The shiver of anticipation sweeping across town isn’t from the crisp, autumn breeze or the allure of the spookiest holiday that’s just around the corner. It’s spreading from the fervor of local fans gearing up with their fishnets and theatrics for the screenings of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Mount Baker Theatre in downtown Bellingham.
The “Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a cult-classic musical movie that follows a young engaged couple, Brad and Janet, as they encounter a series of bizarre characters at the eerie mansion of Dr. Frank N’ Furter, who unveils his latest creative endeavor: building the ultimate erotic and muscular man known as Rocky Horror.
During the movie, local actors dressed as the characters on screen will mimic and supplement the film with choreographed musical numbers and live reenactments of the scenes.
Whether a “virgin” or a seasoned audience member, production consultant John Phillips said each viewing experience has something unexpected to offer.
“Every show is different because every audience is different, and you have to interact with the audience in a different way,” Phillips said.
Phillips said midnight performances became more popular in the 1980s when guests started to dress up as characters from the movie. He said eventually, attendees were even invited onstage to quote lines and lyrics alongside the on-screen actors.
However, Phillips said it wasn’t until 1978 that an audience member yelled in response to the movie, which led to the development of callout lines, the popular phrases attendees shout at the screen in response to the scripted lines. He said in a scene when Janet stepped out of a car and put a paper over her head to shield herself from the pouring rain, a member of the audience started the trend by calling out, “Cheap b*tch, buy yourself an umbrella!”
Although every acting troupe has their own unique production of the film, the Mount Baker Theatre cast members rotate each season without any official auditions arranged for lead or supporting roles due to copyright laws, Phillips said.
For each role in the cast, the local acting troupe “Hamsters in Fishnets” is given priority for principal parts while the supporting roles are made available to volunteers in the community.
Other stagehands and ushers, playfully nicknamed “Transylvanians,” seat guests, interact with the audience and ensure everyone leaves the show thoroughly entertained.
With exposed skin and sex appeal being the universal theme for the show, part of that entertainment comes from the extravagant costumes worn by the performers.
Attendees are also encouraged to dress up for the performance in whatever they feel most comfortable wearing.
With a current budget of around $400 for costuming, Phillips said the Bellingham production has a highly-regarded costume design department. Having watched the film in 28 different states throughout his career, Phillips said costumes are a important part of the performance.
“All bodies are totally welcome,” costume designer Genny Cohn said.
Western student and actor Trent Browning said he has been involved in various productions of the film at Mount Baker Theatre over the years. For the upcoming season, he will reprise the role of Dr. Frank N’ Furter.
“We want to provide a time that’s not only fun, but comfortable and accepting to those in our community,” Browning said. “We pride ourselves on our inclusionary set of ideals.”
Browning recalled his first experience watching the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” after being cast as the Criminologist, the character who narrates the story, in 2014 during his freshman year at Western. He said truth be told, his first viewing experience left him with more questions than answers.
“I didn’t really understand the movie and thought the plot — well, the lack of plot — was atrocious,” Browning said.
However, Browning said as he learned how the show translated to the stage and got a grasp on the iconic callout lines that make the showings so lively, he began to gain an appreciation for the film.
“I thought it was an amazing movie, even if the acting wasn’t the best or the script wasn’t there, it’s just a fun time,” he said.
Among the new faces preparing for their debut performances is LaKoda Adams, who shortly after discovering the film, said he wanted to learn more about the live performances. What convinced Adams to join the hijinx on stage?
“Any chance to wear my undies and show off my body,” Adams said.
Adams will portray the title character, Rocky Horror, the bizarre and sensual creation of mad-scientist and alien transvestite Dr. Frank N’ Furter.
One major component of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” experience at the Mount Baker Theatre is the iconic “Virgin Games” hosted by Megan Sutton, the master of ceremonies and newly-elected director for the production.
The games are intended to get the audience excited for the show, and include the “Oh Rocky” game, in which participants attempt to utter the phrase with the most accurate Dr. Frank N’ Furter impression and the best enunciation. Sutton said another game involves competing to see who can say bland words in the sexiest possible voice.
Since its release to mainstream audiences in 1975, the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” has resonated with viewers across generations. Phillips and his granddaughter started a tradition of watching the film when she was 3 years old at least once a week in his living room and this year, she’ll finally be joining him at the real event.
“She’s ten now, and this is actually going to be the first year that her mother will bring her to a live performance,” Phillips said.
He said for her inaugural show, the two have plans to dress up in matching costumes.
The “Rocky Horror Picture Show” will be playing at the Mount Baker Theatre on Oct. 26, 27 and 31 with showtimes at 8 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. on each date.
Note: The “Rocky Horror Picture Show” specifically uses the word “transvestite,” which is why The Western Front has used it in this article.