Audience participation is a no-brainer in any production of "The Rocky Horror Show." But Theatre Baton Rouge is pushing the boundaries this year.
"It's going to be more of an audience inclusion," says director Clay Donaldson. "We want the audience to feel like they're entering Frank's castle with Brad and Janet. We don't want them to watch it, we want them to be a part of it."
So the Phantoms will be sprinkled throughout the audience when Theatre Baton Rouge's annual production of "The Rocky Horror Show" opens on Oct. 19, and Dr. Frank-N-Furter will enter the stage through the center aisle.
Which is easier said than done, considering that Tony Collins will be wearing 4½-inch heels.
Collins plays the good doctor, introducing himself to Brad, Janet and the audience as a "Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania," which is why he traditionally wears a corset and high heels.
But the heels don't bother Collins, even though his route down the center aisle will require him to descend a set of bleachers.
"In fact, I have to tell him to slow down," Donaldson says. "He walks so fast in them that the rest of the cast has a hard time keeping up with him."
Donaldson has relinquished his role as the butler Riff Raff from the previous two years to direct this year's show, which gives him a chance to get into the minds of all the characters.
Directing has also given him the chance to re-imagine this often-told story of a newly engaged, naive couple who happen upon Frank-N-Furter's castle on a stormy night as he's about to unveil his creation of the "perfect man" named Rocky.
Frank is surrounded by a cast of Phantoms, who hang out at the castle, along with his trusty staff, including Riff Raff and maid Magenta, who also is Riff Raff's sister.
"When I was playing Riff Raff, I always thought about the things I would do if I were the director," Donaldson says. "Now that I'm director, I get to be all the characters, and I'm putting together all the good things from all the productions I've been in and seen, along with the movie, for a dream production of 'Rocky Horror,' and that includes involving the audience.'"
"The Rocky Horror Show" premiered in 1973 in London, moved to Broadway the following year and was adapted to a film, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," released in 1975. It bombed during its first run but eventually found popularity in the midnight movie circuit.
The movie now is a cult classic, where audiences show up in costume with their own props, quote dialogue and dance to the story's iconic "Time Warp" number.
"We encourage everyone coming to our shows to dress in costume," Donaldson says. "The more outrageous, the better."
Also returning to this show are music director Jamie Leonard-Brubaker and Brandon Guillory, who is reprising his role as Brad.
Newcomer Libby Judice-Smith plays Janet. She'd never seen the stage production before rehearsals.
"I'd seen the movie, and I loved it," she says. "So, when I auditioned, I was just hoping to be in the play. I never dreamed I would be playing Janet."
Janet is the character who goes through the biggest transformation.
"She starts off so straight-laced and naive, but that all changes through the course of the story," Judice-Smith says. "It's fun going through that transformation with her."
The Rocky Horror Show
Theatre Baton Rouge's annual Halloween production
WHEN: Midnight Oct. 21. All other shows sold out.
WHERE: Theatre Baton Rouge's Studio Theater, 7155 Florida Blvd.
TICKETS/INFO: $25, $19 students. (225) 924-6496 or visit theatrebr.org.