It’s Saturday night, and The Bawdy Caste is all dressed up for the legendary B-Movie cult classic
At midnight on the first Saturday of every month, restless fans line up outside the Landmark Guild Theatre in Menlo Park. Some are glowing with glitter, others are strutting in gravity-defying high heels, and many are dressed provocatively.
They’re here for a late-night showing of the now-iconic 1975 cult movie, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Starring a young Susan Sarandon, the film—about “a transsexual from Transylvania” — is a campy musical masterpiece that holds the unique counterculture status of being the longest-running midnight movie of all time.
Newcomers to the monthly showing, or “virgins” as they’re called in the Rocky community, might think they’re seeing double during the movie. They’re not. Performers dressed as characters in the film act out the entire movie in front of the screen. This lively fusion of stage and screen mayhem is a long-running tradition with Rocky Horror that has played out for over 40 years in midnight showings around the world dating back to New York City in 1976.
The Bawdy Caste, a volunteer shadow cast that specializes in screen-accurate renditions of movies, performs “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at least twice a month, once at the Guild and once at Landmark’s Clay Theatre in San Francisco. The troupe first formed in 1995, and then partnered with Landmark Theatres in 2006, when the Bawdy Caste started performing bi-monthly at the Guild Theatre.
When preparing for a role, each cast member memorizes his or her character’s performance, both their lines and exact on-screen movements.
“We work really, really hard to do the same hand gestures, the same blinks,” said Siobhan Taylor, a cast member since 2008.
Michael Delfino, who has played Rocky characters Frank, Brad and Rocky since 2011, said that when learning a new role, he watches the movie over and over again to figure out the character’s exact choreography. His on-stage actions, like stepping forward and backward, titling his head, or smiling, are precise copies of what’s happening in the movie.
The cast costumes also mimic what’s on screen. Taylor, a professional seamstress, has reproduced to a T many of the costumes for the characters she has played over the years: a Transylvanian, Magenta, Janet and Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
Taylor said most of the cast’s 60 members rotate in and out of performing and behind-the-scene roles. Before acting, Delfino joined the cast as a support crew member in 2009. The Bawdy Caste has its own sound operators, a spotlight operator, prop managers, sales team, audience experience team and production assistants.
“All the theater really has to do is provide the movie,” said Chris Hatfield, the manager of the Clay since 2006. “The cast sets up everything else.”
Hatfield says that many generations of people come to the midnight showings, thanks to the inclusive community Rocky Horror fans have created over the past 45 years.
Taylor says the cast is also made up of performers of all genders, bodies and sexualities.
“Frank says at the end of the movie ‘Don’t dream it, be it,’” said Delfino. “Whoever you are, whatever you want to be, you can be. When we see audience members being whatever they want to be, that is the cultural phenomenon that is ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’”
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