BWW Feature: AntiGravity Orlando & Red Fish Theatre Team Up for Surprising & Sexy ROCKY HORROR
With a week and a half until Halloween, all theatre lovers know that means that its officially ROCKY HORROR season! So, bust out your leather, fishnets, and platform boots and practice your favorite one-liners, because no matter where you live, there is most certanly a production close by. Despite the dozens, or even hundreds, of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOWs hitting the stage this fall, it is probably safe to say that none approach the level of creativity and danger of the incredible production playing in Orlando through Monday, October 24th. Produced by AntiGravity Orlando in conjunction with Red Fish Theatre, the production merges the sexy, campy aesthetic that ROCKY HORROR devotees have come to love with the elegant and equally sexy aerial arts.
With FOX's television adaptation set to air tonight, anyone who loves THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, in any of its forms, will need a significant palate cleanser after watching the disappointing, sanitized TV version, and this production will undoubtedly hit the spot; I'll let you to decide which spot you would prefer it hit (my review of FOX broadcast will post on BWW as soon as it concludes).
"At the late night, double feature, picture show."
The idea to blend THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW with aerial acts started last year when AntiGravity Orlando owner Daniel Stover invited his sister Ashley out for a working visit from Oklahoma. See, you could say that theatre and performing is kind of in the Stover genes. Daniel's mother is Paula Stover, the Managing Director of the renowned Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, and his sister Ashley Wells, is the theatre's Associate Artistic Director.
Like many theatres, the Lyric has a tradition of running ROCKY HORROR around Halloween every year, however in 2015, they took the year off. So Daniel asked Ashley if she would bring a handful of their ROCKY principals to Orlando for something of a test production with the added AntiGravity elements.
"It was a huge success last year," Daniel Stover said. "As soon as we were done, we knew we wanted to do it again, but Lyric's doing it again this year. So, Ashley couldn't come over, and all of the players we had last year are performing it in Oklahoma."
AntiGravity Orlando is a performance-based branch of AntiGravity Inc. The company has been involved with numerous high-profile events throughout the years, from the Broadway productions of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, SWING!, NINE, and more, to President Obama's inauguration gala, the Victoria Secret Fashion show, and the Olympics.
Stover, who has years of experience as an aerial performer and choreographer, now trains aerialists for productions around the world, cruise ships, theme parks, and more. Knowing that he wanted to have another go at ROCKY HORROR, but also having been around legit theatre enough to realize that he needed to bring in professionals for the theatrical side, Stover and his now wife Heather Dodt-Stover (who runs AntiGravity's classes), began looking for a theatre company with whom to partner.
After mutual friends recommend them, the Red Fish Theatre submitted a production design and the partnership became official.
"You know what? We're somebody!"
In 2014 Adam Graham and Jacqueline Toragas collaborated on an award-winning run of the Tony-nominated musical BLOODY BLOODY Andrew Jackson at Orlando Fringe, and this spring they teamed up again to mount THE PRODUCERS at Osceola Arts. After those ventures, the two decided to make their theatrical partnership official.
"At that point, we wanted to formalize ourselves, to take a little more hold of our creative process," Graham said, "and we decided to take the leap and formulate our own company.
For Graham and Toragas, their new company, Red Fish Theatre, gives them the opportunity to do the types of theatre that they most want to see.
"We kind of got tired of saying, 'I wish someone would do this. This would be so cool.' So, we just said, 'You know what? We're somebody, let's do that,'" Toragas said.
Like their inventive take on ROCKY HORROR, many of the ideas that excite the Red Fish team involve looking at theatre through a slightly different lens, and finding an unconventional way to tell stories that might already be familiar to audiences.
Toragas said that they enjoy "taking traditional offerings and putting them into places that you wouldn't expect to find them, or doing shows in a new, different way; whether it be through alternative casting or shaking up time periods."
She continued, "Sight-specific (theatre) is something that we're very interested in doing, which is why this was such an amazing first project to get on board with."
"The place speaks to ambition."
"The place speaks to ambition," Graham said of the AntiGravity 180-seat theatre. "You look around, and everyone's trying to push the boundaries."
With a 32-member company, including four musicians, it is most certainly fair to call this production ambitious. With aerialists singing, and actors taking to the air, the entire show has an extra element of childlike wonder that you don't normally associate with a musical about a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania.
"What's scary to one, is not to the other, and vice versa," Graham said. "That's been really cool to see some of (the AntiGravity) guys trying things that they might not be comfortable with."
ROCKY HORROR choreographer Devon Asadoorian, who works regularly with AntiGravity Orlando, said that having the aerialists integrated into the show makes sense. Many of them work at theme parks, so they are accustomed to doing more than just flying through the air with the greatest of ease.
"A lot of our performers are also dancers," she said, "so it gives them that opportunity to marry the worlds together."
However, in a city that is full of glossy, sometimes superficial, eye-catching attractions, Graham stressed that he didn't want the aerial elements of their ROCKY HORROR to seem like a stunt that distracts from the show itself.
"This has been my big thing from the start, I never want the aerial aspects of the show to come off as a gimmick," he said. "The biggest part, and the most difficult part, of this show is making those transitions between musical theatre and aerial work feel natural, feel part of the show, feel integrated. If we strike that harmony between musical theatre performers and the aerialists, there should come a point that the audience isn't really noticing who's who."
The unique, eye-popping talents of the ROCKY HORROR aerialists make it nearly impossible for them to blend into any crowd, but Graham and Asadoorian's vision of harmony is most certainly realized in the production. The musical numbers, in which most of the aerial work is done, have a distinctive, otherworldly feel because of the choreography that AntiGravity brings to the mix.
With a show that is as bonkers as THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is in normal circumstance, to add this element to an already electric production is special.
"I want (audiences) to go away having the feel of the usual ROCKY HORROR that they see, but not quite what they're expecting," Graham said.
Asadoorian then added, "They will all leave and want to come back (to AntiGravity) and learn how to do everything that we did."
Both the teams from Red Fish and AntiGravity operate from the same central premise. "We like to provide opportunities for our people," Dodt-Stover said.
The ROCKY HORROR experience has reinvigorated AntiGravity's desire to produce theatre. In addition to being in talks with a theatre company to do a full-time musical theatre dinner show, they plan on bringing an aerial NUTCRACKER to the theater this holiday season; something that will undoubtedly involve many of the company's performers.
"Our business is centered around (being) full-circle," Dodt-Stover said. "You can come see a show, you can also come to our classes and learn what we did in the show. You can try to become a professional by coming to our classes, you can perform with us and get old, and then come teach with us."
Similarly, Toragas, who is a performer, stunt person, and assistant show director at Universal, said that Red Fish wants to provide local actors opportunities to push their boundaries and flex certain muscles that they don't get to in their day jobs.
While this one-of-a-kind production of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW wasn't perfect, it was a bold experiment that yielded overwhelmingly surprising and sexy results both on and above the stage. If this is the type of creative, outside-the-box work that we can expect from Red Fish and AntiGravity, either together or separately, Orlando has found two new, vital theatre companies to watch for years to come.
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Banner Image: THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW rehearsal. Photo Credit: Matt Tamanini