An Inside Look: The Making of Rocky Horror Shadow Cast
Follow me on a journey, and learn how Riveting Productions makes Rocky Horror come to life.
You can’t talk about Halloween without mentioning the classics: Hocus Pocus, Halloween, The Nightmare Before Christmas, just to name a few. Among these is the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show.
So when Jordan Vincer, co-founder of Riveting Productions came to me in the summer of 2016 with the idea of a shadow cast, I could not refuse. I knew that this would be a show like no other, being the first Shadow Cast in Newfoundland, and definitely one of the coolest local events around Halloween.
What is a “Shadow Cast”?
Rocky Horror Picture Show is notorious for their “shadow casts” that happen all over the world, all year round. A shadow cast is a performance of the show, but the actors stand in front of the movie, which is being projected on the wall behind them, mimicking the actors thus becoming their “shadows”. This also includes lots of fun for the audience, as they get to participate in the action. Participation can include using water guns when it rains, throwing toast and rice at the wedding, and using noisemakers at all the party scenes. The main idea is to bring the movie to life, which allows the audience to interact. (So if you don’t want to be licked… maybe don’t go?)
Developing the Show
But there was a lot of things we had to decide first, to make sure the experience was perfect. First, we needed to decide a venue which, in our case, was one of the most important factors in planning this show. We knew we couldn’t have it in a regular theatre; for this to work, we needed a wide open space with a projector. Jordan and I went to the Johnson Geo Centre randomly one day for a visit, and we fell in love with the stars and the planets all hanging from the ceiling, giving off the spookiest ambience ever. Jordan turned to me and said, “We should do Rocky here”, and I agreed. We came back the next day and signed on for our venue.
Then, of course, we had the casting. There was a lot of skepticism in the auditions because many people thought this show was going to be an easy acting task, and not really up to some people's level of expertise. We all soon realized how hard this show would be for the actors. The acting in a shadow cast is very strict, and you have to have experienced actors to be able to recreate the movie… in front of the movie, all by using audio clues as to what is happening behind you. You cannot create your own emotions on stage; you have to live and breathe whomever you are playing, exactly as the actor played them.
We were lucky enough to get some absolute superstars, including Kristen Murray as Columbia, Julianne Meaney as Janet Weiss, Liam Robbins as Brad Majors, Chris Langdon as Riff Raff, Elizabeth Hicks as Magenta, and of course, David Green as Frank n Furter. Along with a stacked group of Transylvanians, and our fearless choreographer Brooke Steinhauer, we knew we had the perfect group to go forward with the project.
Directing this show was a beast. The amount of props needed was almost overwhelming, and taking a 2D movie and placing it in a 3D world, while trying to withhold the magic of the movie was no easy task. It took a lot of fooling around and experimenting to finally find a set directing and blocking style that would work best. We worked endlessly timing movements to music and organizing exits and entrances that we didn’t know even existed at the Geo Centre space. Our team didn’t mind the hard work, they enjoyed what they were doing, and believed in our vision, so we sailed through.
On With the Show
Show day came, and we were nervous. We didn’t know if this show would translate to a St. John’s audience, and because it was the first shadow cast performance, would people “get it”? We rented a U-Haul, drove our massive prop bags and costumes and sets to the Geo Centre, where we had about 2 hours to make magic happen. This included reblocking for the space, going through all the numbers, and setting up the screen. We didn’t panic too much, because we knew we had the right people on the job. We worked hard through the night until it was finally time to let in the audience. In our surprise, it was a sold-out audience of 150, with people wanting to get in and buy tickets at the door if anyone didn’t show up.
The show started, and the crowd went wild, and during "The Time Warp" everyone got out of their seats and danced and grooved, and then I held my breath for the big moment when David as Frank came down in the big glass elevator behind the screen. We had just added it in that day, and I didn’t know how it was going to go, but David insisted that he wanted to do it. As the music slowed after the "Time Warp", we listened, and as soon as he was in sight, the crowd roared and people went crazy, a swell of pride came over me, and that’s the moment I said to myself ,“We have to do this every year”.
So we did. In 2017, we brought the show back to the Geo Centre and gave two performances. We added some quirky changes, including having local dragstar Irma Gerd host and perform as Trixie with Brooke, Anika Bursey and myself. We also had a slight switch in some cast members, which brought out some absolute stars, including Janet O’Reilly as Magenta, Sean Collins as Dr. Scott, and Justin Sellars as Rocky. We knew the space and we were able to expand our wow-factor.
While you won’t get to see Rocky Horror Shadow Cast this October, Riveting Productions will be bringing the highly acclaimed show back for June, as a kick off to Pride Week here in St. John’s. So while you will have to wait a bit longer, you know that it is coming! So get your popcorn, and watch the cult classic a few times this Halloween so you know how to do the Time Warp for June!