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Student Blog: With 'Rocky,' A Return To Life


My First Time Directing a Shadow Cast

Student Blog: With 'Rocky,' A Return To Life
Image credit: Chloe Butcher

October has been a blur of a month. Classes, midterms, clubs, and homework have left me exhausted-not to mention the demands of an unpopular, little-known movie called The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

At this point, you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who hasn't heard of Rocky in one way or another. Back in July, when we first started planning this shadow cast, we knew that we wanted to offer a fun way for students to let their hair down after the year and a half we've had. (Not to mention the heightened pandemic conditions we still live under.)

Bottom line: students are tired. Theatre can do a lot of important work, especially on college campuses. It educates about society, politics, and history. It brings oft-ignored narratives to the forefront of the cultural conversation. More often than not, at schools like mine, theatre can be very heavy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; I love that theatre can move people in such a powerful way. I'm working on a show right now that accomplishes that very feat.

The virtue of student-led organizations such as Allegheny's Student Experimental Theatre is that we are able to branch out and tap into a different side of theatre. In some cases, this means performing student-written or underground pieces. In this case, it meant taking on one of the most popular live performance pieces of the past fifty years and realizing it in the middle of our campus center.

I was admittedly overwhelmed when rehearsals started. Since coming to college, I had only worked with small casts, the largest being nine people and the smallest being two. After two nights of superb auditions, my co-director and I ended up with a cast of fifteen people and three audience plants. I had also only directed once before and over Zoom. This was going to be a very different experience than what I was used to.

What immediately struck me was how enthusiastic the cast was. This is our first unmasked semester since spring 2020 (thanks to a vaccine mandate on campus and a vigilant health agency), so we were able to rehearse in the same room while seeing one another's faces-something we had sorely missed. Rehearsals felt like they used to back in the Before Times: people smiling and goofing around as we worked together to create something wonderful for our audience.

See, the thing I love (and missed most) about live theatre is the camaraderie. And here, we found it in abundance. Our roommates auditioned and took on crew roles. Our friends took the lead on wardrobe with enthusiasm. Other friends relentlessly promoted the show and brought the crowds in.

On opening night, we requested that 60 folding chairs be set up for our expected audience. By our best estimate, we had well over twice that amount of people in attendance, packing the campus center lobby and forcing us to scramble to set up more chairs. We were blown away by the campus community's response.

Later on, when I spoke to one of our professors, she pointed out that everybody-whether they were involved in theatre on campus or not-was hungry for a sense of community. They wanted somewhere they could congregate, somewhere they could be loud and support their peers. They wanted permission to be themselves again after nearly two years of abundant caution.

I don't feel comfortable calling this SET's first post-COVID show. We're still a long way (in my eyes, at least) from declaring an end to this pandemic. But finally, after what felt like ages, I finally saw the live performance that I love return: raucous, joyful, loud, and spectacular.

Rocky, I love you. Let's meet again.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Sydney Emerson