The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday December 5th

Column: UNC Pauper Players' production of 'Rocky Horror' rose-tinted my world

UNC senior Olivia Sullivan portrays Dr. Frank-N-Furter during the final scene of an Oct. 26 technical rehearsal of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Varsity Theatre. The production is an annual tradition of the UNC Pauper Players.
Buy Photos UNC senior Olivia Sullivan portrays Dr. Frank-N-Furter during the final scene of an Oct. 26 technical rehearsal of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Varsity Theatre. The production is an annual tradition of the UNC Pauper Players.

As the opening piano chords of “Science Fiction/Double Feature” ring out, crimson lips illuminate the Varsity Theatre's projected screen. Scantily clad students emerge from the back aisles and begin to mimic the film, immersing their audience in a world of pleasure and sin. 

The UNC Pauper Players’ production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," an annual Chapel Hill staple, has sold out four shows this weekend at the Varsity Theatre. 

"Rocky Horror" is the archetypal cult classic. An ode to giving oneself over to absolute pleasure, the production has served as a defiance to heteronormative culture since its debut in 1973. Following the first production, the movie adaptation starring Tim Curry premiered in 1975. 

I have seen the film countless times and attended a shadow show of "Rocky Horror" — a setup in which a live cast performs along with the film projected above them. The Pauper Players’ production is one example of this setup.

A common fear is that a "Rocky" production will be repetitive — the same film, the same plot and the same resolution. However, they find their spark in audience and ensemble interaction; productions are often raunchy, explicit and driven by innovative call-and-responses that are made possible by generations of fans who have memorized the original film’s every word. 

The local Players’ production of "Rocky" is no exception. In fact, it exceeded my expectations of originality. Though I sat in tech rehearsal as a lone audience member and photographer on assignment, the ensemble and leads kept my attention at every turn. I found myself singing along and laughing as if I were in a full audience.

I was particularly captivated by the outstanding performance of senior Olivia Sullivan as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Her facial expressions and enthusiasm guide the production to new heights. She finds the perfect balance between sultry villain and campy protagonist. 

Although she was in the "Rocky" ensemble during her first two years at UNC, this is Sullivan's first time portraying a lead in the yearly production.

“I just love that I get to share this insane liberation with so many people who have never even seen 'Rocky' before,” Sullivan said.  

Those who have not seen "Rocky Horror" are in for a cultural dive, she said.

“It’s all queer, all sex,” Sullivan said. “Every single part of you: physical, mental, emotional, it’s all free and we want it all on the f*****g stage.” 

The Players have been prepping for over a month and a half for their inevitable Halloweekend crowd. 

Madi Ugan, a UNC junior and co-director of the production, has worked with fellow junior and co-director Tori Danielik to ensure a safe but fun environment considering the pandemic.

“I hope that it can be a positive experience for everybody, especially considering the connotation of the subject matter — embracing yourself and embracing your sexiness,” Ugan said. “I’m hoping to get that across to people and let people let go and have fun for a couple nights.”

The "Rocky" production has been an annual constant for at least 10 years, Varsity Theatre owner Paul Shareshian said. 

“It’s a different performance of it,” Shareshian said. “It’s not like the craziness with the food fighting. It’s more theatrical. They do a great job with it, and they always have.”

While the production inarguably did an astounding job carrying the captivating energy of the original film, my only critique is the lack of diversity in the cast. For a show whose themes are dedicated to inclusivity, it was disappointing to be able to count the people of color in this production on one hand. 

The show was diverse in the sense of sexualities and gender identities, but the representation of racial and ethnic minorities was severely lacking.

The Players will perform four sold-out shows over Friday and Saturday night, Ugan said. If you were able to score a ticket, you are in for a thrilling time warp. 


Editor's Note: Angelina Katsanis was previously a photo editor at The Daily Tar Heel.

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