Absent Friends puts on Rocky Horror spectacle
They’ve done the time warp again.
Ottawa’s Absent Friends Shadow Cast performed for the seventh year in a row at the Mayfair Theatre’s Halloween screening of the 1975 film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to a sold-out crowd. Shadow casts, comprised of a group of actors, perform the movie live along with the film.
Sam Kellerman, director and lead performer of the Absent Friends, said he was excited to have brought his own troupe to the Mayfair once again for the spooky season.
“There’s been very little rehearsal process,” explained Kellerman, who played hyper-sexual scientist, Dr. Frank N. Furter. “Most of the actors have been playing with me from anywhere between two to six years. We all pretty much know the parts down to muscle memory.”
Kellerman stressed that the Absent Friends’ show onstage was not meant to replace the film, but rather to complement it.
“We differentiate ourselves by adding our own twist. We are also yelling out the lines to the audience. It’s about halfway participation and halfway the movie,” Kellerman said. “Let’s also not forget that it’s live. If someone misses a cue, the movie keeps on going. I’m assuming it’s very encouraging because the entire point is to participate and not to sit down quietly and watch. The audience is taking part. We’re just wrangling them on to shout with us.”
As for audience goers, annual screenings of Rocky Horror since its theatrical release have a tradition of calling together “misfits” to gather in a singular theatre. Gaudy costumes? Highly recommended. Popcorn throwing? Strongly encouraged. Audience participation? Guaranteed.
Halloween night’s first screening out of three saw bubble blowing, cheering, booing, and even slices of toast and rolls of toilet paper being thrown among the Ottawa crowd. First time viewers, labelled “virgins,” were initiated with lipstick drawn V’s on faces, butt slaps by the cast, and a dildo kiss.
“The people that Rocky attracts are marvelous. It’s always outcasts, and people who don’t fit into society,” explained Kellerman. “There always seems to be a connection when we get to meet other strange people. The people I meet are often the most rewarding thing about performing the show.”
As for the director’s favorite numbers in the whole show? Notable for Kellerman is the opening sequence, “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” for its iconic presentation of plump red lips against a black screen. Indeed, for one of the film’s last songs, “Don’t Dream It, Be It,” Kellerman and crew writhed and made out onstage to walloping hurrahs from the audience.
“You also can’t beat the orgy we have at the end,” Kellerman said. “It’s pretty rock and roll.”
The origins of Kellerman’s tribute to Rocky Horror also found its roots at the Mayfair Theatre’s annual Halloween screenings, which he has attended “religiously.”
“One day, Lee Demarbre, the owner, approached me,” Kellerman said. “I would go to the screening completely decked out and he asked me if I wanted to do the show. I jumped at the opportunity. The irony of it is that I have never seen a shadow cast. Now, we are the third most viewed shadow cast for Rocky Horror in the world, and the most viewed in Canada.”