Director Patrick Spradlin had an interesting task when planning the latest Central Lakes College Theatre production.
He's preparing to do a play that started off as a horror movie parody, then was made into a movie itself, and recently has enjoyed a resurgence as a play. But he wants audiences to know this is a play, not a movie, while at the same time paying homage to the fact that it is best known as a movie.
Then again, it can't really be categorized as a play or a movie. It's "The Rocky Horror Show," the most bizarre phenomenon in the history of either medium.
"If all people have seen is the movie, they'll still obviously recognize it," Spradlin said in a recent chat at CLC. "I'm being very careful to say we're not recreating the movie. Obviously, we couldn't. But it's still 'The Rocky Horror Show': Same basic story, same characters, same music."
Of course, audience participation is what defines the phenomenon. At early screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in 1975, audience members shouted wisecracks at the screen. For whatever reason -- perhaps the consensus that the film wasn't all that great when viewed in quiet contemplation -- those groundbreaking hecklers weren't chased out of the theater.
CLC's "Rocky Horror Show" set, seen in this computer rendering, was designed by Michael Harvey to pay homage to the play's history as a movie. It features four levels for actors to perform on: A walkway in place of the first two rows of seats, the main stage, a raised stage with a curtain and four balconies accessible by offstage stairs.
The wisecracks grew into an unwritten script of audience one-liners. People dressed as their favorite characters and threw stuff at the screen. Dr. Scott would be bombarded by paper towels and Dr. Frank-N-Furter would be pelted by hot dogs.
Spradlin got in on the ground floor of the phenomenon while teaching at Northern Illinois in the late '70s.
"The first time I went, I was just sitting there saying, 'What is this?'"
Before long, he found himself at the movie theater every weekend dressed as the "Transylvanian Party Guest," a character of his own creation.
Spradlin hasn't seen the film in 20 years, and he's never seen the stage version.
If you go
What: "The Rocky Horror Show"
Presented by: Central Lakes College Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Nov. 1, midnight Oct. 31 and Nov. 1
Where: Chalberg Theatre, CLC
Admission: $5 (public), free (CLC students), tickets on sale at the CLC Bookstore and at the door
"I purposely avoided it for this production, only because so many images were already burned into my head from having seen it so many times," he said.
In many ways, the CLC production will be nothing like the film. The play includes a song and three "Phantellas" (phantom singers) that aren't in the movie, and the film's dinner scene is not in the play. And Thomas Vasecka's interpretation of Dr. Frank-N-Furter bares no similarity to Tim Curry's performance, Spradlin said.
"We have no intention of recreating the film in any way," Spradlin said. "Once you go down that road, you have to go all the way or it looks like half an effort. There are certain things you can't put on stage, like the swimming pool. (In the movie), the bottom of the swimming pool is this great mosaic recreation of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel."
However, Spradlin is aware that most people in the audience will be familiar with the film only, and he wanted to acknowledge that via the sets. In the past month, set designer Michael Harvey has transformed the Chalberg Theatre into a Gothic style movie house. In back of the main stage is a second stage where actors will perform in silhouette behind a curtain. Each side of the stage features two balconies. In order to emphasize audience participation, a runway was built atop the first two rows of seats. The orchestra pit is between the runway and the main stage.
"(Harvey used) ironwork and torches to kind of say 'horror movie,' 'movie theater,'" Spradlin said. "So the visual of it isn't a specific place as much as it evokes that imagery of old movie houses. It just speaks to the play's origins, because the play is a parody of old horror movies and sci-fi movies."
The cast, most of whom are performing "Rocky Horror" for the first time, didn't want to go in cold, so they made a trip to Minneapolis to catch a show. And during the latter rehearsals, Spradlin and Harvey shouted things at the actors, just to give them a taste.
Spradlin said acting in "Rocky Horror" is different from other plays only in its extremity.
"To me, the most exciting aspect of any production is putting the audience in front of the play," Spradlin said. "We rehearse it in kind of a vacuum for so many weeks. You never know what's going to happen with any play until you put it in front of an audience. Are they going to laugh at what you intend them to laugh at? Are they going to be quiet in the moments you think are serious? How are they going to accept this universe you've created?"
Still, Spradlin concedes that "Rocky Horror" is a unique experience.
"It's going to be a strange test of actor concentration to be in the middle of a scene and have people shouting at them."
To help audience members get into the spirit, kits with paper towels, glow lights and other props will be sold at the door. If you're one of those timid Minnesotans who doesn't feel like jumping into the aisle and doing the Time Warp, that's not a problem.
"All you have to do is stay in your seat," Spradlin said. "That's the fun thing: Every movie screening of this I've been to has been a mix of what are called virgins -- people who have never seen it before -- and the veterans. In the movie screenings I've been to, it doesn't matter whether you dress up or not, get up and dance or not, shout out lines or use props or any of that stuff or not. And I imagine it'll be the same thing here."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.