I first became aware that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was shown at all in Taiwan last year, when a friend forwarded me a photo featuring a shadowcast performer as Frank posing in front of the Mandarin Chinese-subtitled movie screen, belting it out to Sweet Transvestite. As it turned out, it has been shown with partial shadowcast as part of the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival (台北金馬影展, http://www.ghfff.org.tw/) once a year for the last seven years. My handful of fellow North American expatriate RHPS-loving friends and I were disappointed to have missed it but were excited about going this year. After months of seaching online, we finally learned the exact show date about three weeks in advance. We decided to assemble the best costumes we could in the short time before the show. In the meantime, we waited patiently for tickets to go on sale for the one and only show date on April 11, 2015. Unfortunately, all of the tickets for both the 7 PM and 10 PM showings sold out within five minutes! We ended up having to buy scalped tickets at a 250% upcharge (about $16.25 USD per ticket-- the most I've ever paid for a regular RHPS ticket, and definitely the only time I haven't been able to just buy tickets from the box office). While this situation was of course disappointing, it is clear that the show and experience are geting more popular and well-known every year. On the other hand, it also means that scalpers have caught on to its popularity and take advantage of the relatively cheap ticket price (equivalent to about $6.50 USD) to make money off of fans of the show.
The showing was at the Shin Kong Cineplex (新光影城) in Ximending, a Taipei neighborhood known for its movie theater district as well as LGBT culture and Japanese youth fashion. My three friends and I ended up going to the 10 PM show, figuring that in the tradition of RHPS, it was closer to midnight. The line to get in grew to be very long and crowded and there was a lot of media attention such as videographers and photographers, not to mention the many audience members and festival staff who wanted photos of the four of us in costume. Once we were let in, we collected our popcorn, which was included in the ticket price, and took our seats. The theater had about 200 seats and was completely full. The style was a modern cinema setup with two aisles and a very nice spotlight, but no elevated stage.
The audience was primarily Taiwanese, as well as the entire cast with the exception of one of the Franks. As with most English-language movies in Taiwan, the audio was in English with Chinese subtitles. It appeared to be the digital version. While the spirit of the show was the same, the process and details were quite different from any RHPS showing I’ve attended in North America. It started with some Chinese pre-views for other movies, and then the festival organizers made some Chinese announcements about how it was the biggest crowd they’ve ever had. Then the film just began, with none of the pre-show rituals we’re used to in North America: no audience rules, no host or MC, no virgin ceremony, no “gimme an R,” no reciting of the Transylvanian oath. I would guess that more than 90% of the audience had never even seen the DVD, let alone been to an RHPS film screening with a shadowcast. It was the most silent RHPS audience I’ve ever heard, probably mostly due to the audience’s inexperience, the language barrier, and Taiwan’s less outgoing culture. My friends and I were practically the only ones yelling any callback lines (in English or any language) and we were honestly worried we were going to get shushed.
The live performers shadowcasted about half the movie, mostly the songs (Betty and Ralph for wedding scene, Dammit Janet, Time Warp, Sweet Transvestite, most of lab scene/I Can Make You a Man/Hot Patootie, Toucha, and floorshow through spacesuit scene). Most of the audience threw their popcorn as “rice” during the wedding scene and I was pleased to see that they were enjoying themselves. Dammit Janet featured a big fake diamond engagement ring as a gag prop, which made me smile as it harkened to the spirit of the early days of RHPS shadowcasting. Riff did his section from There’s a Light from atop a ladder, but Brad and Janet were absent from the scene.
