Courtesy of @ivstreets on Instagram

Let me set the scene. 

It’s Oct. 2022, and I’m a month into my UC Santa Barbara career. Enter a flyer, dark red lips on a black page, words in dripping red font — a midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Saturday night in Campbell Hall.

My friends and I showed up in pajamas and carrying Ziploc bags of popcorn. If you know nothing about the show this might be normal to you — a midnight showing of a movie, of course it’s going to be a pajama party in need of snacks. However, if you’re a “Rocky Horror” fanatic, you know this was the opposite of a pajama party. Rocky fans surrounded us in glitz and glamour, some in full drag, some in various states of undress. A woman in a corset came up to my friends and me and asked, “Virgin or slut?” 

We took the lipstick from her hand and drew big “Vs” on our foreheads, a pre-show ritual that designated attendees as either Virgins (someone who hasn’t seen the show before) or Sluts (someone who has seen the show before). It was obvious that she was just asking as a courtesy. We were very clearly “Rocky Horror Picture Show” virgins. 

We made it to Campbell Hall, a little stunned at the scenes around us and woefully unprepared for the next three hours of our lives. We saw a virgin sacrifice, elaborate dance numbers, sex scenes and genitalia. It was an experience I couldn’t forget if I tried. I turned to my friends and we agreed that we would come back better, stronger, more prepared and in less clothing. 


It’s Alive!

On a dark and stormy opening night in 1973, a deeply sexual Frankenstein-inspired musical called “The Rocky Horror Show” began playing in London’s Royal Court Theatre.  According to legend, it was on that night that Angie Bowie, the first wife of David, made the inaugural audience callout. She yelled, “No, don’t do it!” at Richard O’Brien’s character Riff Raff as he held Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter at laser gunpoint. 

An instant hit, “Rocky Horror” saw immense success onstage. But when Lou Adler decided to adapt the freak show into a major motion picture, it was a flop that even Tim Curry couldn’t save. Test screenings across the country, including one in Santa Barbara, were disastrous. 

A late-night run of 1972’s erotic “Pink Flamingos,” at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles inspired the “Rocky Horror” team to take an unconventional approach to showing the film. They decided to pick a time when only the weirdest of the weird were out on the town. The midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” began at the Waverly Theater in New York City on April 1, 1976. 

From there, “Rocky Horror” became a cultural movement. Part of what made “Rocky” so successful was that most performances had a shadow cast. A shadow cast performance features actors that act out the movie in front of the screen, matching the actions of the characters in the film. 

Audience participation is a key component of the “Rocky Horror” experience. Fans line up outside theaters in detailed costumes, voices ready to scream iconic audience callouts at the screen for three hours. Callouts are pre-planned (or sometimes spontaneous) phrases or words that are shouted out by the audience in response to audio or visual cues in the movie. One of the most primitive callbacks is when the audience yells “Slut!” at leading lady Janet and “Asshole” at her partner Brad.

Some shows also allow audience members to throw objects at the screen within appropriate times, like grains of rice during the wedding exit of Ralph Hapschatt and Betty Munroe (“Rocky Horror” at UCSB does not allow objects to be thrown during its show). One theater even had a real motorcycle entrance for Eddie at the beginning of his iconic song “Hot Patootie – Bless my Soul.” Susan Sarandon, the movie’s Janet Weiss, likened the experience to a “Mass,” a culmination of people coming together to sing songs and worship an idol (Tim Curry). 

Director Jim Sharman described the phenomena best in an email to the New York Times, “On the opening chord on the opening night of the original stage version at the Royal Court an electrical storm broke over London, and that lightning has been chasing it ever since.” 

Courtesy of @ivstreets on Instagram

So, come up to the lab!

The lightning struck UCSB in the Fall of 2018. Magic Lantern Films held screenings of “Rocky Horror” for years, where Rocky buffs would step up to the stage and perform the show on the fly. But it wasn’t until 2018 that the Shrunken Heads Production Company, UCSB’s musical theater club, decided to organize a true shadow cast show.   

Shrunken Heads held auditions via Facebook, and in Oct. 2018, the small shadow cast sold out their very first show in Campbell Hall. The phenomenon came to a rapid halt with the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. By the time of students’ prodigal return to campus in Fall 2021, many of the original cast members and organizers had graduated, leaving “Rocky Horror” director Sara Madsen to rebuild the show into what it once was. 

Madsen began directing the show in the Fall of 2019, but without the people and resources from the pre-COVID days, she had to start almost entirely from scratch. 

“It was just a lot of people saying no at first,” Madsen said. She had reached out to work with Shrunken Heads again, but the club was dealing with their own post-COVID issues. Magic Lantern had similar problems, and because they weren’t an official club, the Rocky cohort couldn’t get off the ground. They couldn’t book rehearsal space without official club recognition, lacked funding for materials and didn’t have a venue. 

Madsen, now a “Rocky Horror” at UCSB legend, set up auditions in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building courtyard, where the congregation of newcomers and veterans searched for an open classroom, opening unlocked doors until they found an empty one to audition and eventually rehearse in. Madsen brought her TV from home every day to rehearsal so that actors could look behind them and make sure their faces looked like the faces of the original cast. 

“We didn’t have any storage space so all of the props and set pieces and stuff were just in my apartment,” Madsen said while laughing. “My roommate got really upset.” 

In Oct. 2022, the hard work of Madsen and her crew of Transylvanians paid off with the formation of the Creatures of the Night Production Company, the official UCSB “Rocky Horror” club. Every quarter since, Creatures of the Night has brought the freak show to campus thanks to Isla Vista Arts, an organization in UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center that funds student-run projects having to do with the arts.

