Queerness, community and Rocky

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




Moving toward more inclusive comedy

Local comedian and performer Tranna Wintour takes the stage as Rocky’s new MC

She knows she has big shoes to fill. When she was asked to be the new MC of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tranna Wintour was both honoured and apprehensive. This is the first time in 10 years that the Montreal show will have a new host.

Wintour is replacing Plastik Patrik, who has been a large part of the Montreal production of Rocky over the last decade. Although she acknowledges that many people have become attached to Patrik’s role in the show, Wintour said she is excited to be a part of the event’s new direction. “I think that goes for all creative fields,” she said. “I think it’s important, even when something works, to push it further or try to make it fresh.”

Wintour applies this philosophy to her comedy as well. She said she is always looking for ways to reinvent her performances, and this show is just another opportunity to do so. Rocky’s audience is the largest crowd Wintour has performed in front of, and the comedian said she is grateful for the opportunity to meet more people and show them her work. Although she didn’t rehearse with the cast, Wintour met them about a week before the  first performance and immediately felt welcomed.

MCing for Rocky also gave Wintour the chance to fall in love with costumes again. “I love Halloween,” she said excitedly before adding that she recently lost interest in wearing costumes. Soon after accepting the role as the host of Rocky, Wintour faced the conundrum of what to wear for the show. By chance, she met local designer Becca Love, who offered to dress Wintour. Love creates handmade, gender-neutral, cruelty-free clothing, which immediately piqued Wintour’s interest. “I’m excited to showcase her work,” the comedian said.

Wintour stands at centre stage surrounded by the cast of this year’s production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Photo by Maggie Hope.

Wintour received the offer to be the show’s new MC after being recommended to the producers last year by a number of people familiar with her comedy. Wintour hosts several of her own shows and has been gradually establishing herself as a comedic force within Montreal’s scene for a number of years. She hosts a bi-weekly series called Trannavision, where she and other local comedians hold movie screenings and provide light-hearted live commentary. She is also part of a monthly collaborative comedy show series called Stand Back, which features feminist, LGBTQ+ comedy acts in an effort to combat the homophobic, sexist and offensive humour that is often present in mainstream comedy.

“I really believe, now more than ever, in the power of the performing arts and live performance, because I feel like it’s one of the few things that really gets people together face-to-face,” Wintour said. “It’s easy to argue with people online and take things out of context, but when you’re face-to-face with someone, it’s a much more human and real experience. I feel like that’s where a deeper level of communication happens.”

The comedian added that she wants to use her comedic platform as a way to unify and uplift people, especially in today’s social and political climate. “To offer, in some small way, some kind of comfort and escape. At the same time, we have to be vigilant and present, and we can’t ignore anything that’s going on,” she said. “But I think we also need some time to breathe a little bit and experience some kind of collective joy.”

In addition to providing much needed breathing room, Wintour said she hopes her work can be the spur for a more aware and attentive era in the world of comedy. The events she organizes and takes part in are all in an effort to make audience members feel safe, but also to have them leave with a deeper understanding of the importance of acceptance. “I think comedy has to be powerful, and I think comedy has to say something. I really believe that you can say something and be funny without having to be abusive,” Wintour said. “I don’t think that when comedy is considerate that it’s any less edgy.”

The final run of this year’s edition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is on Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. The next Trannavision event will be a screening of Death Becomes Her (1992) at Psychic City at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2. The third installment of Stand Back: A Comedy Hour will be on Nov. 14 at Notre-Dame-des-Quilles from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets for the latter two events are $5 at the door.

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins


Rocky Horror’s fabulous legacy

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 


Give yourself over to absolute pleasure

Even without seeing the movie, almost everyone knows how to dance to the time warp.

If you’re unfamiliar, however, there’s still time to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show, brush up on your dance skills and buy tickets for the much-anticipated annual Halloween Ball.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become a cult classic since its initial release in 1975.

In honour of this cult classic, hundreds of people will strut to the Imperial theatre on Oct. 26, 27 and 31 to flaunt what they’ve got while worshipping pure decadence.

Not to be confused with the stage play, The Rocky Horror Show, the Halloween Ball projects the feature film The Rocky Horror Picture Show onto a screen while actors simultaneously mimic the action in the movie. Audience participation isn’t just encouraged, it’s expected. That means singing along, shouting out callbacks and throwing props around at the appropriate moments. If you forget your props at home, then $5 bags of newspaper, toilet paper, playing cards, and toast are offered in the lineup. This also helps fund the otherwise unpaid cast and crew.

But before the big event, there is a costume contest like no other where winners are primarily determined by who has the most catcalls by the end. Appreciation for creative costumes is extended not only to contest participants, but to all who dress up.

When asked for advice on what to wear, first-year cast member Robyn Barnes said, “While it’s entirely up to you how to dress, we love to see you all decked out in lingerie – especially the guys. Go all out,” she added, “because we definitely will.”

Indeed, it seems most people follow this same advice because never at one time will you see so many people dressed in drag while braving bitter October weather. Keep your eye out for the fire juggler in the thong unitard though, because he’ll warm you up if you start to shiver in your fishnets.

Even if you’ve been before, there’s always something new to see.

“I think we’ve got a really strong cast this year,” said Concordia’s Davina Guttman of the classics department, and second-time cast member. “Every year we try and make it better than the last.”

For those who haven’t experienced the sensual spectacle of unbridled hedonism, it’s an essential part of the Halloween experience.

As Barnes puts it, “It’s more than a show, it’s a party that everyone gets to be a part of.”

So give yourself over to absolute pleasure, as Rocky’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter puts it, and we’ll see you there.

Tickets for both the 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. shows are on sale at Cruella, 63 Mont Royal E. and Boutique le Quizz, 1500 Atwater, for $17.95 in advance or $19.95 at the door. Halloween-dedicated students get a $5 discount on the 31. But be warned they go fast!

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