By performing in a show with sexual encounters, high-pitched profanity and a lot of “touch-a touch-a” touching, the actors in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” are removing themselves from their comfort zones — and their clothes — to embrace the taboos most refrain from discussing.
For the students involved in the Macabre Theatre Ensemble at Ithaca College, it’s no big deal. The college’s 27th annual live production of the cult classic will take place Nov. 4–5 in Williams 225.
The Macabre Theatre Ensemble has been a part of the college’s theater community for five years. Senior Sarah Farella said Macabre has created a noncompetitive, less serious environment for performers in a wide range of productions, including the avant-garde and realistic horror.
Farella, co-director of Macabre’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” said acceptance and self-expression, no matter how weird, are attributes commonly associated with the theater group.
“Rocky Horror just fits in so well with our values,”she said.
The show follows the story of a young couple that stumbles into the lair of cross-dressing scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter, originally played by actor Tim Curry. The couple meets some wild characters throughout the mansion, including Frank-N-Furter’s latest creation: a muscular man named Rocky, wearing tiny gold underwear and played by sophomore Jacob Sullivan.
Senior Asa Slayton, who plays Dr. Frank-N-Furter, said performing this role is a dream come true.
“I think he’s such an empowering character because I think the ability just to love yourself and like just walk into a room and everybody notices you and you’re just like confident in everything — I just think is so spectacular,” he said.
Since the show is a musical, there are numbers that add to the plot, such as “Time Warp” and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me.” Farella said the plot includes scandals involving sex and murder that tend to be in-your-face.
“That’s another thing you have to understand with Rocky — it’s very offensive,” she said. “A lot of people that have been in it or seen it say that it’s liberating.”
Farella said that somehow, screaming words like “slut” at the top of a their lungs helps people take back the words from a society that has used them to shame people, breaking the meaning down to make the words less powerful.
“Even though we’re saying these awful things, these might be words that have been said to us before,” Slayton said. “So we’re kind of taking that back.”
The ensemble members, also known as ‘the Pets’, scream out sarcastic, sassy responses to lines or scenes in the movie, usually making fun of the characters. These are known in the RHPS world as callbacks, which are universally used at midnight viewings around the world.
Traditionally, the movie includes callbacks throughout the entire show; however, senior Dan Levine — the other co-director — said he and Farella were concerned about the callbacks overpowering the movie and audience members missing major plot points. As a result, they decreased the number of callbacks used in the show.
Students’ screaming profanity while dressed in lingerie is not a daily occurrence on the college’s campus. A majority of the actors go into the process tentatively, Farella said, removing their clothes only as rehearsals progress.
“As director, my main concern is to make sure everyone feels 100% comfortable,” Farella said.
Though there are separate rehearsals for the main cast and the Pets, Farella said she coordinates group games and icebreakers with her co-director to help the cast members come out of their shells at the beginning of both rehearsals.
“It is easily the most body-positive experience I’ve ever had,” said junior Mia Fairman, a returning Pet character.
Fairman said the cast becomes familial almost immediately and remain friends offstage.
“If you’re running around in a lecture hall yelling really obscene stuff at a movie in your underwear two or three days a week, you get really close to the people that you do that with,” she said.
The show is set up so that the audience is surrounded by the Pets while the main cast performs directly in front of a screen displaying the movie. The cast talks along with the movie playing in the background.
“As a whole, we are the most caring, loving group of people you’ve ever met,” she said. “We become these sexy, raunchy … crazy people … but that’s not who we are.”
Farella said the casting process is “gender-blind” and the main characters, Brad and Janet, are each played by actors of the opposite gender. While the script does not change much, Levine said each actor brings a part of themselves to their part, making the show different each year because the cast is always changing.
Macabre’s Artistic Director, senior Paige Washington, said she has never been in Rocky, but said that it’s a powerful and fun show to do because the plot comprises several topics that aren’t generally discussed, including sexual endeavors and the blatant use of profanity.
“We’re here to embrace the things we don’t talk about and saying that they are okay to talk about,” Washington said. “It begs questions from the audience and that’s all theater is about … asking questions.”
Slayton said his experience playing Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a character who exudes utmost confidence in his sexuality, has helped him accept himself.
“It’s okay that some days I want to wear lipstick or some days I want to dress differently than society would want me to dress,” he said.
Levine said every year people come out of the show in a daze, not knowing what had just happened.
“Somehow it’s just this liberating experience because you’re just so far out of your comfort zone you don’t know where it is — you can’t crawl back in it,” he said.
Farella said audience members may find the idea of stripping down into lingerie in a college lecture hall, strange. However, she said she hopes the audience gains an appreciation for things that are out of the ordinary.
As a senior who has participated in Rocky since her sophomore year, Farella said it has become a tradition in her own life.
“A year without ‘Rocky’ would be crazy,” she said.
On Nov. 4 and 5, the Macabre Theater Ensemble will put on showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at 9 p.m. and midnight on both days. They will be selling tickets at Campus Center from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4.