Interview Mind's Eye Theatre Production Crew
Director Christopher King
This past August a couple of local fans and I had a rare opportunity to work closely with a local production of The Rocky Horror Show Live. When I heard that the show was going to be playing in Kansas City I emailed the director and asked if I could interview him for my Rocky website and asked if he would like any help with poster hanging etc. To my surprise, he called me and asked that our local fan club become involved in the production immediately. He wanted the actors to have a feel for what it would be like to perform with audience members screaming and yelling at them. We went to rehearsals, work days, and parties with the cast. When all was said and done, I had a far better understanding of what goes into a play from more than just an audience member's point of view. I also walked away with about 35 new friends.
The person with the most input on the show is the director. Christopher King was a real fan of the movie, every day at rehearsal he was smiling from ear to ear.
My first experience with Rocky Horror was so wonderful & almost surreal. Having grown up in a small Kansas town, I'd never been exposed to ANYTHING that was different or unique. I had begun friendships with several other people I'd met that seemed like "lost souls in a sea of mediocrity" and we all sat transfixed at what we saw on the screen. We returned time & again, every weekend. I just could not get enough of my Rocky Horror obsession. At the time, I almost resented the audience participation because I took the film, and my own "personal meaning" of it, so seriously. How could this audience talk while the glorious Frank N. Furter was on the screen?? How could they possibly laugh when he was murdered??? Being a teenager is difficult even more so when you feel like you're all alone, and Frank N. Furter became my savior. Eventually the demands of life lead me away from many of these friends and to some extent, Rocky Horror.
As a fan of the film, I suppose I was excited to tell the Rocky Story that was personal to me. You see, I feel that each Rocky Horror fan has their own personal meaning when they view the movie and a personal reason why it touches them so much. I think that is the brilliance and genius of Richard O'Brien's vision. When faced with staging it, I wanted to put my mark on it to make it my own, otherwise I felt I would be trying to emulate Richard O'Brien, rather than honoring him.
Whenever I do ANY show I first look at story and the writing and then I try to honor what the Artist's vision for his/her story was initially. Of course that is filtered through me and my own personal life experiences. One thing that I felt was essential was that I have a group of individuals who understand what it feels like to be different to feel left behind. I wanted to take them, as well as the audience, on a journey through this strange place where oddness and uniqueness was celebrated, even if the mundane of the normal world does succeed in the end.
If I'd had my druthers, I would have liked to make Frank's entrance more spectacular. Because of the confines of the space I couldn't drop him in from the ceiling ( Which is what I wanted to do, but when I asked my set designer she just laughed heartily and said, "No,") We tried to do something with an elevator shaft, but it never really worked and ended up being almost a roadblock. There was just not enough tech time to fix it by the time the show was up and running. I was just so astounded with the rest of the set-and what my incredible & talented set designer had done-that I perhaps neglected this moment.
I could have had Frank enter center through the lips-but it would have destroyed the excitement of the floorshow that takes place there. We were just between a rock & a hard place. Also, I pretty much feel the same way regarding Riff & Magenta's exit on the spaceship. I didn't give it enough focus. Technically, it was really neat intelligent lights around the tongue platform and dry-ice fog, but they just kind of walked off.
The Broadway revival of Rocky influenced me a great deal. I saw someone take Rocky and apply their vision of it to the story. I saw that the stage-show could be absolutely brilliant. I think it brought Rocky to a whole new crowd that might not have understood the movie or been turned off by it's 70's kind of feel. (This 70's kind of feel actually turns ME on!) But people saw something a little more daring. When you think that the movie is shown regularly on TV now, kids today say, "What's so daring about that?" The Broadway show made people, including myself, realize that you could even bring the shock value up to date; Rocky has to be shocking! I mean, isn't the sequel called Shock Treatment?
My favorite part of doing Rocky was re-connecting with who I am-who Rocky told me I was okay to be me way back when. I had almost forgotten how much I loved this show. Like many things when we are young, it faded like an old picture into some recess in my mind-back there with your first memory of sex, the first time you tasted alcohol-all the forbidden fruits. (So to speak) This helped me, in a sense, to come home again-to who I was-what I believed in. I can't leave out the people. Everyone associated with this production taught me something-gave me something that I'll carry with me always. That may sound flowery-but it's sincere. For one moment in time-people from all age groups-all religions-all body types-all genders and sexual preferences came together and experienced this magic-this miracle that is Rocky Horror.
(If you had it to do all over again what would you change?)
Don't get me started! I am, after all, a perfectionist. I would say I would have reworked several moments-would have maybe cast one or two roles differently-but you never know-had I done that, I still might be saying the same thing. I'm going to plead the fifth on this one-and you'll just have to wait until the NEXT time I do Rocky Horror!! Hopefully it won't be long!
