October 26, 2017, by Cory Walsh, Missoulian
Coming back for its sixth year, the Missoula production of “The Rocky Horror Show Live!” feels like a Halloween tradition. But it’s not put on by an established, year-round theater company. Each fall, the full musical production is staged by “Rocky Horror” fans who have day jobs and families, pulling themselves up by their black leather bootstraps.
Reid Reimers, who’s 6-foot-5 without the heels, is returning as Dr. Frank N. Furter, the role Tim Curry made famous in the 1970s film version.
He’s also producing and directing, a huge undertaking for a show that run will run for two nights and disappear until next fall. His creative team is rounded out by Megan Wiltshire as choreographer and music director Kirsten Paisley. Jay Pyette of Montana State University-Northern in Havre is designing the sets. Anywhere from 20 to 35 people are involved backstage, and over 100 if you include the performers.
To Reimers, the audience reaction — this is a show where you can yell and clap during the performance — is why he keeps doing it.
The Missoula native, who has a master’s in theater from the University of Montana, has heard the spectrum of feedback from audiences in myriad local productions over the years.
”We get ‘that was pretty fun’ down to excited and giddy because of the quality of thing we’re able to put on in a short time, with such a low budget, in such a guerrilla way,” he said.
The “Rocky Horror” story remains the same: an uptight couple is stranded after their car breaks down. They seek help at a neighboring castle, owned by one Dr. Frank N. Furter. Things get freaky for young Janet and Brad as they enter the transvestite doctor’s lair. There is much camp and dancing and “Do the Time Warp.” Audience participation is encouraged (selectively) during the traditional “call-backs,” when they can yell out lines.
The overall feel, though, changes every year. This go-round, the concept is classic horror/science-fiction feel with a Gothic, haunted-house set that fits with the ridiculousness of the show, Reimers said. “I’ve been describing it as less ‘Nosferatu’ and more ‘Addams Family,’ ” he said.
This year, two actresses swapped roles. Brit Garner, last year’s Janet, is this year’s Magenta, one of the doc’s servants. Rachel Shull, meanwhile, is this year’s Janet.
Garner makes time for the show during a busy time of year: She’s working on a doctorate in wildlife biology at the University of Montana. She recognized early on that she couldn’t study theater and pursue science in her free time, so she sought out theater as a way to unwind from research. She said theater’s not a pastime, but an “alternate, parallel universe” for her. She took the lead role in Missoula Community Theatre’s “Mary Poppins” and portrayed Fiona in “Shrek.”
It’s her third year with the Missoula version of “Rocky Horror,” but it’s a family tradition. Her parents used to act in regular weekend performances of the show in the midnight-movie “Shadowcast” style, where the film is projected with a live cast in front of it.
“I’m playing the Magenta that my mom used to play. So in this really bizarre, warped way, it’s like, ‘Oh, my baby is playing Magenta,’ ” she said.
When she was growing up, they would watch it at home and she’d gradually learn the callbacks.
Somewhat similarly, the company’s regular Riff Raff, Jeff Medley, saw the film when he was 10 and it introduced him to the notion that there’s a weirder world beyond his Midwestern upbringing.
He keeps coming back because of the audience excitement. In MCT and indie productions he works in, the audience usually doesn’t break into a roar when he hits the stage.
“It’s so exhilarating, and I can pretend it’s for me, but it’s for this character,” he said. The crowd is having a crazy time and the call-backs can threaten to derail the show if the cast doesn’t stay on point.
“You’re on this rollercoaster,” he said.
Garner said the three-and-a-half week process is almost too short.
“You do want to hold onto it for as long as you can, but I love that it is this absolute crash of energy in this condensed amount of time,” she said. It “makes the intensity unforgettable.”