By Julien-Pierre Campbell
The first time I saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” I was scandalized. I was 11 years old and convinced I’d been scarred for life. Fishnets and sex! Murder and cannibalism! Aliens with ray guns and pelvic thrusts! Not for me, the budding actor. I would stick with nice, clean shows like “Hairspray”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and “Les Mis”, thank you very much!
The next time I saw “Rocky,” I was entranced. I was 16 years old, dressed in little enough clothing to stun my mother, and so excited I could have burst. At the Clinton Street Theatre, I watched actors perform in front of a screen, a “shadow cast,” they called themselves. They were dressed in perfectly screen accurate costumes, performing the movie as it played along behind them. Every word the characters said, the actors would mouth. Every dance move was done in sync with the screen. Every minute finger twitch or foot shuffle was perfectly synced up. It was incredible.
The audience was lively and intense. They shouted vulgar callbacks at the screen. They screamed and hooted and hollered. It was irreverent and ridiculous, over the top and perfect.
I went to see the show again and again. I dragged all of my friends to see it with me. They enjoyed it, but didn’t have the same obsession I did. One day, the director cornered me after a show. “I’ve seen you here a lot. How old are you?” he asked me.
“Eighteen,” I answered. By about two months. I was still skeptical of my alleged adulthood.
“You wanna audition? We’ve got open rolls.”
It was like the world had been handed to me on a silver platter.
The first time I performed in “Rocky,” it was one of the best nights of my life. I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never been so scantily dressed in front of so many people. I didn’t know half of my cues. I’d only just memorized my lines. I was so nervous, I almost threw up. It was beautiful. The audience cheered for me like they’d never seen a bigger star. My castmates welcomed me to the family. I crept along the stage, cringing as my hunchback handyman character. I smirked at Brad and Janet, I danced the Time Warp. I came sprinting onstage to kill half the characters at the end of the show!
I’ve been performing with my cast — my family — for a year now. My college friends associate me with “Rocky” now. They know where to find me on Saturday nights. I’ve never been happier, or fit in anywhere better. It’s a strange group of ragtag queer kids, theatre kid burn-outs, and those who have just wandered in. This is what makes life worth living. This is sheer joy. In the mire of work and college, this show has given me life.
I sometimes think back on the horrified 11-year-old who first watched the movie. If only he could see himself now…