TheaterMania U

(Inter)Acting in The Rocky Horror Show

Alexa Doggett ponders the ways involving the audience affects the onstage action.

To (Inter)Act or not to (Inter)Act?
To (Inter)Act or not to (Inter)Act?

If you have been reading my blog entries from the last few weeks, you may already know that I am currently in Coastal Carolina’s production of The Rocky Horror Show playing the roles of Usherette and Magenta. In addition to our regular two weekends of 7:30 performances, we scheduled two extra 11:00pm performances on the first Saturday and second Friday that are what we are calling “interactive.” Because all of our performances sold out, we have added an extra show for the final Saturday night so we can go out with a real bang!

If you are familiar with The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the cult classic movie adaption of the stage musical), you are probably aware that there are different call outs, gestures, sayings, etc. that accompany the film. People gather in droves at midnight showings of the movie all over the world where shadow casts of super fans reenact what’s happening on the screen behind them. Although the stage show, which many people are surprised to discover actually came first, is not the same as the movie, there are enough similarities that we encourage audience participation at these late night events.

In addition to the well-known bits of dialogue that get shouted out, there are also accompanying goodie bags that always go with the films. Upstage- our student run theater organization- created and sold the bags for $5. Although fans of the movie won’t be able to throw rice or squirt water pistols (we dance way too much to risk that slippage!) they still received a bag with:

-Glowsticks (very Rock of Ages)
-Rubber Gloves

And more- plus… a lollipop (“just in case you need to suck on something”). If you never participated in a Rocky viewing, I will try not to spoil what most of these are used for, but they go hand in hand with the show. We have found that many people also brought their own goodie bags, which is encouraged for the most part.

This phenomenon brought me to some interesting thoughts. After our first late night performance last Saturday, my mind was blown. I have performed in shows with great audiences before, but never have I had so much energy and interaction with an audience. Normally shows aren’t allowed to be like that. When you go to the theater, you applaud in your seats. You may stand and cheer on occasion, but you don’t yell “Where’s your neck?!” every time the narrator walks on stage or throw playing “cards for sorrow and cards for pain” at actors when the lyrics to a specific song are sung. As an actor, it was both thrilling and scary. How do I acknowledge the audience like that without completely breaking character? It’s still a fine line that I have not 100% defined.

Obviously, we as actors on stage can hear what the audience is saying. The question becomes, can the characters? I think in a show like Rocky Horror you just have to believe that they can. Whether it makes sense or not, there’s no way you can let that one guy who won’t stop blowing bubbles in “Over at the Frankenstein Place” keep going without shooting him a smirk or quick glare. That’s not out of the ordinary for Magenta.

The show begins with a quick pre-curtain speech from our wonderful director, Robin Russell. At the last late night show, she added a little extra something: “Now for all of your movie fans out there, I just want to remind you that this is the stage show. These are live actors out here, and they are really singing and dancing and acting. And these students are my babies. So… don’t screw with them.” The mama bear spoke, and the people listened. The crowd was absolutely wild, but also incredibly respectful.

We adjusted the show only slightly from what it usually is to tip our hat to the iconic film- because we had to. Although the stage show came first, the movie is what made it a cult classic, and without it’s fame we wouldn’t be playing to completely sold out audiences- and we certainly wouldn’t have a chance to experience the magic of these interactive late night shows. Although a lot of caffeinated tea is needed to belt at 1am, The Rocky Horror Show has been the most thrilling theatrical experience of my life, and it will be hard to see it end. But we have four more shows (in two days!) and I am ready to (inter)act like hell.

I’d be really interested to know if anyone else has participated in something like this before? Even if not, what are your opinions on interacting with the audience? Feel free to post below!