Let’s do the time warp again: students bring first-ever shadow cast production of ‘Rocky Horror’ to campus

Baldwin Wallace’s “shadow cast” production features student actors miming along to the movie projected behind them, a common fixture of midnight showings of the cult classic horror comedy.


Ursula Saadeh, The Exponent

Delilah Hartlage, left, Allison Woodhouse and Jack Borenstein rehearse a scene from the musical number “Time Warp.”

Baldwin Wallace students are set to premiere the first ever “shadow cast” production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” opening on Oct. 22 in Fynes Hall inside the Conservatory’s Kulas Musical Arts Building – just in time for Halloween. 

“Rocky Horror” follows a couple who stumble upon a castle hoping to find a telephone after their car breaks down in the rain.  

The castle is filled with strangers in elaborate costumes having a wild party, one of whom is creating the perfect man in his laboratory, and the couple must find a way to survive the night while following these people’s unusual customs. 

This comedy-horror musical is a 1975 cult classic film that has gained notoriety through its midnight theatrical showings, where audience members dress as the characters and shout back to the screen at iconic moments. Those raucous showings led to a popular phenomenon associated with the movie: shadow casts. 

A shadow cast is a production in which actors mime the actions of the characters in a movie while the film is projected behind them. In the case of “Rocky Horror,” the production is treated just like its historical midnight viewing, encouraging audiences to come in costume and shout back to the screen. 

The BW shadow cast production of “Rocky Horror,” which will run for three performances over the two upcoming weekends, is mounted by sophomores Mugs Johnson and Delilah Hartlage, both avid fans of the movie. The two have been collaborating on this project since June 2022. 

“This is the first ever BW shadow cast of anything,” said Hartlage, a dance and movement therapy major. “And particularly ‘Rocky Horror’ is just so unique to that genre of performances anyway.… so it’s really special to be able to kind of get this started and get everyone involved.” 

The two students have split all parts of the creative process between each other, serving as their own directors, stage managers, costume designers and set designers – while also participating in the cast. 

As the production is entirely student-run, Hartlage and Johnson have been working in tandem with the student organization BW Theatre Arts & Performance, more commonly known as T.A.P. The organization has helped the students with funding and finding a space on campus to perform. 

“We are incredibly thankful to be joined with T.A.P.,” said Johnson, a bachelor of fine arts in acting major. “That’s opened up so many doors for us, and I’m really grateful that they’ve still let us be so hands-on.” 

Jack Borenstein, left, Bella Issa, Kristen Miller, Da’von McDonald,and Mugs Johnson rehearse a scene from “Rocky Horror,” set to premiere on Oct. 22. (Ursula Saadeh, The Exponent)

In keeping with the tradition of “Rocky Horror” shadow cast productions, this project will be performed on campus at midnight for a live audience with the movie playing behind the actors. However, Johnson said that the team tried to “maximize as much as [they] could of the material.” 

“We wanted to treat it like a real show because I feel like too often people treat it like a shadow cast, and then all it ever ends up as is a shadow cast,” Johnson said. “We just wanted to add a little bit of life to it.” 

One way the students have upgraded their shadow cast is by adding choreography to the musical numbers. Hartlage said that this brings a “traditional show element” that is not typically seen in a shadow cast. 

Elise Dobbins, a sophomore arts management and entrepreneurship major, choreographed BW’s production. She has been dancing for 15 years and has never had the chance to choreograph a full show. 

“I’ve always wanted to do a full show, and I thought it would be a really good opportunity to gain more knowledge about [choreography] and maybe go forward with it,” Dobbins said. “I’m really enjoying it so far.”  

Dobbins made sure that the choreography stayed true to the movie, and some numbers were created simple enough that the audience could get up on their feet and dance along. 

“There’s a bunch of fun stuff that people in the audience can catch along to very quickly,” Dobbins said. “We want to make sure that they’re still seeing the movie in what we’re doing but also enjoy it and have a good time.”

Jack Borenstein, left, Alex Minyard, Drew Branstetter and Delilah Hartlage rehearse a scene from “Rocky Horror.” (Ursula Saadeh, The Exponent)

The traditionally raunchy content in “Rocky Horror” will be toned down a bit by the actors in this iteration of the shadow cast, making sure to still stay true to the film and allowing both the cast and audiences to be comfortable while partaking in this extravagant party.  

“We’re trying to create a production that’s fun to watch, and is a little wild and a little crazy, but such a fun time,” said Hartlage. 

The performance will be in Fynes Hall, where the intimate theatrical setting allows more opportunity for audience participation and cast interaction.  

The cast will be occasionally performing in the aisles, and audiences can purchase prop bags with items to use throughout the show to further engage with the actors. No outside props will be permitted. 

“It’s all about engaging the audience and making them feel included and like they’re along for a ride,” Johnson said. “Having that as the core of our show will set us aside a bit [from other BW productions].” 

Depending on the reception and demand of “Rocky Horror,” Johnson said they would love to perform this production annually in the fall, hopefully switching up creative teams and the cast.  

Johnson and Hartlage have also thought of doing different shadow cast productions in the spring. 

Before the curtains rise on the production, there will be a pre-show act at 11 p.m. for audiences to attend, which includes the traditional “virgin sacrifice” for those who have never attended a “Rocky Horror” shadow cast. The screening will begin at midnight proper. 

While the Oct. 22 performance is sold out, free tickets remain available to reserve for performances on Thursday, Oct. 27 and Saturday, Oct. 29.  

Tickets are free for all audience members and can be reserved on the production’s ticketing website.