Set Designer Cynthia Dahlberg
Being an art teacher I quickly bonded with the show's set designer. Besides designing the show, Cynthia Dahlberg played the role of Eddie/Dr. Scott and a Transylvanian in the understudy cast.
Jeff Mace: Coming in what was your initial vision for the show's look?
Cynthia Dahlberg: I wanted a very slick, dark and shiny kind of industrial
look. For me the design is very sparse/clean, I usually like to clutter
a set up with lots of set props. I think Christopher (King) wanted more of a
Broadway look, and thus influenced the final product a little in that
direction. Mostly I was shooting for an "atmosphere" set that would
spill out into the audience and keep them feeling close to the action,
really wrapped up in it all.
JM: Did the movie influence your design?
CD: The lips did...I initially was working with a very
industrial-looking proscenium, lots of metal, a cage-like structure. I
knew I wanted the set to come from the ceiling to the floor and end in a
ramp, so if I went with the lips, the tongue just made sense. I also liked
the idea of the Mansion and the Transsexual life-style "eating you up". The
movie influenced what I wanted to do with the elevator, but I just didn't
have the resources. The lab I always pictured as more "sciency" than in
the movie. The overall design of the show which included Christopher's
vision, the costumes, set, lights and make-up was intended to come from a
new direction than what everyone had seen in the movie. We ideally wanted
it to be "shocking" and sexy by today's standards, and in that way we
tried not to be influenced by the movie. But I believe we were shooting
for the same objectives as they were when making the movie.
JM: From a technical point of view, what was the most difficult to create in
your design of the set? Was there anything you wanted to do that just
couldn't be done?
CD: The most difficult things were making the lips and tongue
structurally sound, safe so no one would have to worry AT ALL about the
integrity of the set itself. Time made many of the aesthetic aspects of
the set difficult, impractical and often impossible. Not having a fly-system or
an actual stage floor also made lots of cool ideas implausible. I wanted
Frank N. Furter to enter down a spiral staircase, I wanted Rocky to be
unveiled from underneath a spinning, flashing test-tube, I wanted Eddie to
burst out of the side of the freezer and down a "ramp" made from the door
of the freezer after it opened, I wanted an exhaust fan in the roof so that
all of the fog and smoke could disappear up into thin air after the
spaceship took off. All of these things just couldn't be done. I also
wanted the Transylvanians to USE the whole set by climbing and crawling
and hanging, I wanted the lights to build and overwhelm the audience rather
than intermittently "do their thing" and then go off again, I wanted the
"love pit" of pillows around the tongue during the second act to be covered
with lounging, smoking "spent" Transylvanians, I wanted the cast to go out
into the audience and up the aisles during the show, dancing on the steps
and sitting in peoples' laps. All of these things wouldn't be done (by the
choreographer, director, actors, etc.) Some of the compromises were
disappointing, the elevator never worked right, the lab was never lit
enough that you could see it, the freezer ice was wimpy, Rocky's entrance
was like a mistake, but all of it can be improved next year!
JM: I noticed that there was a lot of attention to color in this production
(costumes, sets, advertising materials etc.) Could you explain how you
chose and placed color in your design?
CD: Like I said, I always wanted a slick, dark industrial feel to the
show. I would have liked to have seen more purple and blue in the show,
especially costumes. There would have been a lot less red if I could have
controlled it, that was to be only for the lips and tongue, but alas, costumes
were mostly done by the actors themselves (mostly black) and the costumer
introduced lots of red. I liked the purple and used it when I could, I was
lucky to find cool fabrics that were inexpensive and a mylar curtain we
could borrow with blue in it. I call that family of colors "black opal"
and I really like it a lot. To me, those colors feel industrial, cold,
slick, cool, and creepy. I guess black and red are just too trendy for me. I
think the lips and tongue would have been more effective if they were the
only red. I thought the purple curtain and bed-sheet (actually steel
blue-grey until the light hit it) were very sexy, slinky and
"other-worldly" while silver makes everything look wet and shiny. The
"screens" or curtains upstairs in the lab were for projection purposes and
had to be white. They were originally slated to be used much more and I
had assumed they would have colored light on them other times. I put them
in the design for the projection of the "movie" at the beginning and for
back-lit scenes which never happened.
JM: Do you feel that being one of the actors had any influence on your design
of the sets?
