Welcome to Transsexual Transylvania

Rocky Horror Montreal Bares All, But Leaves the Rice at Home This Year

  • Photo Erin Sparks

  • Photo Erin Sparks

  • Photo Erin Sparks

It’s not easy getting ahead in this town—and that applies to singing, dancing, cross-dressing performers, too.

“You start off as a ‘Tranny’ and work your way up,” said Philippe Spurrell, producer of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Montreal Halloween Ball for the past fourteen years.

He said that performers have to spend a few years as rookies in the shadow cast of Transsexual Transylvanians—Spurrell’s beloved Trannies—before they can hope to land a main role like Brad, Janet or Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
The Rocky Horror Halloween Ball is an annual event that even Spurrell has a hard time describing.

“To people who have never been, I end up saying, ‘Show up. You’ll get it. You’ll love it.’ Just because there’s nothing like it.”

The 1975 cult classic hit movie theatres at the same time its production company, 20th Century Fox, was so busy promoting Jaws that it fumbled marketing its quirky, kinky musical.

According to Rocky Horror legend, at one midnight showing of the movie an audience member yelled something at the screen and the audience laughed. The “callback” phenomenon grew to the point that now there’s an entire script of what to yell after each line in the movie.

While the projection is playing, a shadow cast of performers act the film out onstage. They perform it, but also interact with the screen, and each other, in creative ways.

“[We] want to make people laugh, smile and turn them on in their seats,” said returning cast member Heidi Rubin, who plays the roles of Riff Raff and Rocky this year.

There is also a costume competition that precedes the event, where audience members get to strut around onstage. This year, the cast is also performing a dance routine to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”—which will feature a mash-up dance-off with flavour-of-the-month hit “Gangnam Style.”

Spurrell said that the shadow cast started out with 12 people but over the years has grown to 40. He said he had to cap the number at 40, partially because he has to feed them all backstage.

“The food is not the perk, the nudity is the perk,” Rubin said, however. “The fact that we can all be raging perverts is the perk—in a very safe and respectful environment. [ … ] People come to feel like themselves with other people. It’s consensual, liberating and it’s really a blast.”

“The food is not the perk, the nudity is the perk. The fact that we can all be raging perverts is the perk—in a very safe and respectful environment. People come to feel like themselves with other people. It’s consensual, liberating, and it’s really a blast.”
—Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast Member Heidi Rubin

Montreal’s Halloween Rocky Horror event is the largest in North America. Major cities like Los Angeles will have weekly midnight showings, and in Vancouver there are monthly showings. But “the hunger isn’t there,” Rubin said, because here it’s only done the week of Halloween.

Since Montreal’s Rocky Horror shindig is only once a year, there’s a build-up that sees them selling out venues, like this year’s 819-seat Cinéma Impérial—a step up from the 450-seat Théâtre Rialto that it used to call home.

The impressive Impérial got a $4.5 million renovation in 2004.  The plush red velvet seats don’t yet show any signs of wear, and the ornate chandeliers hang over the balcony seating in a way that suggests the typical flying foodstuffs won’t go over well.
“There’s a strict ‘no rice’ policy,” Spurrell said. “Rice gets into everything.”

Although there won’t be any rice thrown during the wedding scene that plays at the top of the movie this year, the audience is still encouraged to bring the other props they’ll need to interact with the show: a small water pistol, newspaper, toilet paper rolls and toast—and, of course, a sweet costume.

Dressing up like a cast member, or at least in lingerie, is encouraged.

“People get turned off because it’s a little bit queer, it’s a little wild, it’s a little bit nude,” Rubin said. “But again, it’s presented in such a way that there’s so much hilarity around it all that you can get a laugh out of it even if you’re a big jock guy. You can still sit back and laugh.”

People are drawn into performing with the Rocky Horror shadow cast and many keep coming back. Spurrell said that a lot of the performers have been a part of it for 15 years, but each year about a quarter of the cast is new.

“There’s something about it—you just fall in love with it,” said Hannah Miller, who’s been onstage with Rocky Horror Montreal for three years.  “You come into the cast, never having seen Rocky before, and then after the first rehearsal just think, ‘This is a room full of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.’ And you’re hooked.”

Rubin added that a lot of people misinterpret the show to actually being a scary horror movie. In reality, people bring their kids and the only advisory might be preparing to explain what the giant phalluses fighting onstage are about.
“We’re all very normal in our own way,” Rubin said. “And fucked up, like the rest of us.”

Rocky Horror Montreal Halloween Ball / Oct. 31 / Impérial Cinéma (1430 Bleury St.) / 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. / $17.95 advance, $19.95 door ($5.00 off with student ID) / rockyhorrormontreal.com

By commenting on this page you agree to the terms of our Comments Policy.