BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
Actors are generally pretty good at dealing with odd audience behavior, and it will be interesting to see how the cast of The Rocky Horror Show responds when someone shouts out a line during the play's performance. That, of course, is standard operating procedure during midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the 1975 cult movie.
For example, whenever the ingenue Janet appears in the movie, the audience yells, "Slut!'' Her boyfriend, Brad, is greeted with, "A--h---!'' Many of the audience's shouts at the screen are unprintable. When Janet and Brad are at a wedding, the audience throws rice. When the two are in a thunderstorm, the squirt guns come out.
"The audience yells out the same things at the play that they yell at the movie,'' says Rick Criswell, co-director of The Rocky Horror Show, which is being staged in the Jaeb Theater of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. "The hard thing for the actor is to know when to stop and listen but not break character. It's a challenging thing as an actor and completely different. We never know what's going to be yelled out.''
The TBPAC production is encouraging audience participation at the 11 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday. There will be bags for sale for $5 with toilet paper, playing cards and other things to throw at appropriate times, but no rice or squirt guns, which are not allowed in the theater.
Some audience members dress up as characters in the show, such as Frank-N-Furter, the transvestite Transylvanian, and his gender-bending Phantoms who dance the Time Warp. Criswell, who has been known to dress as Hairspray's Edna Turnblad for TBPAC parties, first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a 10th-grader in Fort Wayne, Ind.
"We would go a couple of times a month, a group of friends and I, all through high school,'' he says. "We would raid our costume shops and the thrift stores and dress up. I remember wearing tailcoats and sequined hats and bow ties and becoming one of the Phantom characters. It was just fun putting on the feathers and makeup. I think the pre-party was as much fun as going to the movie itself.''
Criswell designed costumes for the production that opens tonight. "I'm trying for some of that Gothic, Marilyn Manson feel,'' he says. "There's a heavy black, leathery kind of look, with corsets and bustiers, but even a little skimpier clothing than most shows have.''
Stylists from Toni and Guy, a salon at International Plaza in Tampa, did the cast's hair. "It's a very European style, very textured, very rock 'n' roll,'' said DJ Cacciatore, the salon's director. "A lot of bright, bold colors: blues, reds, silvers, oranges, black. And really edgy haircuts, large Mohawks, things like that. Frank-N-Furter has a long, tussled Mohawk, with black and blue hair.''
Co-director Karla Hartley designed the set. "We gutted the Jaeb,'' Criswell says. "You'll see the back brick wall of the stage. We've taken out all the tables, and it's general admission seating around this catwalk runway kind of thing in the middle of the theater. Our band is up on an 8-foot platform. There's a rock 'n' roll feel to the show.''
The Rocky Horror Show, written by Richard O'Brien, premiered as a stage production in London about two years before the movie came out. "There is one song in the stage version that is not in the movie, but the play is pretty much true to the story line in the movie,'' Criswell says. "A lot of the dialogue is simpler in the stage version.''
He hopes that regulars at Rocky Horror midnight movie screenings will find the stage production to be a refreshing twist on what they know so well. "We're not trying to imitate the movie, but we do try to be true to the dance moves in the Time Warp, probably the only thing we replicate from the movie.''
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.