Live theater returns to Sac State with production of ‘Rocky Horror’

Department of Theatre and Dance to open first live performance in two years


Marin Perego

J.J. Jones (left), Phoenix Brewer (middle), and Avery Hersek (right) rehearsing the song “Sweet Transvestite” in the University Theatre on Oct. 15. The Rocky Horror Show opens Wednesday and runs until Oct. 31.

Marin Perego

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the Sacramento State Department of Theatre and Dance is back with live performances.

“The Rocky Horror Show” opens Wednesday, marking the first live performance at Sacramento State in nearly two years, according to director, professor and vice chair of the department of theatre and dance Michelle Felten.

“It’s exciting and it’s exhausting because we’ve all been sitting in our homes for a year and a half, two years,” Felten said. “We’re getting up here, getting back into the action of it and realizing just how much energy it takes to put on a live show.”

The show centers on the newly engaged Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, who find themselves at the home of the eccentric Dr. Frank-n-Furter after getting a flat tire. While meeting the rest of the mansion’s inhabitants, the couple experiences a night of love and lust set to a rock-and-roll soundtrack.

Felten says the department announced the show over the summer with audition information, asking for actors to display “strong acting choices” during a 90-second audition piece of their choice reflecting the style of “Rocky Horror.”

Director Michelle Felten (right) gives acting direction to Avery Hersek and Phoenix Brewer in the University Theatre on Oct. 15. The production has been in the works since the middle of August, according to Felten. (Marin Perego)

“You have this theme that’s sexy and flamboyant and sort of out there,” Felten said. “The style is all of those things: a little daring, a little naughty.”  

Two weeks before the mid-August auditions, the department hosted workshops for those who were unfamiliar with the auditioning process. 

“Being back in live theatre, all of a sudden seeing these auditions live, instead of on video, it’s so exciting,” Felten said. “It’s so exciting to see what students come up with and how willing they are to jump back in and do all this crazy movement and this sort of broad-style acting.”

Because of the pandemic, Felten said the number of students auditioning was less than half of the usual amount, but the department made it work.

“Miracles happen, and we found the cast,” Felten said. “We found a strong cast of really wonderful singers.”

Phoenix Brewer is a fourth-year student double-majoring in theatre and biology who plays Brad Majors in the production. He describes his character as a young, naive man who recently proposed to his high school sweetheart. 

“They get so excited, they decide to go tell their old mentor and tutor, Dr. Scott, about their recent engagement,” Brewer said. “On the way they have some car trouble and ask for help at the friendly Frankenstein castle.”

The cast and crew have adhered to Sacramento State’s COVID-19 protocols throughout rehearsals, according to Brewer.

“For rehearsal we have been all masked, and we have all been cleared to be on campus in person through the University,” Brewer said. 

Friday, Oct. 15 was the first time that the cast members had gone without masks. Brewer says they will continue to rehearse without masks to get used to the feeling of performing with microphones.

“For the performance we will be maskless, and once we get offstage we are going to have the masks on so that we’re keeping safe with the crew and everyone,” Brewer said.

Avery Hersek is a third-year history major who plays Janet Weiss, Majors’ fiance.

“She’s love-obsessed and naive and eventually becomes curious about her world as well as this alien world she’s found herself in,” Hersek said. “She’s ready to discover herself as a sexual being.”

Phoenix Brewer (left) and Avery Hersek (right) during a run of “Dammit, Janet” in the University Theatre on Oct. 15. The two portray a newly engaged couple who find themselves in Dr. Frank-n-Furter’s castle one fateful night. Hersek says performing on stage for the first time in two years has been “emotional and exciting.” (Marin Perego)

Hersek says acting without a mask enhances the experience for both the audience and the actors.

“From an actor’s perspective, getting to interact with someone without a mask, you get to see everything that you’re hearing in their voice,” Hersek said. “Seeing that emotional response and getting to interact with that on stage for the first time in two years has been emotional and exciting.”

Though the actors are vaccinated and cleared through the university to go without masks, audience members must either submit proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in addition to wearing masks during the show, according to Felten.

“The Rocky Horror Show” is traditionally heavy in audience participation, including callback lines containing “a lot of four-letter words” shouted at the performers or cues to throw objects at the stage when prompted, according to Felten.

Felten requests that the vocally expressive patrons keep the naughty language “to a minimum” for the sake of audience members unfamiliar with the show, and for all to refrain from throwing the traditional items like rice, toast and playing cards.

“We have to take care of the University Theatre, and we have to be respectful of our space,” Felten said. 

To create what Felten calls a “happy medium” for audience participation, audience members will receive petals to toss and a glowstick upon entering the theatre. 

The audience will learn the Time Warp dance during intermission so that they can join the cast during its reprise in the curtain call, encouraging participation without interrupting the performers.

“Some of them, it’s the first live show that they’ve ever done,” Felten said. “We want to be respectful of them and all the work they’ve done, but we also want the audience to have fun.”

The production process has not always been seamless,  according to Audrey Walker, the costume, wig and makeup designer for the show.

Walker says some costume pieces ordered online would never arrive in the mail, so the department would have to request a refund and find an alternative. If they did arrive, it would be after receiving hours, and the packages would be gone by the time someone could pick them up.

“Amazon just drops it off at the door when no one’s here, and so then it’s gone,” Walker said. “That’s been a really big challenge in this actual production more than anything else.”

The other challenge was recreating costumes from the cult classic to meet audience expectations while maintaining originality.

“I’ve been doing this show because it’s been one of my favorites since the 70s,” Walker said. “People expect certain things about the costumes, so I still wanted to have that aesthetic, but I wanted it to be my own.”

Walker says she employed “subtle differences” in the costumes so that long-time “Rocky Horror” fans could still relate to the innovation of the original screening’s costuming, while still creating something of her own.

J.J. Jones is a third-year theater arts major who plays Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the lead character of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Frank-n-Furter is a mad scientist who prides himself on his recent creation of the muscular boy toy Rocky Horror.

This is Jones’ second performance with Sacramento State, who likens the return of live theatre to “a vibration that’s very high-frequency.”

“Doing this live performance now is very exciting,” Jones said. “It’s a little nerve-wracking, but mostly it’s very energetically lifting.”

Kobe Charles, a fourth-year computer science major, plays Rocky Horror. 

“He’s a brand-new creation from Frank-n-Furter, and he goes through lots of turmoil through his birth, understanding what his role is in life with Frank,” Charles said. “Frank wants him to be his right-hand man, but Rocky is trying to figure out his own free will through it all.”

“The Rocky Horror Show” is Charles’ first experience with a Sacramento State theater production.

“I am very excited to just take it by the reins and do my best,” Charles said. “The cast and crew members are all amazing, the production team is amazing, the director, assistant director, assistant stage manager. Everyone is just so loving, helpful, and supportive.”

“The Rocky Horror Show” runs in the University Theatre from Oct. 20 to Oct. 31.