‘The Rocky Horror Show’ Opens May 1, Free to the Public
April 24, 2024

Those ruby red lips and blood dripping from the title are a siren for fans of “The Rocky Horror Show,” and the Stanislaus State Department of Theatre production, which runs May 1 through 4 in the outdoor Amphitheater, welcomes aficionados and newcomers alike. Admission is free.

Richard O’Brien’s mix of 1930s and ’40s B horror movies and science fiction films with glam rock became a campy spectacle that debuted on stage in 1973 and its appeal has never wavered.

“It is much more than just another musical theatre show,” said Director and Department of Theatre Lecturer Kitsy Olson. “It has become a part of culture. It also has become a pivot point for many young people who are sexually ambiguous. It still resonates, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a coming-of-age thing.”

“The Rocky Horror Show” is the story of newly engaged Janet and Brad, who, caught with a flat tire in a rainstorm, stumble upon the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his coterie of exotic residents, including phantoms, who are the musical’s chorus. The production features extravagant costumes and makeup and characters of different sexual identities.

Audience participation is a part of the show, which lends itself to an outdoor setting.

“If we’re doing something in the Amphitheater, let’s go big and let’s go bold,” Olson said. “If we’re doing a rock ‘n’ roll show, that’s the place to do it.”

Audience members are invited to bring a picnic and a blanket and enjoy a night under the stars.

“The Rocky Horror Show” appeals to all generations, but it contains mature content, so Olson wouldn’t advise it for anyone under 16 or 17 years old. She was surprised when teenagers showed up for auditions, which are always open to the public.

“What this production of Rocky Horror does for our community is bring us together. It helps us find a different part of ourselves, helps us be more comfortable with who we are.”

- Peyton Starkweather (Riff Raff), Theatre Major

One said, “My mom drove me here. She loves this show.” Another told Olson, “My grandma made me.”

For some, the opportunity to perform outdoors was the draw.

“There is this beautiful night element and this much larger space,” said theatre major Cheney McGee, who plays Brad. “The lighting is different and captures this magical, mystical tone.”

Indoors or outside, “The Rocky Horror Show” never loses its appeal. Or following.

R. Dominic Coleman, a past Stan State student who plans to re-enroll in the fall, is playing Frank-N-Furter for a third time.

Cheney McGee (Brad) and Ava McCullough (Janet) from The Rocky Horror Show

“Frank-N-Furter is an iconic character,” Coleman said. “Every director is different. They want different things from us as actors. The thing about Kitsy is she said to have fun with it, to let go. I was able to take my time and let the character develop in a way I think is going to be really delicious.”

The seasoned performer in the cast has embraced his fellow actors.

“These students are really hard workers, and they have really found their footing,” Coleman said. “Kitsy makes sure each character has their moment and feels special.”

The performers have worked to make their characters special and make them larger than life.

Theatre major Peyton Starkweather describes his character Riff Raff as a combination of Lurch and Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family.”

“It’s been an interesting challenge, trying to find the fun aspects of this character as well as the serious toned-down nature and marry these two,” Starkweather said. “It’s making me a better actor to take on this kind of challenge.”

Janet presents the same opportunity for Ava McCullough, a second-year child development major who is minoring in theatre.

“I think she puts on this sense of innocence, but deep within her she has an urge and desire to do more,” McCullough said. “I love playing with that and getting to work with that idea.” She has gained a new understanding about herself in the process.

“What ‘Rocky Horror’ means to me is being open with yourself and allowing yourself to feel comfortable in your body,” McCullough said. “That’s something this show has really taught me.”

cast from Rocky Horror Show
The Stanislaus State Department of Theatre presents “The Rocky Horror Show” in the University Amphitheatre May 1-4. Admission is free.

McGee’s Brad is an everyman.

“He is completely out of his element in the Frankenstein castle,” McGee said. “He’s a stereotype of traditional masculinity. It all falls apart in this environment, which is very fun to explore as someone who does not feel like a traditionally masculine person. I think ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ is excellent for people who feel like they don’t fall into any sort of category. ‘Rocky Horror’ is all about breaking down norms, breaking down facades. Every character has a facade that’s removed at some point.”

Being a part of the production has been more than educational.

“In college classes, a lot of times it’s lectures and not much interaction between classmates,” McCullough said. “Being able to be in the Theatre Department gives me something to look forward to and have community in college.”

The Turlock community, where McCullough grew up, is in for a treat, she said.

“What this production of ‘Rocky Horror’ does for our community is bring us together,” Starkweather said. “There’s so much audience interaction and participation. Everyone is guaranteed to have this bizarre, sensual fun together. It helps us find a different part of ourselves and helps us be more comfortable with who we are.”