Scarpino Shivers Crowd With Anticipation
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a Montclair State Players’ tradition. The live lip sync show is done every year for one weekend just in time for Halloween.
The character Dr. Frank N. Furter, who was originally played by Tim Curry in the 1975 movie, was played by two people who identify as females the past two years. The character is best known for the song “Sweet Transvestite.”
This year’s show opened Oct. 20 and closed Oct. 22. Each day, featured two shows, one at 8 p.m. and another at midnight.
Montclair State Players is a student run theater organization found in 1937. It became a class one organization in the early 1970s. The group produces four main stage shows every year including a drama, a comedy, a classic, a musical, and of course, Rocky Horror. They also have cabarets, music revues, dance shows, student written one-acts and M.I.L.F., Montclair Improv League and Friends.
This year’s “sweet transvestite” was sophomore Grace Scarpino. She was shocked to get the call because upperclassmen usually receive the role. Scarpino gave it her all at the audition lip-syncing Frank N. Furter’s hit tune. “I didn’t specifically ask to play Frank, but who would turn that down,” she with a laugh.
All Players shows are free admission to students and take place in the Commuter Lounge in the Student Center. Since there is limited space, the audience arrives hours before the show to ensure they get a seat.
Last year’s production was directed by Sal Bellomo, senior communication and media arts major. He went into the process with an open mind and had called back two female identifying students and one male student. He chose someone who was in Rocky Horror every year while she attended school. She knew every line, lyric, quirk, mannerism and entered the audition prepared. Bellomo cast senior Kiersten Morgan as Frank N. Furter.
Morgan was a seasoned Players’ member and very active in the organization. Her and Bellomo were not sure how the audience would receive her and the freak show themed production. “I had many people come up to me and tell me that she stole the show and I’d have to agree,” said Bellomo nodding his head. Morgan inspired the Players’ community and set the path for Scarpino to follow.
She could not have dazzled the crowd without the performers around her. Making relationships with the group helped Scarpino and Morgan stay leveled. They did not want to feel separated from the cast because of their parts. “I wanted the cast to see me as just another member, not someone who is higher up than everyone just because I’m playing the lead,” Scarpino said. Morgan mentored new cast members and helped make the process collaborative.
Scarpino was concerned about the feedback she would receive and if people would approve of the gender switch. “I didn’t want the audience to hate me for being a woman and playing Frank,” she said. But the audience had a tremendous response to her as Frank N. Furter.
It is no secret that Rocky Horror bends and twists social norms in casting and production choices. “Gender-fluidity is something that has recently gained more momentum in theater and I think it is a great way for audiences to be exposed to gender-fluid people, even if it’s just within the context of the show,” said Bellomo. Scarpino believes that since the original movie featured performers of all different shapes, colors and sizes, it made the theme so raw and that’s what draws people to it.
Many performers dream of playing roles that are opposite of their gender. Bellomo dreams of belting “Defying Gravity” from Wicked as Elphaba and Scarpino does not want to throw away her shot as Lafayette and Jefferson in the rap musical Hamilton. “I would never rule someone out based on their gender. If they are the best and most qualified, then they deserve the role,” said Bellomo.
The organization is open to all majors. Students are involved off stage as well. They can produce, choreograph, direct, stage-manage, design lights and sound, run crew, do costumes, makeup and hair, and play in the pit. They have the opportunity to showcase their own original work as well.
Players meet every Monday at 5 p.m. in the Student Center Commuter Lounge room 126. Their office can be found in the Student Center room 111 Monday through Friday. “You don’t have to look a certain way to do the Time Warp,” said Scarpino with a smile.