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Monday, June 17, 2024

The cast of Gainesville’s Rocky Horror Picture Show leaves summer audiences ‘shivering with anticipation’

The screening uses local actors, pool noodles, beach balls and raunchy audience participation

It came from outer space and settled on a small stage in Gainesville. The feature crept up in the form of a summer-themed production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The show, presented by Glory Days & Frankie and The Pretenders, will be held at the High Dive, located at 210 SW 2nd Ave, until Aug. 2. The stage, adorned with pool noodles and dildos, hosts the stilettos-wearing cast while the original 1975 picture plays behind them. The troupe puts on its Rocky “Super Wet Supersoaker Summer Extravaganza” throughout July and early August each year.

It came from outer space and settled on a small stage in Gainesville. 

The feature crept up in the form of a summer-themed production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The show, presented by Glory Days & Frankie and The Pretenders, will be held at the High Dive, located at 210 SW 2nd Ave, until Aug. 2. The stage, adorned with pool noodles and dildos, hosts the stilettos-wearing cast while the original 1975 picture plays behind them. The troupe puts on its Rocky “Super Wet Supersoaker Summer Extravaganza” throughout July and early August each year. 

Anticipating the crowd, the picture stands frozen on the image of plump ruby red lipsticked lips, mouth agape, teeth teasing a smile suggestively.

First-time attendees are branded with a lipstick-drawn “V,” for virgin, on their forehead. The “V” signifies a new patron’s innocence to the horror that is Rocky. For Alexandra Hairston, a 22-year-old audience member, the interactive experience got her adrenaline pumping, she said.

“I definitely felt more engaged in the show after I’d been up on stage,” Hairston said. “It was just a great time all around.”

Throughout the production, experienced audience members contribute rude and raunchy dialogue to the scenes. The show, a meticulously organized series of stage, line and light cues, might look like a mess of half-naked bodies in gothic lingerie to an outsider.

Devin Huchingson, the 26-year-old co-director of the production, emphasizes the importance of engagement for this show. The show begs you to immerse yourself or you will not get it, he said. 

“By the time you’re finally getting it,” he said. “You’re addicted to it.” 

The production honors the original spirit of Rocky while having a flashy twist involving summer paraphernalia like beach balls and pool noodles, Huchingson said. However, while a couple of hundred beach balls may breathe new life into the troupe’s summer rendition, the show doesn’t thrive off of gimmicks alone.

Rocky Horror is known for being a risqué film.

“The reason why it’s been around in queer culture for so long is because it does push the limits,” Huchington said. “It seems like every year that goes by in Florida, queer spaces need to become stronger.” 

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The themes of the film challenge the current trajectory of Florida’s homophobic legislation. The show’s celebration of gender fluidity and non-conformity sits at odds with the state’s increasingly conservative political attitude, as queer people and spaces continue to be threatened, Huchingson said. 

Rocky Horror holds a tradition in hosting queer spaces, standing as the vanguard for authentic, queer storytelling because it embraces the odd and taboo. In turn, Rocky relies on its cult following to maintain its cultural relevance since its original theatrical release in September 1975. 

Hutchinson attributes Rocky’s prolonged shelf life to its campy essence.

“Rocky Horror, and most cult classics, are camp,” he said. “It’s an exaggeration of the story you’re telling.”

Xanna Prentice, the 31-year-old co-director of the production, reprises her role as Riff Raff, the faithful handyman and film antagonist.

As a member of the troupe for almost a decade, Prentice has played a major part in putting on Rocky’s shadow cast production since its inception. For her, the concept of camp comes down to overacting. Being camp relies on subverting familiar ideas, turning them upside down, she said. In essence, camp turns to the absurd.

“This is a movie about aliens that are transsexuals,” Prentice said. “That’s a ridiculous concept.” 

The leading transexual alien of the show, Sydney Kruljac, 28, stars as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Kruljac characterized the protagonist as a sweet crossdresser from Transylvania, she said.

Being queer herself, Kruljac identifies with the spirit of the film, she said. Seeing parallels between herself and her character, she emphasized the importance of embracing queerness. 

A captivating, corseted Kruljac genderbends Frank-N-Furter, originally played by Tim Curry, and adds another layer to the picture’s commitment to gender nonconformity. Kruljac, however, is not alone in her genderbending as a majority of the cast play characters of a gender different than they identify as. 

Among them is Calvin Heinzmann, 26-year-old ensemble member, who plays Janet Weiss, an effeminate and initially timid character. Playing Janet allows him to explore a different side of his identity while feeling very “pretty”.

Alongside his 21-year-old co-star Alexa Covert, who plays Brad Majors, the pair portray the image of a modest suburban couple before their descent into depravity and sexual liberation. 

Heinzmann and Covert complement each other’s performances by enhancing the show’s sense of gender exploration. 

They make a good team, Covert said.

Despite rising tensions and hostility toward the queer community, the troupe remains committed to upholding the cult classic tradition. 

Garret Pogue, a 26-year-old long-time troupe member who plays Columbia, emphasized the impact of queer representation.

“If a city doesn't have Rocky Horror, they're missing out,” Pogue said. “As taboo as it can be, it's so important to have people see these themes that are presented in this movie."

The film was instrumental in fostering self-confidence and acceptance in her identity as a queer woman, Pogue said. 

"As crazy as this movie is, I have found my community,” she said.

Performing as the character Columbia for about 7 years, Pogue has come to recognize some faces from the crowd with each cast’s iteration of the show.  

“You always spot them out, and you can see how they're growing with you almost,” she said. “It's incredible."

Once immersed in the twisted world of Rocky Horror, it’s hard to leave unscathed. Shadow casts are an entertaining yet chaotic addition to an already tumultuous film. 

In the face of adversity, Rocky stands as a beacon for people to champion their authentic selves.

Contact Valentina at vsarmiento@alligator.org.

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Valentina Sarmiento

Valentina Sarmiento is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in photojournalism. She is an Avenue staff writer for The Alligator. Aside from storytelling, she enjoys binging horror movies, cats and the occult.


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