Engineering the time warp again: Engineering Student Council puts on Rocky Horror Picture Show


Delena Obermaier, senior, sings at the annual live production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the 1975 musical comedy that pushes boundaries, sexuality-wise. (Photo by Sarah Cutshall | Staff Photographer)

By Amanda Finney | Staff Writer

It’s not every day Pitt students gather in a campus building to watch performers in lingerie. But on Wednesday night, a girl in a bright red wig and patent leather knee-high boots danced seductively onstage as a giant pair of red lips, projected on the screen behind her, sang the show’s opening number.

A crowd of about 500 filled the William Pitt Union Assembly Room to see Pitt’s annual live production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” hosted by the Engineering Student Council. The 1975 musical comedy is famous for pushing boundaries related to sexuality, featuring Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a mad scientist dressed in fishnets, heels and a corset, as the lead role.

Pitt students performed “Rocky Horror” as a shadow cast — performers pantomimed the show onstage while the film version played on a screen behind them. This enabled interaction between the cast and the audience as the plot progressed, following Jane and Brad, a young couple, as they seek refuge from a storm in Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s mansion.

Drew Maksymowych, a 2012 Pitt alum and director of “Rocky Horror,” said the cast is switched up every year, giving performers a chance to try out different roles.

“Rocky has always been about inclusivity. We welcome anyone who wants to be a part of the show,” Maksymowych said.

Audience participation is a focus of the “Rocky Horror” experience. To encourage audience members to take part in the performance, a table at the show’s entrance offered prop bags at the start of the show — complete with kazoos, water guns, newspapers and flashlights — which would be used for specific scenes in the show.

In a rainy scene, the audience squirted their water guns to mimic rain. As the female lead, Janet, held a newspaper over her head to protect herself from the rain, the audience members held newspapers over their heads as well.

Aside from the use of props, another tradition of “Rocky Horror” is the constant heckling — called callbacks — from the audience members.

Delena Obermaier — a senior and film studies and history double major who played the lead role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter — said “Rocky Horror’s” frequent moments of interaction between the cast and the audience is intended to make crowd members feel uncomfortable, yet included.

“We’re typically uncomfortable with nudity or sometimes with cross-dressing, but I hope by the end people think it’s awesome and feel like ‘who cares,’” Obermaier said.

Obermaier said she was sad to be leaving the show after performing in “Rocky Horror” throughout her entire college career. She played Magenta her first three years, and played Frank this year.

For this year’s production, the cast rehearsed for four hours every Sunday and on one Saturday beginning the last weekend of September — adding up to 24 hours total of scheduled rehearsal time. The majority of each cast member’s rehearsal time is comprised of studying the film intently to recreate it onstage.

“The cast practices for countless hours at home watching and rewatching the movie to get their mannerisms and choreography perfect,” Maksymowych said.

Despite being more than 40 years old, Maksymowych said the story is still relevant and even controversial today.

“It asks questions about sex, gender and society. Many of these questions are ones that we still struggle with today,” Maksymowych said. “It is inherently topical to speak about sex and self expression since they are so ubiquitous.”

BD Wahlberg, a 2016 Pitt alum and “Rocky Horror” veteran, said the show resonates with them as a trans person. They said it focuses on living the truth one wants to live.

“The moral is ‘don’t dream it, be it.’ It’s the emotional point where Frank takes the dive into this hedonistic indulgence,” Wahlberg said.

Maksymowych said this specific kind of “creative interdisciplinary medium” allows students to make new personal discoveries, as either an audience member or performer.

“Live performances are never the same twice, and therein lies the magic,” Maksymowych said.

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