Back in the early 2000’s, I was on a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and with Halloween right around the corner, this is a great time to follow through on my promise to post something about it.
RHPS is well-known for its midnight shows with audience participation, often with casts like mine performing as the characters while the movie plays in the background. The antics of the cast vary between different groups, in part based on whether they do an all-ages or 18+ show, but most of the core callbacks remain much the same no matter where you go. After 40 years, the movie, fandom, and midnight showings are still going strong.
I was around 18 or 19 years old when my friends started upping their encouragement towards me to join our local RHPS cast. Many of my friends were current or past cast members, and the rest of us tried to make it to as many of the bi-weekly shows as possible. I was excited by the idea, but unconvinced I could pass an audition. I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to even try.
At that age, I was just starting to come into my own in many ways – as an adult, as a woman, as bi-sexual, and indeed as a sexual being at all. I wasn’t new to sex per se, but the idea that I was an attractive young woman? After years of being the quiet, shy one in school this was an exciting and dare I say empowering experience for me. My time in Army training had certainly helped me grow and gain confidence in some ways, but definitely not in those!
Luckily, this group of friends and cast members was full of people I could trust and feel comfortable with. We were mostly what we liked to call “gothgeeks.” We shared both a love of “geeky” pursuits like gaming and computers, and also a sort of free-flowing non-stereotypically-gloomy goth aesthetic. What I loved most, and remember best to this day, was the sense of welcome and openness. We were just as welcoming to the guy in the back wearing fishnets, as we were to the girl over there wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It seems like groups who revel in the idea of being “different” often look down on more “normal” folks, but thankfully I can’t recall this ever being the case for us.
We were a varied group in other ways, as well. From heterosexual and monogamous to pansexual and polyamorous, and everything in between. (Safe) sex was generally seen as something healthy for any consenting adults. It’s really no wonder so many of us found our way into the RHPS fandom, and loved it from the moment we did.
I initially auditioned for the part of Columbia. She had the benefit of being a major character without having more screentime than I thought I could handle. Plus, she’s just plain fun! To my surprise, not only did I pass my audition, they asked me to play Janet instead. I was equal parts excited and nervous about this, but after encouragement I decided to go for it.
I am so very glad I did. I loved every Brad I played opposite of, and after adjusting found that I rather liked the spotlight. Janet is an interesting character in many ways, as she goes from innocent to not-so-innocent. Even in a shadowcast, it matters that the actor can convey both aspects. Eventually I started performing as Trixie (preshow) more often as well.
Being on cast was a lot of work, don’t get me wrong there. At the time, our stage director was very interested in screen accuracy. Every costume piece had to be as accurate as possible. Every action and movement was practiced over and over. (Not all casts worry so much about perfect screen accuracy, and I hear my old cast has relaxed about that aspect over the years and with changes in the cast and crew.)
I’m not at all ashamed to admit I can still do a good chunk of the choreography and blocking while watching the movie, depending on the day. Some of it’s been burned into my muscle memory for good. I can say the same about the callbacks, though I likely would have learned those just from being a regular audience member.
Eventually, I had to move away from the area. I started performing as The Criminologist since it’s a less demanding role, though I continued to occasionally perform as Trixie. I rather enjoyed playing Crim, but the commute for rehearsals and shows eventually became too much to keep up. I left cast on good terms, but it’s still a shame I had to.
There is one thing I question when I look back, though, and that is some of the callbacks. As one example, while I was performing I was perfectly fine with the traditional callback whenever Janet appears – “SLUT!!!” It seemed no worse than shouting “ASSHOLE!!!” at Brad, and the tradition of it was enjoyable. The cast and my friends were perfectly sex-positive, so surely it’s just a joke?
Except now, I do wonder about how it feeds into some wider cultural problems with how the sexuality of women is perceived. Janet isn’t chastised for being a jerk, like Brad, but because of her sexual choices. It doesn’t “offend” me now, before anyone starts throwing that around. Part of growing up is examining how our words and actions connect to the world at large. And I wonder if that callback isn’t a bit at odds with the rest of the “Don’t dream it, be it,” theme.
In any case, my time on cast was marvelous fun and I’m lucky to still be friends with most of my old cast members. Performing as Janet gave me confidence in a realm I’d previously been too shy for (the whole being-on-stage thing) and helped me discover myself as a sexual human being in a safe and supportive atmosphere. Callbacks aside, the RHPS fandom is based on it being ok to be who you are, which can be a very good thing to be surrounded by.
These happy memories are also what leads me to bring RHPS into my gaming when I can…