mysterious castle in search of help in the middle of the night, only to fall into the hands, and fate, of the doctor and his wild cohorts.
“Janet is the ingénue who is scared of everything, only to break free in the end,” Smith said. “I love how silly and awkward she is, especially in the beginning because that’s me, too. She has this free spirit at the end breaks free, just like everyone at some point in their lives wants to do. There’s never dull moment in the show — it’s always high energy and with something absurd.”
Junior Samantha Alicandri, also a musical theater major, has taken on the role of Magenta, an antagonist servant at the castle.
“She’s a maid and also an alien, so I have a lot of room to find things within myself,” Alicandri said. “I have to discover a lot of those things because the text is a little different than in the film. With Rocky Horror, I really like that I don’t know what’s going to happen, that nothing is set in stone with this production even though everything is ‘set.’”
Taking a seat and watching the students do a run-through, one gets a real sense of camaraderie and support among the young actors and actresses.
“At other schools and other programs, you might find backstabbing or bad energy,” Smith said. “But not here, everyone cares about one another, and we’re all excited when any of us books a role.”
“A lot of mainstream programs around the country are producing real cookie cutter ensemble, and here each person is completely different,” Alicandri added. “When you hear one of their voices here or see them perform, you know it’s them. This place is going to breed more stars than just people in the background.”
Those sentiments are heartily echoed by Hedberg.
“The musical theater program at WCU is very competitive,” she said. “And it’s such a treat to work with this group because it attracts a serious student who is very disciplined, who wants to be here, and who wants to make a career of this.”
The students have already been preparing for over a month, which actually is longer than usual for a production. But, between ideal props, winter break and other items of consideration, Rocky Horror is a dilemma of sorts that Hedberg and her group figured out.
“Our concept is a presence of whimsy and violence, and if these two things can be together at the same time in our movement, choreography, set design and costumes,” Hedberg said. “We have to always remember that even though they look like humans, they’re aliens, so what would it be like for aliens to come to Earth? And how would they try to fit in or in what ways would they not be able to?”
When asked what will be going through his head on opening night, Drost noted how important it is to reach the audience in very surreal and emotional ways.
“Feeling that palatable energy from a performer is such an overwhelming experience,” he said. “It’s amazing and enlightening for someone to be able to convey that energy, and I want to be able to do that.”
“It’s a show for all ages, for those parents who grew up with it, for those college kids who will come in and have a great time,” Alicandri added. “Every time I hear them sing ‘Dammit Janet,’ I just get so excited and so pumped for how much fun this had been — I can’t wait to show everyone all of our hard work.”
Want to go?
The campy cult classic musical “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19-21 and again at 10:30 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Hoey Auditorium at Western Carolina University. The production is the opening Mainstage series production for the spring semester. Tickets cost $21 for adults, $16 for seniors (age 60 and older), faculty and staff, and $7 for students. The first four rows of seats will also be reserved for audience participation, with special ‘Rocky Horror’ kits available for $5. All proceeds from the participation kits will go the University Players, a student club on campus. 828.227.2479 or www.bardoartscenter.wcu.edu.