The ICC auditorium is many things—including my final resting place after attending government department trivia—but rarely is this venue described as anything resembling “sexy.” All that changed, however, on the evenings of Friday, April 14 and Sunday, April 16 as the auditorium seats filled with spectators eagerly awaiting the annual shadow cast production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. As the movie plays behind them, the live cast lip-synchs and dances simultaneously, asking the audience to embrace the bizarre revelry of Transsexual, Transylvania. On these two nights, the ICC became a haven for a half-naked rendition of the cult classic, rounded off by audience participation throughout the two-hour-long performance.
“I think it really is about queer chaos, but it’s also about joy and resistance,” Leah Miller (CAS ’23), the show’s producer, told the Voice. “There’s something so silly and so beautiful, but also really powerful, about watching someone shake around a pitchfork with three dildos on it in the ICC auditorium.”
Rocky Horror is a 1973 horror-comedy musical written by Richard O’Brien, and the screenplay for the 1975 film adaptation was co-written by O’Brien and director Jim Sharman. Rocky Horror has since become a cult icon, and the show’s prominent themes of sexual liberation and expression have made it a favorite among queer communities. It has become a staple among Georgetown’s queer students since shadow casts began in fall 2018, giving the largely queer cast an opportunity to build community while expressing their sexuality.
“It’s something that I feel extremely connected to because it’s queer without apology,” Olivia Yamamoto (CAS ’24), director of this year’s production, said. “It’s just silly. There’s representations of trans and queer people, but there’s also aliens.”
Viewing and performing such an unabashedly queer film is also an act of resistance itself, especially in light of Rocky Horror’s being banned in some states. “Rocky Horror does not exist in a vacuum, but it is about queer revolution, and that revolution only means so much as long as you’re extending it into your day-to-day practice,” Miller said. In celebrating open and unreserved expressions of sexuality and freedom, Rocky Horror defies newly enacted legislation seeking to censure or erase queer expressions and identities. The show’s audacious depiction of queerness counters this by making one thing clear: Queer people are here and completely visible.
Rocky Horror begins with a newly engaged couple, Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), looking for a phone after their car breaks down. They stumble into a remote castle in Transsexual, Transylvania, and the owner Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) introduces himself through the song “Sweet Transvestite.” “Frank” is surrounded by fellow Transylvanians who sport tiny top hats, white lapels, and large, ridiculous sunglasses—all shadowed by Rocky Horror’s live cast in only their underwear, dancing along. After being stripped down to their underwear themselves, Brad and Janet are led into a laboratory where Frank has made a costume change into a lab coat to unveil Rocky (Peter Hinwood), a muscular man with blond hair and blue eyes, wearing only a golden brawn thong. The plot continues nonsensically from there, and my best efforts to describe it will fail to communicate the magic of seeing it performed with a live shadow cast—but that’s because the show is not about the plot.
More than anything, Rocky Horror is about self-acceptance, a sentiment immediately exposed to the audience. Upon entry, anyone who has not seen a live shadow cast performance is marked with a red “V” on their forehead to signal they are a Rocky Horror virgin, and the show starts with an extensive foreplay of “virgin sacrifices” to prepare the new audience. Everyone recites the show’s pledge in unison, with one hand on their asses à la the Pledge of Allegiance, a sign of respect to the show (and to their asses). All of the show’s virgins then scream their best fake orgasm, after which Miller hoped that no one would ever again fake an orgasm, saying, “You deserve better.” The Transylvanians then randomly select audience members to participate in a twerking contest.
For some, this induction into the world of Rocky Horror is disorientating, but it’s also intentionally shocking to spotlight themes of freeing oneself from the expectations of keeping sexuality and pleasure hidden. “[The show] is about building confidence and empowerment,” a cast member told the Voice on the condition of anonymity. “Getting up on stage in corsets and tights and garters and fishnets definitely is a challenging thing to do, and it’s not something people are confident to do.”
Facing total visibility, however, allows people to celebrate themselves within an appreciative community, often a departure from more repressive environments like high schools and hometowns, particularly when it comes to open queerness and body image. “The environment is so friendly and welcoming, and supportive enough to make people who maybe don’t feel as good about themselves to get better and feel more confident in front of a hundred or more people,” the cast member said.
Because Rocky Horror holds so much significance at Georgetown, those involved are committed to continuing the tradition. Though usually put on close to Halloween, the show was delayed until the spring due to the lack of volunteers for the strenuous—and unpaid—role of director.
“I stepped up into the position, not because I had the time and bandwidth to do it, but because no one stepped up to do it in the fall and I didn’t want this tradition to die,” Yamamoto said. “It would be just such a loss for the Georgetown community if we lost this, admittedly, very silly show and outrageously erotic spectacle.”
Tackling this provocative show, though daunting, made the long-awaited return of Rocky Horror as hilarious and fun as it has always been. To all the show’s virgins out there, next year is your moment to take things to the next level, be it as a member of the cast, crew, or audience—in the words of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, “Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.”