Students & faculty find belonging with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

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Photo by Courtesy of Oriental Theatre Facebook page

Oriental Theatre hosted their showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Oct. 29.

As the lights dim on the inside of a theater, hundreds sit in the audience, silently waiting as a 20th Century Fox logo appears on the screen. As it begins to fade, the silence suddenly breaks, filled by a cacophony of shrill screams echoing throughout the theater: “And God said, ‘Let there be lips!’”

Thus begins the audience participation for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Oriental Theatre, which houses the longest continually running Rocky Horror showing in the world.

Known for its midnight screenings, cult status and in-your-face audience participation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a musical comedy horror movie poking fun at 40’s and 50’s sci-fi B-movies, while focusing on themes of sexual liberation and belonging.

The film had its Halloween showing at the Oriental Theatre this Saturday, Oct. 29, which included a costume contest, “virgin rituals” (for any RHPS newcomers) and plenty of edgy humor. 

Sierra Cruz, a junior in the College of Education, said she was excited to go back to the Oriental Theatre after seeing “Rocky Horror” last year.

“[My roommate and I] decided to go see it for Halloween last year and it was so great seeing everyone in costume, having so much fun and singing along,” Cruz said. “[This year], I’m bringing a couple friends who haven’t seen it at all. It’s an experience that’s almost indescribable how many nuanced things happen and it’s hard to explain to people.”

While Cruz is excited to bring her friends, they said one’s first experience in the theater for “Rocky Horror” can be intimidating.

“The first time you watch [Rocky Horror], it’s completely insane,” Cruz said. “I love that – how it’s just so weird and campy and nonsensical. The sense of weird community, that everyone is here for this weird experience, everyone is just so open and welcome with one another. I haven’t watched it much on my own since I saw it at the Oriental.”

Campy, nonsensical weirdness is no strange sight for self-proclaimed “RHPS superfan” Liz Angeli, associate professor of English at Marquette, who claimed she had seen “Rocky Horror” upwards of 85 times in her life. 

Angeli first saw the film at home in 7th grade and began watching it with her brother in the theater as they got older. She credits the film for being the main reason she ended up finding her closest friends.

“Not to speak for my friends and my brother, but when we met people who liked Rocky Horror, it felt like we’d found our people,” Angeli said. “There are pictures of me with my friends in one of my winter formal dresses with purple fishnets because we were going to ‘Rocky Horror’ afterward.”

One of the biggest pulls to Rocky Horror for Angeli was its “shadow cast,” performers who act out the scenes of the film as they take place on the screen. At Oriental, this group is named “Sensual Daydreams,” in reference to a lyric from the show. For Angeli, they were one of her defining memories of Rocky Horror screenings.

“I had a friend of mine who was in the cast in high school – he was one of the Transylvanians,” Angeli said. “The one time I stayed out past curfew was to hang out with the Sensual Daydreams cast. I didn’t get home until 4:30 in the morning. I woke my parents up when I got home and said ‘I’m safe and I’m home’ and they said ‘Go to bed, we’ve got to wake up and go to church in the morning.’ It was so worth it.”

While many RHPS fans stop at participating from the audience, Annaleigh Vytlacil, the casting director of Sensual Daydreams, takes things to another level by coordinating which actors perform alongside the film on and off stage. 

Vytlacil said seeing the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in a theater is something that shapes who people are.

“[The first time I saw the film it] was life-changing,” Vytlacil said. “I’ll never forget taking everything in. I witnessed different body sizes, proud queer identities, people dressed in drag and every type of costume you could imagine. Every single person that walks in the theater is celebrated for simply being who they are. Does it get much better than that?”

This story was written by Will Eikenbary. They can be reached at [email protected]