In the velvet darkness of the Boston Common AMC, there’s a guiding star no matter what or who you are. Since 1984, Boston’s Full Body Cast troupe has been bringing the cult classic horror rock musical “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to life in the local movie theater via their shadow performances. Every Saturday at 9:30 p.m., audiences can come up to the frightful, campy lab of a Dr. Frankenstein-esque scientist clad in fishnet stockings and black stilettos. But as they’re watching the “innocent” protagonist couple, Brad and Janet, enter this sex-saturated, Transylvanic, gothic castle on screen, they’ll also see the same scenes acted out in front of the film.
Following the “Rocky Horror” cult tradition, the Full Body Cast stages a weekly re-enactment of the film as the original plays on screen, complete with lighting, simultaneous acting, screamed interjections, simulated sex, toilet paper, party hats, and more. However, as wild as this experience may seem, there’s a method and a message to Full Body Cast’s madness.
Although a movie-going audience will only see the dynamic, sexually charged performances of a cast miming through classic songs like “Hot Patootie” and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me,” the behind-the-scenes work to put on the show weekly goes beyond the Saturday performances. As Full Body Cast Producer Molly Scrivens says, “There’s a lot of different moving pieces to the show... making sure we have the right equipment. We have rehearsals once a month, even though we do it every week. We have auditions... There’s a lot that people don’t see.” Though the logistical work and preparation are extensive, Scrivens and fellow producer Jen Lipschitz highlight the group’s strong bonds behind the scenes.
Lipschitz talks about the ironclad community among both participating members and alumni of the show, saying that “we’re family... I know that if I ever get stuck on the side of the road, I can just send out a message, and someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in ten years will come rescue me. That’s a really powerful feeling.”
Part of that camaraderie comes from the comfort established among the cast before curtain, as Scrivens notes: “We do a lot of bonding with our castmates... being able to feel like there’s at least some sort of connection between all of [them] before [they] get up on stage and are dancing around in lingerie.”
Because “Rocky Horror” requires sexual simulation and near-nudity, comfort among cast members is a must; but, for the same reasons, “Rocky Horror” also calls for an extraordinary comfort in one’s own body. With Rocky only donning gold underwear and most of the cast spending the entire third act in sparkling corsets and garters, freedom from self-consciousness seems like a prerequisite to act in this show. However, as much as performers need that liberation to play their parts, “Rocky Horror” itself often serves as the catalyst for finding that freedom.
For many queer adolescents over the decades, “Rocky Horror” and its shadow-casted shows have become the north star — a beacon where anyone can flock when they’re in want of a welcoming space. From Dr. Frank N. Furter’s shameless, genderless expressionism to Brad and Janet’s budding sexual fluidity, everyone can find a mirror for themselves embedded in “Rocky”: it stands for inclusion at its highest degree.
Cast member Will spoke on how embodying the show’s roles allows for a full array of gender expression: “I am trans-masculine, and I recently played Brad for the first time, and that was some big time gender euphoria. ‘Rocky’ for a lot of people is a chance to express yourself gender-wise in ways that you might not get to in the real world.”
While acting in “Rocky Horror” offers its own form of community and liberation, you only have to be in the audience to experience “The Picture Show’s” magic. Cal, a “Rocky” fan and viewer, said before a recent screening that “‘Rocky Horror’ was just a great community and a great place to get together with people who are like me or allies to me. It’s very much a queer space or at least a space that’s very welcoming to queer people.”
The Full Body Cast’s production of “Rocky Horror” is an essential part of maintaining this sentiment in Boston and remains an experience that every Bostonian should have. The weekly 9:30 p.m. show at the AMC Boston Common 19 is now the light “over at the Frankenstein place” that leads fans to a community of fright, delight, and total acceptance.
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