CD: Only in that I took that into consideration concerning how much I
would be able to do. I actually had quite a bit of help on this show,
but unfortunately in community theatre you usually build every single
thing you design, by yourself. Having to be at rehearsals and in the
show took up a great deal of my time, but like I said, I lucked out and
had quite a bit of help from cast, crew and you guys! As far as design
goes, I always want the set to enhance the show, no more or less so
when I'm in the cast.
JM: Describe your "dream set" for Rocky, one with no limitations of space or
CD: … I could really come up with some cool stuff if I had a fly-system, but
the intimacy of a black-box theatre is nice too. I'd like more scaffolding and
a higher ceiling, an all lucite/plexiglass lab with lots of boiling test-tubes and a
spectacular elevator. A moped would really have been great and more chains
on the set itself for Trannys to chain each other up to. I had initially wanted the
mouth to "open up" as the opening song was being sung, just lift up from hinges
on the sides. I would also have been cool to have a revolve, so the set could
turn as they walked up to the lab, if I had a real elevator that would be a cool
place for the spiral staircase!
JM: If you were to do the show again what changes, if any, would you make in
CD: Probably not many, what I plan to do is add to what is there. The
freezer needs to be steadier and the elevator needs some pizzazz. Since
we are so low budget, I think I'd like to just keep making what we have
better and better rather than starting over each year. If I didn't have
this base to work with I might try the industrial thing, lots of steel and
silver. I'd have to think of it from a new direction and right now this
set is firmly stuck in my head. I would like to raise the elevator about 3
feet and make it round.
Costume Designer Barbara Paeth
I was really surprised to see the costume designer at rehearsals. I had never thought that she would be involved during the show, but rather just make the costumes before opening night and deliver them. Barbara Paeth was at almost all of the rehearsals I went to. She and her husband were fans of the movie and had three amazing daughters (3, 6, and 9 years of age) who were shouting along with us at most of the rehearsals. They are indeed a Rocky family and Barb's love of the show was apparent in her wonderful designs.
As the designer, I had to go with the look that the Director, Christopher King, wanted. Once I got the feel for things, I had free reign. It was a fabulous feeling
to have that freedom.
I have loved the movie since I first saw it in May of 1986. I have even made little Barbie doll size costumes. However, the design of these costumes was more along the lines of the current Broadway version, as far as colors go. We really sexed it up for this version. It was a lot steamier than the movie.
JM: What was your biggest challenge in creating costumes for The Rocky Horror Show?
BP: Wow, that is a tough one...it was creating corsets for the guys, from a woman's pattern. That was a lot of trial and error, and a lot of tailoring.
JM: Who was the hardest character to costume? Why?
BP: The hardest character to costume was, well, all of the corsets. All but one had to fit two different people, and some of these people had very different body sizes.
JM: Was there anything you wanted to create that just didn't work?
BP: Yes. Chris wanted a cape for Frank like the one in the Broadway version, which is gathered like the inside of a coffin. However, I just didn't have the time to play with the material to make it hang just right, and gather it without making it too short. I used a cape my husband had at home, and with the advice of A-Z Theatrical, I added boas around it to make it longer. It was a great way to make the cape work.
JM: Which piece are you most proud of?
BP: I have to say I am proudest of Frank's red corset. I had to make alterations on it, but it was the best one I did. I was also proud of the costume for the Magenta understudy. However, the blouse drove me nuts, as it was pretty bulky compared to some of the other costumes. The Usherette costumes were pretty awesome, too.
JM: Do you take the costumes for face value or is your design influenced by the emotion and subtext of the scene or even your personal reaction to the scene?
BP: I think at first, it was by face value. I wasn't close to any of the cast members, but I still wanted them to look great. However, as I got to know them, and watch the show during rehearsal, I really got a feel of what each individual was like, and what they should wear.
In conclusion, seeing how much work goes into a play like this one really amazed me. I now have a far greater appreciation for the shows I have seen. In the future when I go to a show I know I will be examining costumes and set pieces far more closely. I will be aware of many details I had never even given a second thought to before. One thing I know will be missing from other shows is the feeling of family I had with everyone in this cast. As movie fans, many of us are drawn to the social acceptance we have at Rocky. I had never thought for a second about the family that would be created within a cast of the stage show. These people worked together day in and day out honing the show to perfection. Many would leave their other jobs to come straight to practice. When they finally finished at the end of the day they would all go out together to get a bite to eat and relax before going home to get some much needed sleep. Much like being at the movie I felt very much at home with my friends from the Minds Eye Theatre. They took me in as part of their group and gave me the same feeling of acceptance I get every time I walk into a movie theater for Rocky. During the last show when Frank was singing I'm Going Home, I know that everyone involved in the show had tears in their eyes like I did, and we all knew our lives, like Brad and Janet's had been changed forever.