“I was 17, and I was petrified,” Ed Eblin said, recalling his first encounter with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Today, Eblin, a 1992 Ohio State alumnus in education, has participated in a total of 10 productions of the cult classic — including his current role as director for an Imagine Productions show taking place this weekend.
Imagine’s production of “Rocky Horror” will show Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Northland Performing Arts Center.
When the musical first premiered in 1973 on stage, followed by the film adaptation in 1975, it included themes related to transgender identity and homosexuality that were not addressed in popular culture at the time, Eblin said.
“It kind of brought up that very dark or taboo element of society — things that polite people just didn’t talk about — and it gave you a chance that you could express exactly that,” Eblin said.
“Rocky Horror” has experienced cross-generational success and has remained popular with audiences today, often showing around Halloween. Eblin said the show is popular and well-known for shadow cast renditions in which actors act out the movie below or in front of the screen. It also has a reputation for active and energized crowds.
This upcoming production is the original musical version and will take place on stage with only live performers.
Dillan Gump, a second-year in psychology, will assume the role of narrator this weekend. Gump said he’s a long-time fan of “Rocky Horror,” but had never seen the musical performed live.
Gump said rehearsing the musical has provided him with a greater appreciation of the production.
“The stage version really plays off the energy of the audience, and in doing so, the cast and the songs have a lot more energy than the movie does,” Gump said. “The movie still is fantastic, but the stage is a whole other animal to deal with.”
Traditionally, audience members often shout out responses at performers and throw objects, such as toast and toilet paper, at the stage. Imagine Productions will sell a “participation pack” with such items at the show.
“(At) most performances, we have people that are very familiar with it, and instead of trying to quiet them up we’ve just decided that the best thing to do is to just embrace it,” Eblin said. “We’ve tried to build a musical around it, which allows them that freedom to participate in it freely while still keeping continuity for those who are less familiar with the show.”
Though the stage musical differs from the movie, Eblin said he tried to embrace elements of both, specifically trying to include the audience participation fans are likely familiar with.
Gump said “Rocky Horror” gives performers some freedom to adapt their performance to audience reactions. He said the show’s avoidance of traditional theatrical practices in both audience behavior and themes makes it a memorable experience for performers and audience members.
“It really breaks the rules, and it’s fun to break the rules,” Gump said. “I think that’s what draws people back.”
Eblin said “Rocky Horror” always draws a crowd different from other theater performances. There’s just something about the show that keeps bringing in new faces to see Rocky Horror.
“The first time you watch ‘Rocky’ is an unforgettable experience,” Gump said. “In my opinion, it’s life-changing.”
The show will be performed at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Northland Performing Arts Center at 4411 Tamarack Blvd. Tickets cost $23.