Sarah Marmon ’14 saw the film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the first time the summer after graduating from high school. Unlike many first-time “Rocky” viewers (or “virgins,” as they are known among the film’s cult following), Marmon first encountered the movie not at a midnight theater showing but at home. She was vaguely aware of the colorful audience subculture surrounding the 1975 British musical/comedy/horror film, but it never occurred to her to attend a shadow cast performance, a live performance of the movie acted out by amateurs in front of an actual screening of the film.
Until she came to Wesleyan, that is. During the first semester of her freshman year, Marmon, intrigued by Rocky’s spirited community, auditioned for the student reenactment company and became a cast member. She said she found the shadow cast performances, which take place at midnight on the last day before finals week each semester, to be exhilarating, and that she felt at home in the vibrant, diverse Rocky family.
During her sophomore year, Marmon began directing the performances, which she has done every semester since, while continuing to act in the shows. In December, she’ll play Janet Weiss, the movie’s main heroine and the fiancée of sexually confused Brad Majors.
Unlike more conventional theater productions at the University, whose creative teams can include a lighting designer and an assistant stage manager, “Rocky” is traditionally a lower-scale operation. Marmon’s directorial duties include securing the rights to the show, casting it, and scheduling rehearsals. The model works because “Rocky” screenings require no lighting and very few props. But that’s not to say directing work isn’t stressful.
“I have to go to the people who own the rights,” Marmon said. “I have to request money [from] the SBC for the costumes. I mean, it’s an important part of the show, but at the same time, I’d prefer to focus more on the directing side of it.”
Marmon relies on Bianca Treto ’14, the show’s costume designer, to lighten the load. Treto works at the Wesleyan Costume Shop and has organized the costumes for “Rocky Horror” since her freshman year, in addition to acting in the show.
Treto looks for outfits that are similar to those shown in the movie, but she values the actors’ comfort above all else. While it’s important that the cast members look like the characters they represent, Treto noted that “Rocky Horror” allows for less strict interpretations of costumes than traditional theater.
“[In most shows,] they have to be more precise—exactly what their costume designer wants—and those take a little more time and precision,” Treto said. “But with ‘Rocky Horror,’ it’s more fun. It’s more loose. I get to have my own creative input into what goes onto the actors.”
While most of the “Rocky” costumes come fairly close to the real deal, Treto said that she’s had to get creative in the past. When she couldn’t find anything in the costume shop resembling the quilted gold space suits that Riff Raff and Magenta wear at the end of the movie, for example, she reinterpreted them by sewing similar costumes out of gold fabric.
Another challenge Treto faces when dressing the actors is that many of their costumes entail garments originally designed for the opposite gender. Dr. Frank-n-Furter, for example, who at the beginning of the film describes himself as a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania,” dons a corset and garter belt. This can make fittings tricky.
“We have some pretty tall guys, and the clothes are fit for women,” Treto said. “But we make it work.”
Rocky culture is well-known for defying social norms and partaking in what Marmon called “genderfucking.” Marmon said she took a gender-flexible approach to casting the show and was more concerned with the actors’ ability to channel their characters’ personalities.
“Basically, we were just looking for the people who are going to be acting as the characters to act like the characters,” she said. “We’re not looking so much for body doubles or gender matching.”
According to Treto, the liberal attitude of Rocky culture may very well be what attracts its cult following. For her, “Rocky” is a way to relax in a safe, accepting environment.
“For me, personally, it’s something to loosen up with, and I think that goes for a lot of people,” she said. “It’s very risqué. It’s not something that you would want to go around in public and every day be doing.”
Young people may also be drawn to the “Rocky Horror” subculture because of its emphasis on inside jokes and audience participation. While many “Rocky Horror” showings involve throwing items at the screen during particular segments of the movie (rice during a wedding scene, for instance), the Wesleyan “Rocky” community abstains from this for practical reasons.
“Screens are expensive,” Marmon said.
Still, the University’s “Rocky” attendees should expect to witness “callbacks,” or loud responses to dialogue by in-the-know audience members. When Brad Majors introduces himself for the first time, the crowd screams, “Asshole!” Correspondingly, when Janet introduces herself, the crowd calls out, “Slut!”
The cast also encourages a handful of Wesleyan-specific callbacks. In classic “Rocky Horror” showings, before Brad Majors delivers the line, “Uh, it’s probably some kind of hunting lodge for rich weirdos,” the audience calls, “Describe the White House!” At Wesleyan, the callback changes to, “Describe Psi U!”
Marmon and Treto also mentioned the existence of a few President Michael Roth-related callbacks, although they declined to discuss specifics. They were clear, however, that the “Rocky” atmosphere is meant to be lighthearted and inviting.
“It’s…all in good fun,” Marmon said. “We make fun of people, but in a not-too-harsh way.”