A production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a fond Halloween tradition at Goucher done year after year. This past October’s production was special, being the first fully live and in-person production of the show at Goucher in two years.
The show is an adapted theater performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), a musical-comedy-horror film. The movie plays on a screen and on the stage below, cast members passionately lip-synch their lines and songs while energetically reenacting the movie’s scenes.
After arriving at the show on Halloween night, the last showing, I was astounded to see the line was almost out the door. I was even more surprised after entering Merrick Lecture Hall to see the size of the crowd, leaving almost no empty seats fifteen minutes before the show was scheduled to start. The Goucher community was clearly excited to support Rocky’s return.
The opening act before the Rocky performance began included members of Goucher’s dance program, who did a fantastic job ramping up the energy in the crowd with a flirtatious and enchanting dance number to Beyoncé’s Dance for You.
A disclaimer was given at the beginning of the performance regarding transphobic content in the show as well as instances of sexual assault, in order to provide a safe and informed viewing experience for all. Additionally, during said scenes of sexual assault, a cast member circled the stage holding a sign that read, “This is NOT consent.”
The nature of the show typically invites the audience to be loud and interact with cast members, differing from more traditional notions of theater etiquette. Members of the crowd are encouraged to sing along as well as adlib phrases and cheeky remarks about the actions of the story’s characters, bringing a fun, communal aspect to the viewing experience.
The show’s appearance in Merrick lecture hall allowed for a tightly packed, intimate setting, appropriate for the conversational dynamics between cast and audience. However, Covid safety was not a priority.
With the school’s current mask optional policy, enforcing masking or social distancing in such a small space is mostly out of the Rocky production team’s hands. However, the flyers advertising the show stated that masks are “recommended,” but there was only a small fraction of audience members masked on closing night.
It’s important that spaces be accessible for all, including disabled and immunocompromised people. Due to varying comfort levels regarding Covid safety and rising cases, designating a section of the seating as socially distanced or mask-mandatory could have helped Covid cautious people feel more welcome and comfortable in the space.
Historically, and despite the film’s content, Rocky is known to be a queer space and part of queer culture wherever it is performed. Despite this, there was a notable cisgender-heterosexual male presence in the crowd, which differed from my experience seeing past Goucher productions of Rocky. This presence changed the interactive and queer atmosphere usually expressed in the shows. Cast member Cam Mackay-Smith said that this cis-het presence put his fellow cast members on edge.
In past productions there has been a ban list in place containing the names of Goucher students who the Rocky cast and crew deem unfit for viewing due to past alleged actions or behavior. These students were barred from viewing the show. In the past, this list has been essential to the comfort of cast members due to the revealing costumes and sex being a core theme of the show’s narrative.
Sources within the production say this year there was no list in place due to the decisions of outside officials deeming it unfair.
“We didn’t find out about it [the revocation of the ban list] until a couple days before the show.” said Mackay-Smith.
According to Mackay-Smith, late news of the list being pulled was no fault of the directors, who notified the cast the day they learned of this change. He praised the cast for how they pulled together to support one another in light of this news.
Despite the obstacles, the cast performed confidently, boldly and with heart, providing the Goucher community with a lively return to this treasured Halloween tradition.
The Quindecim is currently investigating the removal of the ban list. Please stay tuned for followup information.
Feature image of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” film cast courtesy of AMC Theaters.