20 Cent Fiction prepares to do the Time Warp again with Rocky Horror shadow cast

Oct 23, 2022

The student thespians of UMass Dartmouth’s 20 Cent Fiction Theater Company would like, if they may, to take you on a strange journey.

This week, the theater company will put on its 29th annual production of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and the cast and crew are ready to get on the university’s main auditorium stage and do the Time Warp again. 

“It’s going to be a really fun time,” said director Emily Fontes. “We’re so ready to go on this ride.”

Like every performance before it, the show will be performed through a “shadow cast,” in which the entire film is acted out through pantomime as the 1975 cult-classic starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and the late Meat Loaf is screened in the background.

Audience participation is also encouraged, with members able to pick up bags including toilet paper and playing cards to toss around during specific moments of the film.

For instance, when the character Dr. Scott appears, you toss Scott-brand toilet paper. In other theaters, people tend to throw rice during the wedding scene, but assistant director Jillian Yates noted that is not allowed at this production.

“That makes the cleanup insane,” she said with a laugh.

The shadow cast tradition dates back to the midnight screenings the film was relegated to after being panned by critics at the time, Jillian Yates explained.

Yates said viewers at the time also realized it wasn’t that great of a movie, but it was fun to dress up in costume for a showing, yell back at the screen, and mime the actions.

“Because the audience took so kindly to it by being so mean about it, they really fell in love with [Rocky Horror],” she said. “And that tradition has never died, even nearly 50 years later.”

When 20 Cent Fiction was founded in 1994, the tradition was able to make its way to UMass Dartmouth.

Since the production is pantomimed, actors do not utter any lines while in front of the screen. While there is no dialogue to rehearse, there is a lot of choreography to go over in order to embody a character.

“You have to bring that same energy, which is a whole ‘nother layer of acting,” Yates said. “That’s what you need to bring that movie to life.”

Fontes said how they get that out of their actors is by showing them the scene and going over their motivations to fully emote that when on stage.

“The personalities are so diverse for characters in this movie,” they said. “It’s a lot of just getting into the characters heads — which is just kind of the standard theater scene in general

Thankfully, they added, their cast has been more than up to the task.

“I’m very happy with the way things are going,” Fontes said. “They make my job easy — they’re all so talented and dedicated.”

The only major thing they said needs to be worked on prior to tech week — in which all of the technical elements of the show are present during rehearsal — is refurbishing some of the original props.

Another crucial aspect of the shadow cast are the “Transylvanians” — extras who run through the theater and yell at the cast and get the audience to shout call backs at the film in order to lampoon such a cartoonish film plot.

Call backs tend to vary from year to year, Fontes said, as some need to be updated to remain topical, while other jokes fall out of fashion.

“There used to be a lot of transphobic stuff,” they said. “Things were a bit rough.”

Updating the lines, which is done collaboratively with members of the theater company, also keeps it so each showing is different from the previous year’s.

With the Transylvanians, they can help those attending a shadow cast for the first time understand how best to immerse themselves in the experience by following along.

“You can be a complete ‘Rocky’ virgin and still have a good time,” Yates said. “And this would exist if it wasn’t a marriage of everyone working together.”

And that’s what Fontes and Yates say the show is all about: the camaraderie of the actors and audience.

“Live performances bring everyone to the same place for the same reason: because they have a shared love for this art,” Yates said. “And that’s what this is — it’s just a lot weirder.”

The 29th annual Rocky Horror shadow cast will premiere Thursday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. at the university’s Angus A. Bailey main auditorium. Additional shows will be held on Friday, Oct. 28 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 29 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 30 at midnight.

Each show will also be prefaced with a performance from a musical artist.

Tickets are free for UMass Dartmouth students, $12 for alumni/staff, and $18 for the general public. For more information, contact 20centrocky@gmail.com.