Chatham Celebrates Friday the 13th With A Rocky Horror Shadow Cast

By: Teri Bradford

On October 13, Chatham put on a shadow cast of the 1975 cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Rocky Horror). The Office of Residence Life & Student Activities sponsored the show, and Jessica Keller took on the task of directing it.
“I ran into [Assistant Director of Residence Life and Student Activities, Stephanie Avarez-Poe] over the summer and she was doing a sing-along to Rocky Horror,” Keller said about the shadowcast becoming an event. “I had wanted to do [another shadow cast] or direct one since the first time I did it my first year, so [we came up with the idea] and she gave me the green light.”
Keller and Alvarez-Poe decided to put the event on Friday the 13th because of the horror aspect of the film, but also for LGBTQIA+ History Month.
Though Rocky Horror wasn’t inherently a LGBTQIA+ film, it quickly became one after its release. In 1975, Rocky Horror was categorized as a musical screwball comedy horror film, which led to it having terrible critical reviews. However, it quickly became a midnight movie where the audience would start to respond to the film and dress up as the characters. It was in 1976 at the King’s Court Theater here in Pittsburgh where the act of performing alongside Rocky Horror as a shadow cast began.
How did Rocky Horror become nearly ubiquitous within the LGBTQIA+ community? It can trace to the iconic lead character Dr. Frank N. Furter played by Tim Curry. Dawning a full face of dark makeup, a corset, garters, stockings, and ruthless six-inch heels, Frank N. Furter introduces himself as a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.” There is also a scene where the main character, Brad, has intercourse with the mad scientist. These were bold choices in the year of 1975, only two years after the American Psychiatric Association’s officially removed homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders during the Gay Liberation movement. This release date was also just two years before the first openly gay man to be elected to US public office, Harvey Milk, won his election.  This was during the start of the LGBT+ rights movement as we know it.
On the night of show’s debut, Keller and the sponsors took donations for Proud Haven, a Pittsburgh organization that helps LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability. The cast also scheduled a pre-show panel discussion focusing on the problems that Rocky Horror presents in modern times where we no longer find terms like “transvestite” appropriate. There are also scenes in the film that represent non-consensual sex between Dr. Frank N. Furter and Janet, then separately Dr. Frank N. Furter and Brad.
While acknowledging the issues within the scenes, the queer community is still able to see the positive impact the film has also had.
“Even though [Rocky Horror] is problematic, it’s still important to queer culture,” said Keller. “I know so many queer people who find a safe haven and a place where they can be themselves with this movie.”
Keeping these scenes and terms in mind, Keller addressed the audience and provided a trigger warning for the audience. With nothing else stopping them, the cast went on to perform for a large and spirited crowd of students and community members. Shouting funny and often crass jokes at the screen, and standing to dance during the infamous Time Warp scene made the audience as vital to the show as the cast themselves. When the movie concluded, the cast took a bow to a boisterous applause before everyone did the Time Warp one last time.