Over the last few weeks, IV Arts petitioned to get put on the Campus Elections Commission (CEC) ballot for the Spring quarter campus-wide elections. Getting on the CEC ballot would allow for IV Arts to receive stable funding from campus. Funding has been complicated since 2011, when IV Arts was added to the Associated Students legal code. 

“Because of the cyclical nature of A.S. and how they elect new boards, every year our funding becomes kind of opaque,” Anna Jensen, director of IV Arts said. Having stable financial support allows IV Arts to fund the student-run artistic communities and organizations on campus, like Creatures of the Night. 

“The show, the movie rental, the theater, the advertising, the CSOs, pretty much everything that’s not the talent is put on by IV arts,” Lucy Marx, President of Creatures of the Night said. 

Creatures of the Night pays for everything else out of pocket, either with money from fundraising efforts, donations, or if volunteered, the cast and crew. 

Luckily for Creatures of the Night, “Rocky” enthusiasts are often eager to help put on the show, whether that be paying for their costumes, helping to fundraise or simply advertising the show. Finances aside, “Rocky” fans grow in number as the show continues to be put on.  

“Every time we do it, more people are empowered by what they see,” Aideen Delahunt, Executive Assistant of Creatures of the Night said. This year, auditions saw over 40 participants, more than the Creatures of the Night team had ever seen before. 


Building a Creature

Perhaps the most impressive part of “Rocky Horror” at UCSB is that the show has a three-week turnaround from audition to performance, with only 10-12 hours of solid rehearsal time in that period. 

“You know whiplash?” Maddie Miller, the Creative Director of Creatures of the Night, joked as she described the process of putting together the show. Putting on a shadow cast performance may not be as elaborate as a regular stage or musical performance, but the intricacies of matching actors’ movements to a movie have their difficulties. 

Most actors are somewhat familiar with the show, but not all. Miller herself had never seen the movie before auditioning. Some have to learn the lyrics to lip-sync, the iconic choreography and blocking. People have expectations going into “Rocky Horror,” and Miller ensures that the actors do their best to emulate the people on screen while simultaneously encouraging creative choices. She aims to both execute iconic “Rocky” traditions and personalize the performance. 

“Sometimes it’s fun to go against what the movie is portraying,” Miller said. One of the most prominent examples of this in UCSB’s show is in Riff Raff and Magenta, sibling Transylvanians who have a show-stopping entrance towards the end of the show. In the movie, Riff and Magenta come out wearing matching silver Frankenstein costumes. Creatures of the Night allows their Riff and Magenta to revamp what exactly the duo is wearing, often picking different themes depending on the quarter. 

“We want to keep the core themes of the movie…but if you want to have a little fun with it, go for it,” Delahunt said. Creative freedom in “Rocky” has allowed for new traditions to be forged not only onstage, but in the audience. Audience callouts are quintessential to “Rocky Horror” and over time, UCSB audiences have created callouts of their own. The fan favorite is whenever a character says “You see,” audience members have to call back: “SB!”  

“It’s a living show,” Marx said. 

Courtesy of @ivstreets on Instagram

Don’t Dream it, Be it

“Rocky Horror’s” rise to the status of “cult classic” is largely due to its embrace of and by the LGBTQ+ community. The early 1970s was a time of revolution for the queer community in the wake of the Stonewall riots and “Rocky Horror” brought together an audience that was eager to see representations of homosexuality, gender fluidity and unfettered sexual desire. Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick play virginal Janet and Brad, a young, white, attractive couple who stumble upon the Annual Transylvanian Convention. Here, the heteronormative leading duo are considered the outcasts and the eccentric inhabitants of Transylvania are the normals. “Rocky Horror” creates a safe space for sexual exploration, weirdness and homoeroticism. 

Despite its bizarreness at times, “Rocky Horror” manages to free the audience from societal conventions of normality and compulsory purity. 

“It’s [Rocky] a place to all of a sudden not feel the restraints of what’s considered like, ‘okay’ and what’s considered taboo,” Marx said. “So much of the movie is not even liberation in terms of sex. It’s just liberation.” 

“For one night, you’re like, I’m the standard. I am normal, the blueprint, the rest of you are odd.” Delahunt said.  


Let’s do the Timewarp on Feb. 16! 

Creatures of the Night is holding its quarterly show on Friday, Feb. 16 at 10 p.m. in IV Theater. Now, attending a showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” can be intimidating. Luckily, the Creatures of the Night masterminds shared some tips and tricks for attending the show. 

“I would say be open-minded, because it can be super intense and scary,” said Miller. “Overwhelming as hell.” People who are drawn to “Rocky Horror” tend not to struggle in this regard, but if you unexpectedly find yourself in the audience on Feb. 16, prepare to be put outside of your comfort zone. The show is a celebration of the weird and sexual nature of humanity, it’s encouraged to leave your judgments at the door. 

“If you’re a judgmental bitch, do not come,” said Miller.

“It’s a judgement-free zone,” said Marx.

The second is to wear whatever you feel comfortable in. People will be dressed in revealing clothing (so be prepared for that), but it does not mean you have to show up with at least 50% of your skin showing. The point of “Rocky” is to accept people as they come, and if that means jeans and a T-shirt, that’s okay!

Third, get your ticket early, Creatures of the Night consistently sells out. And if you have a ticket but aren’t able to go, give it to someone else. Don’t let it sit when there’s someone who will take your place. Tickets will be available online via the Creatures of the Night Instagram @rockyhorrorucsb starting Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. 

Despite its retelling of the insanity of the show, the contents of this article do not even scratch the surface of what “Rocky Horror” is. It’s something that can only be experienced, something you’ll have to see for yourself. 

“It’s such an insane trip,” Delahunt said. 

This article appeared in the February 8th Daily Nexus printed edition.