Some things to know about virgins, rice, newspapers and toast

A man clad in fishnets and cherry-red heels yelling “slut” can be an interesting experience. Add that he’s eagerly awaiting a chance to throw toast in the air and it’s a pretty good recipe for confusion.

When Mount Royal University’s live production of The Rocky Horror Show opens March 28, it will provide not only this, but a plethora of other traditions practiced in lipstick and lingerie. 

Film and theatre

Rocky Horror traditions are pretty elaborate. Things are thrown, shouted and without the timely use of a newspaper, can get a little wet. Leah Nicholson first watched the Rocky Horror Picture Show at eight years old. She’s since seen it more than 25 times on two continents. 

Photo by Justin Wilson

Since its 1975 debut, The Rocky Horror fan base has grown immensely.

Whether on screen or performed live, attendees often dress as Rocky characters and in certain scenes, throw rice, confetti or toast.

Limiting some participation elements, though, is the fact they won’t bounce off an actor like they would a movie screen.

Understanding what crowd interaction means to fans, Mount Royal is developing participation kits with guides on props and vocal cues.

“We know any time you do a stage presentation, there’s going to be some kind of interaction,” says Doug Rathbun, theatre program co-ordinator at Mount Royal. “So we’re providing the audience with rice, confetti, newspapers, foam rubber toast and things like that.”

Rathbun says that some of the more profane callbacks – referring to common phrases audiences shout – won’t be permitted, but emphasizes that the production is still not for kids due to the show’s adult themes.

The rituals

Leah Nicholson, a University of Calgary graduate with a B.A. in film studies, has seen Rocky Horror on stage and screen more than 25 times, including a performance in Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

“How people participate can change from location to location,” says Nicholson. “Sometimes, every time Janet (played in film by Susan Sarandon) comes up on screen, people will yell ‘slut’ without fail. Other times, people are only into the really popular moments.”

Nicholson points to the callback, “Say it, say it,” as common in the Rocky Horror community, referring to Frank N. Furter’s (played in film by Tim Curry) suspenseful pause in the delivery of the word “anticipation.”

Frank-N-Furter: “I see you shiver with antici…

Audience: “Say it! Say it!”

Frank-N-Furter: “…pation”

Virgin hazing

“Virgin,” a term coined by Rocky Horror diehards, describes first-time audience members. Virgin rituals are meant to integrate newcomers into the Rocky Horror community.

The ritual can be anything from having them sport virgin specific lipstick, to standing on stage in a number of sexually suggestive situations.

However, Nicholson says, virgin hazing is not meant to embarrass or turn anyone off of the excitement.

“It’s really a good thing for everyone. If you don’t know what’s happening, people will be telling you, ‘This is the part where we do this!’ It’s a way for you to be welcomed into a really inviting community.”

Aedan Tomney, a film and video production student at SAIT, plans to attend the show. Tomney saw the film for the first time in late January and says he’s open to participating.

“If you’re going, you’re sort of already into the show. At that point, you should know what to expect because it has such a cult following,” Tomney says.

Rice and a wedding

After the movie’s opening credits, audiences generally celebrate with on-screen wedding guests by throwing rice as newlyweds Betty and Ralph exit the church.

This scene introduces audiences to Janet and Brad, each of whom can trigger risqué vocal cues from Rocky fans. Whether these particular cues are appropriate will be in Mount Royal’s guide.

The newspaper

In another scene, as Janet uses a newspaper to shield herself from a downpour, audiences often do likewise. In some theatres, patrons recreate the rain with water guns.

The many traditions of the Rocky Horror Picture Show will be brought to life in MRU Theatre’s performance.

Photo by Justin WilsonThis early scene may allow standoffish newcomers to participate in a simpler way, as some interactive elements – like the infamous “Time Warp” scene – can seem daunting.

Not all “virgins” keep it simple, however. The year she graduated from high school, Nicholson convinced former members of the St. Francis football team to attend a screening at Kensington’s Plaza Theatre.

“They went all out,” Nicholson says of the athletes. “They put on the fishnet pantyhose, corsets, and wigs. It was awesome and they were totally into it.”

Rubber toast

In a scene involving party hats and cannibalism, audiences throw toast in the air at the line, “A toast to absent friends,” a nod to Eddie, a character who becomes the evening’s main course.

Rocky Horror fans generally understand why throwing toast is sometimes taken out of a live performance,” Nicholson says, referring to how it can put actors at physical risk.

However, Mount Royal has opted to keep this in the show by making the toast out of foam rubber.

What the traditions mean

Nicholson says the audience traditions invite people to feel like part of a community.

“The saying goes ‘Tonight, somewhere in the world, there will be a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’” she says.

“No matter where you are, there’s going to be this thing you have and can share with people.”

To read more Calgary Journal coverage on the show, visit MRU takes on Rocky Horror.

jwilson@cjournal.ca