Illustrations: Marylou Faure
Words: Claire Margine
Halloween season isn’t truly complete without a live viewing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, including an over-the-top shadow cast, plenty of props, and ideally a pair of fishnets.
The movie house tradition of pairing this iconic film with a live simultaneous performance is alive and well. It’s an interactive smorgasbord of dancing, prop throwing, and shouting all the callbacks you can muster.
Getting ready for your first Rocky Horror can be as easy as mastering the Time Warp. It’s just a jump to the left, a step to the right, and a bag of bubbles and glow sticks. If you’re embarking on your first in-person adventure with Frank-N-Furter himself, you can show up ready to dazzle with advice from a Transylvania pro.
The Barely Legal Rocky Horror cast has been a fixture in the Bay Area for decades, and Nate Havoc has been at the helm for the past 20 years. We chatted with Nate to find out everything you need to know to rock your first Rocky Horror.
Meet your resident Rocky Horror expert
“Throughout the years I’ve been a performer, I host the show, I promote the show, I help recruit people, train people, and audition people,”says Nate. Translation: he’s seen it all. Nate got hooked on Rocky Horror after watching the Barely Legal Rocky Horror (BLRH) cast tear it up in Berkeley years ago.
“From start to finish, it was just this amazing, interactive experience,” he says. “People were throwing things and shouting at the screen and dancing, and there was this very high energy level. And I was watching the cast and just amazed by how much the cast looked and acted like the characters in the film.”
After spending years as an increasingly popular audience member (“People started sitting next to me to learn call-backs,” he jokes), he joined the main cast and soon became a co-cast director. Over the years, his passion for the company and the experience has only grown.
“I think everybody should experience it at least once,” says Nate. “We’re just there to have fun. It’s actually a very inclusive place, a very welcoming and accepting place. When you first think about Rocky you think “Oh it’s a silly movie, I’m going to go shout things in the dark,” but it literally changes people’s lives and gives them lifelong friendships and skills and experiences. There are so many positives to it, even beyond a fun moviegoing experience.”
What should you expect?
Shouting! Bubbles! A full cast! There’s so much mirth and merriment floating around, what should a first-time viewer expect at a Rocky Horror screening?
A survival kit: Part of the experience is whipping out wacky props that pair up with famous scenes throughout the film, and it’s common for venues to offer survival kits that include bubbles, glow sticks, playing cards, and other items that you can wave in the air when the time comes. Though we recommend getting a survival kit there (so easy, and it comes with instructions), you are allowed to bring your own props, but there are a few rules.
“A lot of venues don’t allow certain things,” says Nate. “Almost no venue wants rice, it makes a mess and potentially attracts rodents. Most venues don’t allow water. There’s a scene in which it’s raining, so back in the day people used to bring squirt guns and recreate the rain scene. Obviously in a cinema, that’s not ideal.” Find a prop list online, and skip the food items. If you’re dead set on hurling a piece of toast at the screen, you may need to host your own future at-home Rocky Horror shindig inspired by your recent viewing adventure.
A full cast that looks shockingly like the real thing: “The way I like to refer to it is this is like going to a play and a movie at the exact same time,” says Nate. “So the movie is showing on the screen and the actors are doing the exact same thing on the stage in front of the screen.” Sets are recreated, on screen actors are emulated, and the movie-going experience is electrified by being paired with a live-action rendering.
“We try to keep our timing on par with the movie so we’re doing the exact same thing as the characters onscreen, while the audience is participating and doing their call backs and dancing with us,” says Nate.
Audience par-tic-ip-at….ion: “I liken it to a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 experience where the audience is interacting with the movie,” says Nate. There are lots of call-outs where the audience will come together to respond to certain lines, or just put a sonic exclamation point on a particular moment. Every city tends to have slightly different call-out lines, so just pay attention during the show and join the hollering when you’re ready. It might be fun to rewatch the movie before you see the performance to familiarize yourself with the story.
It’s not all shouting, though. “We also encourage the audience to get up and dance with us and do the Time Warp,” says Nate. Not super coordinated? Don’t worry. Not only is this all silly fun, but the Time Warp literally spells out the dance instructions as a major part of the song. It’s like a more raunchy Cupid Shuffle.
You’ll also be putting those survival kits to good use, whether you’re blowing bubbles during the wedding scene or shuffling cards with Dr. Frank-N-Furter. “One of the songs is called “There’s a Light” and Brad and Janet are singing about this light over at this castle they passed,” says Nate. “That’s one of my favorite effects because we’ll have an entire audience in the dark just waving these glow sticks along to the song and it looks amazing.”
How to have the best time ever
Don’t worry about knowing all the call-backs: “That’s a learn-as-you-go experience,” says Nate. “I remember the very first time I ever went to the show, I fell in love and I wanted to learn all the callbacks that people did so I could be more involved in the experience, so I think that’s one of the fun parts of Rocky Horror itself. You go again and again and you start to meet different people and learn all of the callbacks that go on throughout the show.” Just have fun and relax! This is a party, not a pop quiz.
Costumes aren’t mandatory: Not a costume fan? Don’t fret. Just because this is a glorious costume opportunity doesn’t mean you need to be all decked out. “Wear whatever you want, there are no expectations!” says Nate. “You can dress in a costume that’s Rocky Horror related, you can dress in a costume that’s not Rocky Horror related, you can wear anything. We just are there to put on a fun show and show people a good time.”
But if you are in a costume mood, here’s how to be original: “Frank and Brad and Janet are pretty common, Magenta and Columbia are pretty common,” says Nate. Want to stick out? Pick a character who doesn’t get as much costume coverage at shows. Nate recommends Riff Raff, Eddie, or Dr. Scott.
Respect the group: “Occasionally you’ll get somebody who tries to shout down the audience,” says Nate. “I’ve seen the occasional person who will scream at the top of their lungs to sort of drown them out. That’s not ideal. I think the main thing I would say is to make sure this is a group scenario and a group participation. Don’t feel like you have to be the only one seen and heard.”
Get silly: Go all in on this experience in whatever way feels fun for you. Dance, laugh, yell, wear something fabulous, and channel your inner Rocky Horror character.
Ready to check out your own showing? Find a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening near you.