Don’t Dream It, Be It – The Rocky Horror Show Panel at MCM Birmingham Comic Con

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Crossing pantomime with science-fiction, burlesque with B-movie horror, wholesome boy-meets-girl musical fare with an open, all-inclusive sexuality, there has never been anything else quite like The Rocky Horror Show. One of the most popular musicals of all time, The Rocky Horror show began as a small stage production Upstairs at The Royal Court, rapidly shattering all expectations as it snowballed into a massive cultural phenomenon, acquiring swathes of loyal fans. The 38 years since the initial film release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show have barely touched its iconic status, with the characters, songs and spirit still seeming as fresh, vital and important as they did back in the 70s, speaking to young people with as much energy and urgency as ever.

So, what is it about The Rocky Horror Show that has held our imaginations captive for so many years? Featuring original stage cast members Patricia Quinn (Magenta), Nell Campbell (Columbia), Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors), Perry Bedden and Stephen Calcutt (Translyvanians), the Rocky Horror Show Panel at the MCM Birmingham Comic Con sought to find out.

“Sex,” “Drugs,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Don’t dream it, be it,” the guests chorused in turn, in response to that first question. Expanding on this, they put the success of the show down to a variety of factors:

“It’s the timeless songs, the imaginative casting, and the fact that it liberates people,” Nell explained. “It helped a lot of people come out of the closet.” But its appeal extends far beyond those who identify as gay or queer. “It gives lots of straight boys a chance to dress up, too,” she said, and it’s true: as an event, The Rocky Horror Show provides a kind of safe arena for experimentation, a chance to set your inner outsider free without fear of judgement, hence the significance of the “Don’t dream it, be it” line.

But even given this, did the cast have any sense of how massive it would eventually become?

“Yes!” a few replied, cockily.

“No,” said Barry Bostwick, more honestly. “We had no idea.”

rhps-frankcolumbiamagentaleanlPatricia Quinn went on to describe how they’d guessed that they were onto something special as the stage show became increasingly popular. Their initial run Upstairs at The Royal Court was extended to five weeks, before the show began a tour that would see it end up on Broadway and in L.A. Though, according to Nell Campbell, it was something of a flop on Broadway, having lost some of its edge in attempts to give it more “street cred”, it became clear quite quickly that The Rocky Horror Show was going to endure.

“But to answer your question sincerely – did we know how big it would become? – no, not a clue,” she concluded.

So what was her problem with how things were changed on Broadway? According to Nell, they did away with the “tacky, sleazy look” they had created, things like wearing fishnets with holes in them. In the UK, it was clear that the show had come out of the punk scene, which hadn’t really taken hold in the States at that time. The cast began to reminisce about the days of 1970s punk.

“I dyed my hair blonde and had pins sticking out of my shirt,” Perry Bedden remembered, while Patricia Quinn talked about her first encounter with Nell.

“Nell was the first punk I ever saw,” she said, describing how they’d discovered her as a tap-dancing busker with bright pink hair.

Asked about a show packed full of brilliantly memorable tunes, the next question – about the actors’ favourite songs from the show – wasn’t an easy one to answer. Nevertheless, the panelists did their best.

“Mine’s Superheroes,” said Stephen Calcutt. “Though that was cut from the original movie.”

“I think Science Fiction,” said Nell.

Patricia Quinn, meanwhile, chose the more plaintive “I’m Going Home”, and Barry Bostwick picked out the melodic “Over at the Frankenstein Place”, admiring how it starts out very simply and then builds up.

“They’re all wonderful, let’s face it,” said Perry Bedden diplomatically.

Asked what was the hardest scene to film, Barry Bostwick spoke about an incident he’d been told of after filming, but which he couldn’t really remember himself. Some time after making the film, he’d been told by Richard O’Brien that there was a scene in the lift that had nearly killed him because of a fault with the hydraulics. Apparently, he pulled his head back as the lift was thrust upwards just in time to avoid being decapitated!

brad-and-janetAfter so much time has passed and the show has developed such an iconic status, do the actors still enjoy watching the film today? But of course! For Stephen Calcutt, watching old films that he was in is always a pleasure, since it brings back memories of the fun he had on set. As well as The Rocky Horror Show, he enjoys watching the first Star Wars film, in which he had a small part. For Patricia Quinn, it’s still a good way to cheer herself up when she’s feeling low – especially when it’s on television, since she knows then that everyone else will be watching it too. Nell described how exciting it was to see a screening of the film in Australia, and to watch all the fans joining in there, reminding Patricia of a time when they’d been to a screening together. Initially stood at the back, Nell had ended up running up to the front and dancing, much to Patricia’s amazement. For Barry Bostwick, though, it’s something better enjoyed at home these days, away from the “floorshow”. Though he acknowledges that the screenings and live shows are “a theatrical experience not to be missed”, he nevertheless feels that “it’s a good film without all of that”, arguing that the heightened, over-the-top movie they have created is actually one of the hardest kinds of film to make, the excessive style often failing to work in other films that try it.

“Barry enjoys seeing how young and handsome he was then,” Stephen Calcutt joked. “And I enjoy seeing how slim I was.”

Next, the panel were asked by an audience member which were their favourite scenes to film.

“I love The Time Warp!” said Stephen Calcutt, describing his disappointment when they finally filmed the right take for it. “I wanted to keep doing it!” he laughed.

Barry, meanwhile, picked out the swimming pool scene, and in particular getting to kiss Nell’s chest.

“That was my favourite, too,” Nell flirted back.

For Patricia Quinn, her scene in the bedroom was exciting.

“Anything was possible in that bedroom,” she said.

For Perry Bedden, the most fun part was the non-choreographed dancing when they got to improvise with their own moves.

Finally, the panel were asked how it felt to know that The Rocky Horror Show is still being watched by new generations of teenagers. Stephen Calcutt replied that it was great, expressing his amazement that people are watching the film now who weren’t even born when it was made. As the panel prepared to leave, he said that they should all get together like this again in another 40 years time.

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