A conversation with long-time cast members of Montreal’s annual performances
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has created a culture for itself. People all around the world come together to watch the movie, while performers reenact the film live on stage. The Montreal performances are the biggest in North America, hosted annually at the Imperial Theatre.
We met up with a few cast members, Heidi Rubin and Nick Turnau, a week before the first show of the year. Turnau has been involved with the show for the last 18 years. Although he focuses on the behind-the-scenes elements of the show these days, he has performed as Frank, Riff, Brad and one of the groupies. Rubin is a 19-year veteran of the Montreal production. She fell in love with the movie as a kid and joined the local cast when she was 19. She has performed nearly every role, including Colombia, Janet, Rocky, Riff and Frank.
Q: How were you first introduced to The Rocky Horror Picture Show?
Nick Turnau: Funny you should ask. It’s actually due to the person sitting to my left. We met in CEGEP. I’d seen the film before and was aware of the midnight performances—a sort of weird cult thing that happened or whatever. But we met in an English class. We met ditching an English class to go…
Heidi Rubin: Smoke pot [Laughs].
NT: Smoke pot, and she said, “Hey do you want to come to the Imperial [Theatre] and be part of this thing called The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Do you want to come and check it out?” I said, “Sure!” I ended up being in the show as a groupie [Laughs]. I think there was a dozen of us at that point.
Q: What’s the history of the show in Montreal?
NT: The cult thing started in New York. B-movie houses would play it on a weekly basis. Weird cult fanatics—such as ourselves—would go and get really really into it and involved. That’s how it sort of began. I don’t know exactly when the cult phenomenon started in Montreal. I know, when we signed up, the troope had been doing it for years.
HR: People did it in the Sivel Theatre, which was a theatre back in N.D.G., and they would do midnight showings—I think they did it weekly. Then, the cast before us, they were doing monthly performances. When Phil Spurrell, our producer, came in 20 years ago—so a year after myself—he began producing it because they needed somebody to take it over. He had a lot of experience in the film industry here in Montreal. So he took it over and changed it from a monthly thing to build up the anticipation and turn it into a really big production, the biggest in North America—I kind of believe in the world. It changed the dynamic, going from just once a month.
NT: It starts to become oversaturated once a month. It was far more niche back then.
HR: They didn’t have a cast. It was just random people who would go up.
NT: That’s how the shadow cast started, essentially. It was super-fans dressing up and acting it out.
HR: Montreal is just like any big city—there are so many diverse people here, they come to be in and a part of the show. It’s just been a riot for everyone, especially when I’d seen it back in the day.
Q: When you look at the audience, do you feel like it has changed over the years?
NT: It was more subversive back then. It had a much smaller niche market. It’s changed, but it’s always been great. Sometimes we get families [Laughs].
HR: Do you remember the old lady that would come to every show? She was like 85, and she would be sitting up there [on stage]. Anyway, she was awesome. But I find that when we first started the costume contest, that’s when crazy stuff really happened. It’s out of our control, as people get up on stage and do whatever they can to get the audience going crazy.
NT: Things got out of control [Laughs].
HR: Back then, nobody had a cellphone, so they couldn’t take a video and post it. There were two years when there was a switch-over, and I think a lot of things went online and then people just realized, we can’t do this without having millions of people potentially seeing it. So, the truth is, that there’s a part of it that’s kind of sad. Because of social media, we can’t keep secrets anymore. It’s all consensual for everybody in there, but it doesn’t stay in there anymore. So there’s a bit of a vibe that’s somehow changed.
Q: You’re right Heidi. Some people aren’t comfortable knowing that this may potentially be outing closeted people who don’t want others to know. For them, the show is a safe space.
HR: And that’s what we’re looking for. This is why I’m in the cast—this is the ultimate safe space. It doesn’t matter how weird or straightedge you are; if you’re in the cast, you’re safe. It’s good. And people come to the show because they want to be wild and they want to be crazy and they want to party and let loose, and you’re still in fucking high school, looking over your shoulder thinking, “Who’s going to judge me?” People let go of that when [they’re at the show].
NT: There’s this aspect to it, but at the same time, the ideals that have always been part of Rocky have proliferated so much more. It’s helped us more, and it’s been wonderful to watch what it’s done for us.
The final performances of this year’s edition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show are on Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Photos by Mackenzie Lad