As to be expected, Time Warp was the most audience-participatory and high-energy part of the show. The Transylvanians (portrayed by the film festival staff, mostly in colorful bob wigs with sequin dresses and feather boas) got up onstage and pulled the four of us up with them to participate. Columbia, Magenta, and Riff seemed to have a lot of fun with their performances for this scene. All three of the show’s Franks were onstage for Sweet Transvestite, which I don’t think I’ve seen before. Lab scene was quite good theatrically and Frank and Rocky (who had very defined muscles; I found out later he was a gym teacher) interacted well. There was no tank but there was a weight set prop with “1000 kg” red weights. For Hot Patootie, Eddie had a lot of energy and used a kick-scooter as a motorcycle to ride with Columbia in the aisles all around the theater. Eddie and Columbia’s dancing was impressive, and way Frank and Eddie acted out Eddie’s death scene was quite dramatic. Janet and Rocky performed Toucha on a chair facing the audience to give a “Janet on top, Rocky on bottom” perspective. Floorshow, pool scene, and kickline seemed to be fun for the performers and the audience. I’m Going Home and the spacesuit scene included some of the best acting of the show and Riff Raff had the best space gun and one of the best spacesuits I’ve ever seen. After the show, the performers and audience members went in to the lobby for a 45-minute photo session of the official performers and the four of us in our costumes.
While there was definitely room for improvement in costume screen accuracy, stage blocking, and in the majority of the performers’ lip sync ability because of their unfamiliarity with the dialogue and songs due to the language barrier, overall it was a fun show. It was clear that one of the Franks and the performer playing Riff Raff were the most knowledgeable about their characters and familiar with their parts and the show as a whole. Since both of them also spoke English (my Chinese is minimal), I caught up with them to ask them some about their experience.
Riff Raff was played by a Taiwanese man named Outy. Of the cast, he was clearly the biggest fan of the show and put the most effort into his costumes, which were excellent (he even wore blue contact lenses). He told me he first saw RHPS in film school. He tried to get an audience ticket the first time the Golden Horse Film Festival showed RHPS seven years ago but it was sold out, so he volunteered to play Riff the next year and has been performing the role ever since. When I asked what attracted him to RHPS, he said that he thinks Riff Raff’s line “He never liked me!” is the most important story-telling line of the film. Like some of us, he began as a shy performer who was inspired by the film’s message of “Don’t dream it, be it.” His favorite memory of Rocky was the first time he performed the spacesuit scene and the audience’s positive reaction. Outy is eager to be the best Riff Raff possible and asked me for suggestions what he could do to improve his costume, makeup, and overall Riff appearance.
The Frank I spoke to is a man named Gerald, who is an expatriate from South Africa. He first saw RHPS on DVD five years ago and instantly loved it. He had never been to a shadowcast of the film before this film festival but has played Frank N. Furter at costume parties and is also an experienced drag performer. He states that he’s “not shy and likes to shimmy and shake” and loves Frank because he’s a universally sexy character who is all about the sex, and because of his style and image. My favorite quote from him is about Frank’s eyebrows, which he describes as “two saloon doors that swing open to a world of salacious pleasures.” What inspires him about Frank is that he is “a character whom everyone will throw their life and limb at, and he’ll eat you up and spit you out, and you’ll love it.” He describes playing Frank as a dream and a calling, and that “everyone should experience Dr. Frank N. Furter, whether in his shoes or not.”
One of the things I learned from this Taiwanese RHPS experience is how much the English/Chinese language barrier makes all the difference in internet searches and results, since all the information online about these showings were in Chinese. My English searches about RHPS in Taiwan yielded only meager results. I also discovered how the first exposure to the film for people in other countries can be so different from the typical North American experience of hearing about it from friends in high school and sneaking off to see the local shadowcast after viewing the video at home a few times. After years of fandom and/or cast membership, we tend to that think whatever cast we’re used to seeing or being a part of does RHPS the proper way and that sometimes some other casts do it wrong. Of course some casts have better costumes, lighting, blocking, performers, and so on, but I realized we should really have an open mind and try not to judge something different as “wrong”— the love of the film and the unique aspect of audience participation is the spirit of the message and the community. Through bringing our enthusiastic RHPS community experience to the audience, I believe my friends and I represented and demonstrated many long-standing North American RHPS traditions. I feel fortunate to have attended this showing, as Taiwan is one of only a few Asian countries that could support a regular shadowcast and cult following because of its accepting and modern culture.