— Tessa Gaffney plays usherette in “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Aug. 16 through 18 at 8 p.m. at the Akron Civic Theatre. The production is part of the Millennial Theatre Project, in partnership with LGBT Akron Arts Festival.
My first real experience with “Rocky Horror” (other than reading “Perks of Being a Wallflower” and subsequently watching the Tim Curry film alone in my basement) was at the annual Halloween showing at the Palace Theatre in downtown Canton. There’s something truly incredible about being 16 in a room full of strangers, shouting at a screen and throwing toast into the air. And I loved it.
Then, when I performed the show down the street at the Auricle a few years later, I couldn’t really understand how it had gained such a devoted following. I mean, it was weird and fun and raunchy as hell, but seemingly substance-less.
But at rehearsal the other day in the depths of EJ Thomas Hall, reprising my role of usherette, I had an epiphany.
I often forget to give due credit to revolutionary works that seem tame now. I may even have subscribed to the idea that Frank was a damaging representation of transvestites (a murdering cannibal with questionable ideas about consent?), but narratives about those on the fringes of society do not exist to convince us “regular folk” that they’re harmless.
Dr. Frank n’Furter is the epitome of a staunch “family values” conservative’s worst nightmare. He will seduce your women, emasculate your men, and then literally eat you up! So, quake with fear, you tiny (minded) fools. Uninterested in money or power, he is the ultimate affront to capitalism, seeking only his own pleasure, which cannot be commodified. He shows the audience just how easy it is to taint Brad and Janet, the embodiment of conventionality and traditional gender roles—and worst of all, they like it!
And—bear with me here, because I may be stretching it—could the “Time Warp” be an extended metaphor for the human condition? Assuming these aliens have been sent here to observe our earthly ways and potentially have much longer lifespans, the infamous dance number might be the culmination of their research.
It’s just a jump to the left…
The first time as burgeoning adults we witness a huge leap back in progress (for me, it was the passing of Prop 8; for many, it may be Trump’s transgender military ban) that riles us up and forces us to acknowledge that justice doesn’t always win.
…and then a step to the right.
We inch toward improvement, test the waters, delicately appeal to those on the fence, receive pushback and eventually compromise, still ending up behind where we were before.
With your hands on your hips…
We throw our arms up in exasperation, at a loss, unsure of where our place is or what we’re capable of.
…you bring your knees in tight.
We close ourselves off from danger and grasp for comfort.
But it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane.
Burdened by responsibilities (i.e. bills, it’s always bills), we find ourselves settling down, choosing a mate, starting a family, and entrusting the task of changing the world to the next generation, as our parents did with us and theirs with them.
Let’s do the time warp again.
No one lives long enough to see the pattern, and we are cursed to repeat the same mistakes. Forever.
Unless we’re shaken out of the routine. Brad and Janet were on their way to a bland, white-picket-fence existence, but they’ve been saved! They can’t ignore what they’ve seen or done, how it felt; they are irrevocably altered. For better or worse, is hard to say.
As with most classics, the fans have kept the show alive, but the story has kept it relevant. Our culture may be more accepting of alternative lifestyles than it was in 1975, but since then, there has never been a moment when it hasn’t been playing at some cinema in the world.
Brad and Janet are undeniably the protagonists of the story, but they are not the heroes. They represent the rise of a dated morality that the wild and untamed things must continually fight against. They are the “make America great again” movement, shouting for a “simpler time” when women were in the kitchen and minorities were in the margins, where they belong.
Frank remains an icon because he does not ask for acceptance, he demands reverence—he knows he’s fabulous and everybody else better wise up. Performances of “Rocky Horror” are still the only place where cross-dressing is the norm, and the straight-laced are made to assimilate.
Tickets to “Rocky Horror Picture Show” are available at the Akron Civic Theatre Box Office, by calling (330) 253-2488 or online at www.akroncivic.com, or TicketMaster (1-800-745-3000).