Philippe Spurrell has produced the Halloween show for 17 years
Eccentric, kinky, entertaining or over-the-top—whatever you call it, Montreal’s Rocky Horror Picture Show Halloween Ball is hard to forget. You may be familiar with the eponymous cult movie, but perhaps not with the iconic musical Halloween event, which is a challenge to describe.
“It’s one of those things that, when I describe it to people, they still have a puzzled look,” said Philippe Spurrell, who has produced and promoted the show for the last 17 years. “It’s basically the projection on a large screen in a movie theater of the 1975 film Rocky Horror Picture Show with a live cast on stage dressed like the characters that are projected on screen who move in perfect synchronization with actors in the movie,” said Spurrell.
A 40-year old cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show—based on the 1973 musical stage production—is a satirical movie directed by Jim Sharman and starring now well-known actors such as Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon. Spurrell described the movie as a mix between parody and a homage to bad B-rated horror and science-fiction movies. At first it wasn’t a great success but the film eventually became a midnight movie sensation. Now known as having the longest-running theatrical release, the movie is screened all around the world every year. Our local Halloween event is actually the biggest in North America in terms of audience size. However, it has to do with more than just the numbers. “I like to think that we do it on the most spectacular level,“ said Spurrell.
Now boasting a cast of about 40 people, the show is bigger than ever. Circus acts, dance mash-ups and a costume contest hosted by Montreal underground figure Plastik Patrik are programed so as to entertain the audience before the main attraction. In addition,
there are a number of traditions in which the audience interacts with the movie and the performers. So what is so different than just watching the movie at home, you may ask? Actually, a whole lot.
The first important step of this “multimedia interactive film theatrical experience,” as Spurrell put it, is to know where you stand. If you are already familiar with the event, as are countless audience members, chances are that you remember the whole game of callbacks and props.
But if you are not, you happen to be what they affectionately call a “virgin.” Don’t worry, they won’t pry into your private life—well, not much anyway—since it’s just a nickname for people who have never attended the production before. For first-timers, it may feel at first like being at a party where you don’t know any of the people and inside jokes. Still, Spurrell said people should not be put off by this and give it a chance at least once. “It’s really its own kind of beast that you have to be there to really fully understand … To my knowledge there’s no course you can take, [like] Rocky 101, you just dive into it.”
Coming back to the concept of virginity, it can be said that experiencing the show for the first time is quite a lot like other initiations. “Most people’s first time can be absolutely thrilling or awkward,” said Spurrell.
People try this yearly event and then come back to it for an array of reasons. Surely it is a good way to have fun on Halloween, but for many attendees it can be more than that.
Both the movie and the events are intimately connected to the LGBTQ community and what it stands for. As the Rocky Horror Picture Show slogan states, “Don’t dream it, be it.” This can mean a lot of things, said Spurrell, but for some it’s a bit more than just becoming a rock star. While relating to people he talked to during his 17 years of producing the show, he explained that this event can often act as a gateway of sorts for people struggling with their own sexuality—a kind of safe haven where one can feel, at least for one night, a little bit more comfortable in their skin.
“Don’t dream about what you really want in terms of love and whatever, just be it,” said Spurrell. However, he still insisted that it’s also a good place to just have some fun on a night when, let’s say, straight, macho men might feel like wearing high heels and sexy jartelles for a change. “If there’s one context where it’s totally appropriate, this is it,” he said.
Be it for the unusual movie screening, for one hell of a Halloween party or just for the sake of experiencing something new, Montreal’s Rocky Horror Picture Show Halloween Ball offers you three nights where you get to be as unconventional as you want.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show Halloween Ball will be presented at Imperial Cinema on Oct. 29, 30 and 31 with two screenings per nights. A $5 student discount is offered on Thursday, Oct. 29. For tickets and more information, visit rockyhorrormontreal.com.
* The print version of this article stated the author’s name was Robin Stanford, one of The Concordian’s staff writers, however, the correct author ‘s name for this article is Frédéric T. Muckle. We regret the error.