‘Rocky Horror’ survives cancellation scare to please fans and performers


Sarah Cutshall | Staff Photographer

A Transylvanian performs “Rocky Horror Picture Show’s” opening dance in Bellefield Hall Monday night.

By Sarah Connor, Culture Editor

After a surprise cancellation due to some confusion about venue booking and budgeting with the Student Government Board activities director followed by talks and then reinstatement, Pitt’s Engineering Student Council’s annual production of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” shadowcast took the stage Monday night with plenty of the traditional details of the experience — corsets, high heels and fishnet stockings.

This year’s production continued with the shadowcast tradition “Rocky Horror” is known for, in which fully costumed actors act along and lip sync as the movie is projected on a screen in the background. The kooky show follows an engaged couple — Janet Weiss, played by Clara Osburg in Pitt’s production, and Brad Majors, who was shadow casted by Ethan Vukelich — lost in the woods of Texas with a flat tire.

Sarah Cutshall | Staff Photographer
Janet and Brad, an engaged couple and two of the show’s leads, act out the on-screen characters’ walk in the rain.

The pair find themselves at the home of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a self-described “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania,” who takes them on a musical, sexual journey through his lab where he claims to have found the “secret to life itself.”

At the entrance of the auditorium at Bellefield Hall, six students costumed as characters from the movie greeted guests to the show while holding lipstick. The lipstick was used to help contribute to another tradition of the show — drawing a bright red “V” on the heads of first-time visitors, or virgins, as those attending a shadowcast for the first time are referred to.

Not only was it a triumph for the show to even happen, but the cast and crew also accepted donations to go to United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania — who had partnered with the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Federation in light of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday. All of the proceeds from the evening went to that fund, according to director Drew Maks.

Maks kicked off the night by expressing his gratitude to all who came through to make this year’s production of “Rocky Horror” possible including ESC, the Student Government Board and SGB President Maggie Kennedy. After the show, he opened up about the opportunity to take part in the show for the ninth year in a row.

“It means a lot — it kind of means everything in the sense that this is a place that’s a safe space, where people of all different types can come and just love themselves,” Maks said.

Maks was also excited about the popularity of the show in combination with its queer themes. With a packed, shouting crowd at Bellefield, he felt it was a great opportunity to spread awareness for the LGBTQ+ community.

Sarah Cutshall | Staff Photographer
Janet and Brad — played by Clara Osburg and Ethan Vukelich — take off their robes at Dr. Frank N. Furter’s house.

“A lot of other LGBTQIA events are great, but you kind of have to already identify that way. This is a great way to invite your friends to a musical where they can discover something else about themselves and other people, I think that’s the most important thing about tonight,” he said.

Students involved with production echoed this view, and felt the inclusivity stemmed beyond just reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community. One student who played a Transylvanian, first-year engineering major Isabella Mailer, was grateful for the chance to get out and make social connections through being involved with “Rocky Horror.”

“I feel like this happening with the Engineering Student Council is really fun and a great opportunity because some engineers don’t really get out much — it’s a busy program and we don’t always get to have fun,” Mailer said. “Most of us are engineering students, not all of us, but most are. I think it’s important that we all have a fun moment because we usually don’t get that.”

Mailer took the stage in dark makeup and sky-high heels along with the seven other Transylvanians and the rest of the cast. Before long, the crowd was on their feet dancing and singing along to “The Time Warp.”

Off-stage cast members shouted jokes and comments as part of the traditional shadowcast repertoire, encouraging the audience to get involved with the show. Guests were given miniature water guns to mimic rain, newspapers to shield themselves from said rain and medical gloves to snap when the on-stage doctors did as well.

This was not the full extent of the interactivity of the show. During the show’s final musical number, many of the actors dressed provocatively came down into the audience and shared dances with — and on top of — some giggling audience members.

Sarah Cutshall | Staff Photographer
Alex Rangel plays a doctor who flirts with a Transylvanian in Pitt’s Monday night production of the classic “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The bold dances with audience members is another tradition of “Rocky Horror” that ESC’s production brought to life. Along with this, one staple of the show is a disregard for gender roles. Women, men and non-binary actors were seen on stage in corsets, tights, high-heels and lingerie. The title character of “Rocky Horror” is portrayed in the 1975 film by a man as a male character — but that did not stop senior English literature major Lauren Fabrizio from slipping into the iconic golden undergarments as Rocky.

Fabrizio has been acting in the ESC “Rocky Horror” shadowcast since her first year, and it has been something she has felt a strong connection to over the years.

“It hurts that this is my last year,” she said. “It’s going to be hard having to go about life without as much ‘Rocky’ in it.”

For the “Rocky Horror” veteran, the show and its messages of inclusivity has played an extremely important role in her experience at Pitt. She came off of the stage tearing up, despite receiving a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd.

“‘Rocky Horror’ has completely changed my life. It has changed my ideas about my body image, my sexuality, it’s given me a family at Pitt,” Fabrizio said. “I wasn’t planning on staying here, I had a really bad freshman year and ‘Rocky’ is kind of what saved me. Leaving it is really hard, but I’m hoping that it will have its chance to save somebody else.”