A look at Montreal’s renditions of the cult classic and what it means to the city
Towards the end of September, I walked into The Concordian’s office, first to arrive at our Friday pitch meeting, to find a large envelope on the floor that was addressed to me. Thinking I had deeply upset someone, I anxiously opened the envelope, emptying the contents on the table. Out spilled several papers, one of them labeled “WHAT TO BRING: TOAST, WATER GUNS … NO RICE.” Another showed illustrated instructions for the Time Warp dance. This was my invitation to the The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I am not unfamiliar with the spectacle, but since I had never seen the live performance, I was riddled with excitement. Autumn is a strange time of the year, sometimes heatwave and sometimes freezing, but one constant remains: Rocky Horror. Posters litter the streets, every lamppost and every café. This was it, this was the year I was finally going to see the live show I had heard so much about. Not long after, I found out there are not one, but two live performances. “What’s the deal?” I asked myself. “Why does Montreal love Rocky Horror so much?”
Two weeks ago, I found myself walking up a narrow staircase above Segal’s Market on St-Laurent Blvd. The Mainline Theatre wasn’t what I expected; it was homey. People of all ages bedazzled with feather boas, wigs, fishnets and a lot of glitter waited impatiently in a line filling the entire lobby.
The theatre was small. On three sides, the room was lined with rows of elevated seats facing the performance area in the centre. Out came the usheress, beginning the show with a fantastic musical number. With a run time of 120 minutes, the performance was longer than the film itself and featured amazing numbers and raunchy call backs. My favourite scene was when the newly engaged conservative couple’s strange night began.
Elyann Quessy, as Janet, and Adrian MacDonald, playing Brad, got into a car completely formed by the bodies of the phantom dancers, with Kiah Ellis-Durity at the head, planking for the duration of the scene. When Ellis-Durity first experienced Rocky Horror at the age of 16, she was empowered by Frank-N-Furter’s words: “Don’t dream it, be it.” They made her realize she could achieve more than she ever imagined. To her, Rocky Horror is the embodiment of sexual liberation and self-confidence.
First-timer Yannick Victor had never seen the film, he only knew of the production in passing from posters on the streets and the one scene in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Victor was simply baffled by the name: Rocky. Horror. Picture. Show. Words that are recognized all over the world, but what do they mean? “I think that very confusion, that inability to put this cult event/show/ritual/performance thing into a box is what it’s about,” Victor said. “There’s a clear link for me now between Rocky Horror not fitting into a neat little category and the gender fluidity of the characters.”
Montreal’s second version of the picture show is held at the Imperial Theatre. At The Rocky Horror Picture Show Halloween Ball, a shadow cast acts alongside a screening of the original film. The audience is encouraged to dress up and interact with the cast, spraying water and throwing toilet paper, newspaper and toast at specific points during the screening.
“Honestly, sometimes I wish I actually got hit with the toast,” admitted performer Hannah Miller. “Seeing the crowd having so much fun, playing and being free like kids, is really beautiful. It is the strangest way to build community, but it really works.”
Ten years ago, Miller was introduced to the show by Heidi Rubin, who plays Frank-N-Furter in the Montreal production. Miller joined the cast as an assistant and played Eddie the following year. Miller has been playing “Montreal’s favourite asshole,” Brad Majors, ever since.
This year, Concordia student Zynor Majeed played Rocky. He has been part of the cast for six years and has played various roles. According to Majeed, the ball is much more “extravagant and campy” than any other production he has been part of, which is one of the reasons he loves doing it.
“It’s an event that is difficult to describe,” the performer admitted. ”You can never truly have expectations. It isn’t your conventional play or movie screening, and I think events that give audiences an experience they have likely never had before reasonably get them excited.” Rocky Horror, Majeed added, “has given me a space to explore my sexuality and identity.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a rule-breaker, and there is antici… pation that its audience and performers will be too. It remains a curious cultural phenomenon that permits the audience to behave in ways that would be severely frowned upon at any other film screening, and brings together different generations through love and queerness.
Graphics by @spooky_soda