Oh, The Horror!
“The Rocky Horror Show” Lights Up the Stage at MainLine Theatre
With October over halfway dead, it’s time to do the time warp again.
Break out your finest fishnets and get geared up for glitter and gore, because local Montreal company Gryn Productions is staging The Rocky Horror Show just in time for Halloween, and it promises to be a “Sweet Transvestite” of a time.
Not to be confused with the 1975 film starring Tim Curry, which rose to smash-hit cult status after the stage production bombed on Broadway, The Rocky Horror Show is a live stage phenomenon, featuring a full orchestra, live actors and dancers with original choreography.
The show is best known for its use of “shadowcasting,” where the film is screened and simultaneously lip-synched by a cast of actors. However, this stage version heads back to the show’s rock opera origins, weaving a tale of aliens, suburbanites, rock and rollers, tap dancers and chorus girls, all live.
The production also has a few extra features, including songs that were cut from the movie, as well as the sheer energy that the right crowd and a new venue can bring to an experience. The 2011 production was put on at the Rialto Theatre, but moved last year to the appropriately campy MainLine Theatre, where the show’s producer, Shayne Gryn, thinks it has found a home for years to come.
“I think bringing the show to MainLine Theatre was the right choice,” he said. “[The play] was originally written to be performed in a small, intimate, black box. And MainLine has such and intimate and raunchy vibe, you can feel the sweat of the dancers.”
Raunchy is a word that that comes up often whenever the show is discussed. Many of its themes and characters explore sexual taboos, gender norms and the sometimes rocky journey from sexual innocence into awakening, which in many ways contributes to its wild popularity.
“It’s satire of camp ’50s sci-fi, fused with ’70s glam rock and sexual liberation. It’s about breaking down gender conventions and exploring sexual freedom,” said Gryn.
Gryn was hooked on the film as a teen, became a self-described “theatre addict,” and took it upon himself to produce the show in 2012.
A Gender Bender for the Ages
The open exploration and expression of sexuality is what draws many people back into theatres, year after year, and is perhaps best personified by one character, and one character alone.
At the helm of a cast and crew of experienced Rocky Horror veterans and newcomers is Edmonton native and Concordia theatre and development student Antonio Bavaro, who is set to scandalize and delight once again as the show’s charismatic, empathetic and wickedly delightful Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
This will be Bavaro’s fifth time reprising the role, stepping into the stilettos of a person he affectionately describes as “a perverted mad scientist murderer wearing a corset and heels, who wants to be a film star.”
He has a particular fondness for both the character and the show, which became a way for him to explore his own identity in previous years.
“As someone who doesn’t attribute themselves to a complete male identity, or a completely in-between identity, I like the gender fluidity that Frank has,” Bavaro said.
Bavaro wasn’t allowed to watch the movie in his childhood, but nonetheless found his way to Frank-N-Furter’s lab.
“My parents wouldn’t let me see it. So, back when they had these things called audio cassettes, I taped [songs] on the radio around Halloween time, ‘Sweet Transvestite’ and a couple of others,” he said, adding that it wasn’t until he was actually in a shadowcast production at the age of 18 that he saw the film at all.
When Gryn began to contemplate putting on Rocky Horror, he initially envisioned Bavaro as the character Riff Raff, but one audition changed his mind.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a Frank-N-Furter as fabulous as Antonio Bavaro. He owns that role,” said Gryn.
“He’s always a little bit trashy, a little bit rough. He can’t help but be himself. Sometimes he can’t accept that people won’t accept him for how he wants to be. I think he’s a sympathetic character, and an empathetic character in a lot of ways. The audience, you know, they love him,” Bavaro continued.
Rocky Horror audiences have been known for the unique ways they express that love. One common practice at shadowcasts is throwing things such as rice and toast at various points of the show. Gryn says such shenanigans are frowned upon and even dangerous in a theatre setting, so if you’re planning on attending, leave the props at home.
However, other wacky traditions still reign supreme. In previous years, show-goers have shown up in all kinds of costumes, even ones unrelated to the show itself, and have often yelled in excitement at the stage, keeping the cast on their toes.
“There’s nothing quite like it,” Gryn said.
“[There’s] a feeling of community you get with these things; this magical microcosm where normal rules don’t apply and you can be who you want to be.”
Bavaro expressed similar sentiments about the show.
“There’s always something new to discover. People feel they can open up themselves by participating in this. There’s something enigmatic [about it],” he said.
“How often do you get to do that? How often do you get to wear a bra and panties on stage and like, discover something about yourself and your own sexuality? Around Halloween you can step out of your comfort zone.”
It’s clear the show has moved from mere entertainment into the hemisphere of something much more special and intimate for performers and audience alike—a shared understanding of that inscrutable “something more.”
“People feel they can be themselves by participating in this,” said Bavaro. “When you’re in this environment, up in the lab, you don’t have to dream it. You can be it.”
The Rocky Horror Show // Oct. 23 to Oct. 26 // MainLine Theatre (3997 St. Laurent Blvd.) // 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. // $15 student, $20 regular