You’ve heard the songs, you’ve rollerskated to the Time Warp, you’ve quoted the film perhaps without even knowing it (“Damn it, Janet!”) and you can easily recognize the iconic lips that are the movie’s branding. But have you actually SEEN The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Better yet, have you ever taken in a staged reading of it? It’s one thing to sit in a theatre and yell things at a screen, but with the added bonus of someone yelling back at you, a staged reading is infinitely more entertaining.
Enter Alberta Playwrights’ Network — now into their third year of presenting a staged cabaret-style reading of Rocky Horror as a fundraiser for their organization, which is also fast becoming one of Calgary’s go-to events for Halloween. APN’s Trevor Reuger sat down with theYYSCENE and talked about the origins of the fundraiser and a bit about the show this Saturday night at Evergreen Theatre.
Q: Obvious question, what was your first exposure to Rocky Horror?
A: About 15, 17 years ago Stage West presented The Rocky Horror Show, and it featured Patrick R. Brown as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Stage West, because they knew it had a cult following, did one late-night performance of it where anything goes. I had never seen the movie — I knew the Time Warp, I knew there was a transvestite, I had no idea what the plot was or any of the other music. So my wife and I go to see our friend Patrick, and a gentleman comes and sits down beside us wearing a corset, panties, fishnets and leather jacket. Lights come up, narrator comes on stage and (the man beside us) stands up and starts yelling “BORING!” and I’m thinking “What’s going on?” We had an absolute riot sitting beside this guy. His name is Phillip Liesemer, (and) we’ve got Phil back this year to lead the audience participation.
(Writer note: I attended the event last year and was equally horrified and confused by the yelling.)
Q: How and when did Rocky Horror become a fundraiser for APN?
A: This is our third year; we started in 2015. My wife and I used to play with a couple of other musician actors in town in a band called the Ed Whalens, and before the band split up the guitar player in the band, Spider Bishop, had said, “Oh man, I am so sad that the band is breaking up because I’ve always wanted to do this cabaret Rocky Horror,” and I kind of put that at the back of my head. Then about three-and-a-half years ago I had to come up with a fundraising idea for APN, and my wife and I were chatting and then I thought, “Spider had this crazy idea — I’m going to phone him tomorrow.” So I phoned him and he said, “I’m in!”
Q: You’re switching up Frank-N-Furter this year I see?
A: Yes, the first and last year was Mark Bellamy. Due to scheduling conflicts, he let us know in the summer that he just couldn’t commit to it, so we thought, “Who else do we get? Who do we get from Calgary? Who do we get who knows the show? Wait a minute … Patrick R. Brown, who has starred on Broadway, has been in the Disney production of The Lion King as Scar for the last 12 years.”
Q: Was it hard to get him to come out from Toronto for this?
A: He’s a Calgary guy, he’s a local guy. He was born in High River, he started his career in Calgary, went to the Shaw Festival at the age of 40 and worked with the Shaw Festival for many, many, years, then finished at the Shaw Festival and started to put out his shingle and ended up getting cast in a production in Singapore of Disney’s The Lion King as Scar. I sent him a Facebook message and said “Hey, Patrick!” and Patrick said, “Yeah, let me look at my schedule … I think I can make that happen.”
Q: Do you find that because it’s the cabaret-style production of the show that people are expecting the film, or are people cool with it and are there because they know it and they love Rocky Horror?
A: People come with different expectations. People come because they love it and they expect that they’re going to get the movie and then we’ve had those people walking out going, “Oh my god that was so much better than the movie!” We have people who are complete virgins and are only there because they know somebody in the cast, and we have people who are just maniacs about it and will go to anything Rocky Horror-related.
Q: I was at a screening of the show last year and am still finding rice in my bag and jacket …
A: No rice! We do bubbles instead, people love the bubbles. The only thing that we kind of frown upon is the throwing of rice and the throwing of stuff at us. Those Rocky Horror aficionados who have gone to the film a number of times (know that) one of the big rules at the film is if you throw anything at the screen and it hits the screen, they stop it. Everyone goes home.
Q: And everyone will have access to an arsenal of props (that they will not throw at the actors)?
A: You can buy your Rocky Horror starters’ kit which will contain all of the goodies that you need, and a set of instructions when to use them…
Q: Instructions are important! For people who don’t know, there’s (usually) toast, there’s bubbles …
A: Playing cards — they’re in Frank-N-Furter’s big final number I’m Going Home, and I won’t give too much away but it’s a site gag. (There’s) newspaper for the rainstorm, bubbles for the toast and for the wedding ceremony … I think we had some streamers last year that people could throw at the wedding ceremony at the end of Act 1, rubber gloves, noisemakers …
Q: The music is a big part of the production – do do you have the same people doing the music every year?
A: We’ve got some new musicians this year and some returning musicians from our first year, and added some new and different cast members this year, which is going to be able to change the show. Cam Ascroft played Riff Raff for the first two years and also played keyboard; this year Jamie Konchak, who is a brilliant, brilliant local actress who I worked with many many years ago on Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is playing Riff Raff. She is going to be amazing. We’ve got some of the best musical theatre talent in Calgary coming to join and donate their time and their talents and their efforts
Q: All volunteers on their part?
A: Yeah, a huge donation of time. It’s a staged reading based on the time commitment that we ask of the people and the artists who are donating their time. For us to do a full production of it we’d have to rehearse for three weeks, so everybody has scripts in hands, and that’s what APN does, we do staged readings, and that’s what this is: a wild, crazy, rock and roll staged reading.
Q: Is there a cult following of people that come to your production in particular?
A: We probably have between 50-70 people who come every year — it’s really fantastic. The reaction to this production has been amazing, it’s been great – the first year we didn’t really know what to expect, and we sold out 220 seats. Last year we sold out two weeks in advance of the date.
This is an opportunity for us to reach out to a new audience and do something stupidly fun. The warning that we give people who are coming to expect the movie, is we say: Don’t expect the movie. Here’s the difference between our production and the movie: You can yell something dirty at Susan Sarandon and she’s not going to respond back. WE WILL.
Alberta Playwrights’ Network The Rocky Horror Picture Show — A Staged Live Reading will take place Saturday, Oct. 28 at Evergreen Theatres. Door at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets and info available here. (Note: there is no ATM on site, bring cash.)
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.