Arts and Culture Student Life Theatre

The Rocky Horror Picture Show returns to Concordia!

FASA teamed up with CAST to put on a smashing live production of the legendary 1975 film.

Stilted dialogue, heavy makeup, fishnets, cheap wigs, sequences, musical numbers that just grasp the right keys, and dialogue so stiff it might crumble if you take it too seriously—nearly 50 years after its original release, the musical comedy tribute to science fiction films of the 30s and B movies from the late 40s to early 70s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show returns to Concordia for another year. 

To celebrate the excellent shadow performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show from Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) x Concordia Association of Student in Theatre (CAST) on Oct. 27, we will journey into a brief history of the film and how it became a cult classic to screen and perform every year on Halloween. Indeed, not despite, but rather because of the glorious gender-bending oddities of this film, Rocky Horror is a cultural powerhouse.

CAST actors reenacted Tthe Rocky Horror Picture Show. Courtesy of CAST. Photos by Ian McCormack and Kaleigh Wiens.

Originally titled They Came from Denton High, Richard O’Brien began work on a busy script to keep himself occupied between gigs. Something of an homage to his childhood of science fiction, rock and roll, B movies, and struggles with sexual identity, O’Brien eventually shared the script with theatre director Jim Sharman who saw the play’s potential and reserved a space in London’s Royal Court Theatre for O’Brien to bring the show to life. The original runtime was a mere 40 minutes, but the cast was more concerned with fun than phenomenal success. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show originally premiered in a small 60-seat venue, but quickly moved onto larger venues in London. The musical comedy horror caught the attention of Ode Records owner Lou Adler, who, charmed by the unique and campy heart of the performance, decided to purchase the U.S. theatrical rights to the show. He and film producer Michael White loved the musical so much that they wanted it adapted for the silver screen. 20th Century Fox did not share this faith, and gave the project a small budget of $1.6 million and six weeks to film. 

The film was finished without much oversight from the studio, and premiered at the UA Westwood Theatre in L.A in September 1975. The studio claimed that many of the people attending the sold-out shows were repeat offenders, but other test screenings received poor reviews from critics and general audiences. The national release was quickly cancelled, but the film continued screening at the Waverly Theatre (now called the IFC Center), an arthouse theatre specializing in midnight shows to salvage some money. 

From here, The Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings became, and continue to be, something of a festival. Adoring fans return screening after screening, year after year, making friends with other loyal fans of the mesmerizing dialogue and cues. This has led to the creation of a community who gathered around this film to celebrate and lovingly mock its quirks. Eventually, this has also evolved into playful heckling—for which the film is perhaps best known—as fans shout at the screen to mock the film, dialogue, and characters. 

The heckling tradition began with Louis Fariz yelling “Buy an umbrella you cheap bitch” to Janet, played by Susan Saradon, as she held a newspaper over her head as a shield from the rain. This became a culture of quick quips and other funny remarks intended to get a laugh out of the audience. Next, fans began dressing up like the film’s characters and eventually shadow-acting the film underneath the stage. Word quickly spread about the spectacle of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and midnight screenings popped up across the United States and into other countries, as many were interested to experience the antics and freedom of a film, experience, and community that centres personal expression and provides an opportunity to explore a new side of your gender and sexuality.

CAST actors reenacted Tthe Rocky Horror Picture Show. Courtesy of CAST. Photos by Ian McCormack and Kaleigh Wiens.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show creates a space to challenge social norms, to explore gender and sexual identities, and to find a community who accepts you regardless of the shade of cheap red lipstick kissing your lips. The film is the ritual, the film is the community. The film was put on wonderfully by FASA and CAST, and I recommend you catch it next year.


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 

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