Spotlight: A transvestite sing-along

As Halloween quickly approaches, some people are carving their pumpkins and baking their pumpkin seeds. But one group on campus in particular has been diligently preparing for the holiday: the cast and crew of the GW production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The group performed the show, known for its unconventional nature, Saturday night in Columbian Sqaure in the Marvin Center and will give a Halloween show Wednesday. The cast of the show has been practicing and rehearsing since the end of September for the performances.

A musical, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” follows the adventure of a seemingly clean-cut couple after their car breaks down and they enter the crazy and kinky world of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a transvestite Transylvanian and his gang friends clad in fish-net stockings.

This is no ordinary production, as actors lip-synch their lines while the original 1975 movie starring Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry plays in the background. The performers said the production twist makes the performance fun but challenging.

Duncan Autrey, a senior who starts as Dr. Frank N. Furter, said there are benefits to acting in front of the running movie.

“Since we have the movie playing at the same time, if we mess up, nothing stops,” Autrey said. “It’s good to know that even if someone forgets where they are, everything still goes on.”

But matching the movie actors’ moves adds an unconventional challenge, Autrey said.

“I have to be really focused on the little details,” Autrey said. “For example, I have to know exactly when and how much (Dr. Frank N. Furter) raises his eyebrow.”

Junior Sofiya Goldshteyn who plays Dr. Frank N Furter’s incestuous housekeeper Magenta said the format exposes any mistakes they make on stage.

“It looks really weird if you’re doing something differently than the actors in the movie or if you do something too late,” Goldshteyn said.

Goldshteyn said acting with the movie makes it hard to “make the character your own” while doing exactly what the actor in the movie does.

Show director senior Jimmy Howell said doing the show along with the movie makes his job a challenge as well.

“We’re not only dealing with problems with blocking,” Howell said. “We’re also dealing with trying to be exactly in sync with what’s going on in the movie.”

Choreographer Cassandra Gunter said the show’s popularity makes delivering perfect timing more important.

“Since the show has such a cult like following, there’s a lot of pressure to try to make everything perfect,” she said.

Cast members said one of the aspects they like about doing this show is the role of audience participation. Several times during the show, audience members are pulled up onto the stage. And people are not shy about yelling out responses to lines in the acts.

“We come to rely on the audience participation a lot,” Goldshteyn said. “We take a lot of our cues from them and they add to the fun of the show.”

Goldshteyn said the cast has added lines in the show that are specific to GW life.

Stage manager junior Annie O’Neill said audience participation gives the show an edge and makes it different every time.

Some cast members cautioned students against getting too wrapped up in the audience participation and not listening to the message of the show.

“There are a lot of good morals in the show that people often miss,” Autrey said. “One of these is to be anything you want to be. The line ‘Don’t dream it, be it’ in the last song sums it up perfectly.”

The live format also makes some cast members nervous about what to expect.

“Audience participation does make me a little nervous,” said freshman Annie Lipsitz, who plays the criminologist. “I don’t really know all the call lines yet, and I’m worried I am going to start laughing in the middle of the show.”

The student actors said they become more involved with the characters they are portraying with each new rehearsal and performance.

“I like my role,” Lipsitz said. “At first I was a little upset that I wasn’t going to be dressing up in fish nets and high heels, because that’s what ‘Rocky Horror’ is to me. But when I let it sink it, I just got more and more excited and at rehearsal. I just had to get into the groove of it all.”

Cast members said that they have worked hard to make the characters their own.

“I’m trying to do a lot with my character,” Goldshteyn said. “Magenta is very crazy and creepy. I’m trying to portray that as well as make her a more sexy character as well.”

Autrey said that playing this role and being part of this show has taught him about self-expression.

“I’ve learned to express myself a lot better,” Autrey said. “This has taken away any of my fears about being in front of people.”

Students said one of the best parts of working on this show was getting
to work so closely with people their own age.

“It was a little intimidating at first,” said Lipsitz, who said in the beginning she was apprehensive being a younger member of the cast. “But, I’ve gotten to know everyone really well and am having a lot of fun.”

Cast members said that the nature of the show also adds to the closeness of the cast.

“Once you’ve seen the guys in drag and everyone in all sorts of strange costumes, nothing can surprise you anymore,” Goldshteyn said. “Friendships become really open. We’ve become like one demented kind of family.”

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