Do the time warp again with High Dive’s socially distanced ‘Rocky Horror’

Garret Pogue (left) as Columbia and Devin Huchingson (right) as Riff Raff in last year's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" performance at High Dive.

It’s just a jump to the left: After six months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, High Dive is bringing back its annual shadow cast showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

For the first time since closing, the venue is reopening its doors for a live event to continue its traditional cult classic performance.

The experience will be modified this year to accommodate concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film, which is renowned for its themes of sexuality and identity, holds a tradition of shadow cast performances that take place across the U.S.

High Dive has been live-streaming concerts since July, said Pat Lavery, the venue’s facility and events manager. Lavery said a lot of consideration went into bringing the show back. Still, High Dive ultimately decided to put on more showings than usual with a limited capacity and socially distanced seating to allow fans to experience the event safely. 

“We really didn’t want it to not happen this year,” Lavery said. “We’ve been doing it for so long. We wanted to figure out some kind of way to do it that would be safe and also viable so that we could cover costs, and we think we’ve done it.”

The venue has put on the popular production with shadow cast performance group Frankie and the Pretenders since 2013. The event features a showing of the 1975 film with the live cast performing dances from the movie in front of the screen.

Seven “Rocky Horror” performances will take place at the venue this year. Shows will be offered Oct. 14, 15, 21, 22, 27, 29 and 31. The performances begin at 8:30 p.m. and tickets sell for $15 in advance on the venue’s website.

Lavery said audiences will be limited to 30% of High Dive’s capacity or about 60 people. Seats will be arranged in a checkerboard pattern and distanced appropriately, and will be available in groups of two, three and four guests. Solo guests will be able to sit in the bleachers on the sides of the viewing area.

High Dive’s beer garden will be open for food and drink starting at 7 p.m. Drinking and eating will only be permitted outside, meaning all guests will be required to wear masks inside at all times. Performers will be wearing masks as well.

While the performance will look different from past years, Lavery said he does not think the experience will be dulled for the audience.

“The performers definitely will not be going out into the crowds like they have in the past,” Lavery said. “But we still think it’s going to preserve the unique character of the show.”

Audiences will not be permitted to bring throwing props or water props, like water guns, of any kind, according to the venue’s website. Guests can only bring newspapers and gloves to the event. In addition, performers will no longer be venturing into the crowd as traditionally done during the performance.

Shay Smith, choreographer and co-director of Frankie and the Pretenders, said performers will be wearing masks during the event. While they will be worn to promote safety, Smith said the masks will be decorated by each performer to complement their character and exhibit “as much campiness as possible.”

Smith said while the show has been adjusted for public safety concerns, she believes guests will be equally enthused as in previous years and find the event rewarding.

“The audience is going to be so ready for entertainment and just being out and doing something fun,” Smith said. “They’re hungry for that, and we are going to be able to provide it for them.”

Lavery said the state-mandated closures posed a difficult challenge for the venue. While closed, its monthly fixed costs were over $10,000, with its only revenue generated from alcohol and ticket sales. 

The venue held a benefit concert via livestream Sept. 19 with local bands Arrows in Action, Causa and The Real You to raise money to fund its reopening. Lavery said while reopening its doors to the public again will be a positive step, the venue has more progress to make before returning to normalcy.

“It is a morale boost, just being able to do what we do,” Lavery said. “But financially, it’s desperately needed. A lot of money was lost during the six months we were closed, and it’s going to take a long time to recover from that.”

Astrid Rojas, a 20-year-old UF marketing junior, said she has always been interested in attending the showing and will finally attend this year in light of the music venue’s financial concerns.

“I’m a huge ‘Rocky Horror’ fan,” Rojas said. “In the words of Princess Diana, ‘‘Rocky Horror’ had quite completed my education.’ Every year the show passes and I regret not attending, so this year I plan on attending.”

For Smith, the performance is an opportunity to interact with the people closest to her while doing something she loves.

“We all come together as a cast like we are a family,” Smith said. “My son and I did this show together for a very long time. That was weird, because what mom and son do ‘Rocky Horror’ together? But it was this big family thing.”

Contact Marlena at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @marcar313.

Avenue Staff Writer

Marlena is a second-year journalism major at the University of Florida and the art and theatre reporter for The Avenue. When she is not writing stories or drinking chai lattes, she turns her attention to her many plants.