Happy Hallowe’en, My Phantoms! – Jeff Schissler

February 27th, 2004

Opening night of ​The Rocky Horror Show. ​It was my first lead role. Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter. I just turned nineteen, and I was a mixture of scared and excited. I arrived at The Capitol Theatre earlier than the rest to get into full makeup and hair. After my face was powdered, my eyes shimmered with glitter, and my lips glossed, they started on my hair. Teased and sprayed, it was finally volumized with red and white streaks running through it. Very intergalactic glam. The latest hairstyle from the planet Transexual, Transylvania where Dr. Frank and his Phantoms reside.

Cast warm up was a time to connect with fellow cast members or, in other words, my second family for the last four months. I remember our camaraderie, I remember the work we all put into rehearsals and I remember our energy and excitement as we mentally prepared for the shows ahead. Our director and musical director, Val Russell and Marie Anderson, gave us that pre-show pep talk. Among the reminders to listen to music cues and remember blocking and choreography, was a caution to not let the sold-out audience participation call-backs distract us. It’s tradition during ​Rocky Horror for the audience to deliver “call backs” to the performers on stage in relation to what is happening. Before we moved into the theatre, we tried out this “call back” tradition during a run-thru rehearsal at the Firehall. This ended up being a hilarious challenge as Barb Henderson and Suzanne Mess were asked to act as the loud, rambunctious, out of control audience members.

Heather and Marc as Janet and Brad in The Rocky Horror Show

The show opened with Beth Hunt, Shannon Oliver and Heather Mastromarco giving us a sultry Supremes-inspired “​Science Fiction, Double Feature”​ and then introduced the innocent Brad and Janet played by Marc Mireault and Heather Jopling singing “​Damn It, Janet”. ​Next up, Jack Boyagian’s character, Riff Raff, belted out “​Over At the Frankenstein Place” ​and he was brilliantly assisted by Jan Crane as the Narrator and Samsara Marriott’s punk-inspired Columbia for “​The Time Warp”​. The audience was alive and wild. Screaming out to us, singing along, dancing in the aisles. This was a theatre experience that was so unique for all of us. We didn’t know what to expect, and we didn’t miss a beat.

Jack Boyagian, current Northumberland Players president, as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show.

My cue to get ready for my grand entrance was Columbia’s tap solo during ​“Time Warp”.​ I put my floor length black cape over my costume, and stood on the platform that would be wheeled onstage. My heart was beating so fast. My high school obsession with ​Rocky Horror​ which included annual Halloween viewings and multiple soundtrack listens prepared me for this exact moment. I always dreamed about one day slipping into heels and electrifying life into Dr. Frank. This was it! After “​Time Warp” ​finished and the chorus of kooky Phantoms held the moment at the end of the number, a slow beat began to signal to the audience what was to come.

However, our experienced audience didn’t need any signalling. They knew exactly what was coming. They immediately started to clap and chant “​Frank​…​Frank…Frank…Frank!”​ As I was wheeled on stage, their screaming was so loud that I could hardly hear Janet’s cue line: ​“Look, I’m cold, I’m wet and I’m just plain scared!” ​Opening guitar chords for “​Sweet Transvestite” ​were played, and I began…​”How’d you do I…see you met my…faithful HANDYman…” standing tall on my platform with fog surrounding me.​ ​Brad and Janet were shocked, the Phantoms posed around the stage were titillated and the audience were silently awaiting the reveal.

Jeff Schissler as Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter in The Rocky Horror Show

With the beginning of the first chorus,…​“I’m just a Sweet Transvestite!”…​ I whipped off my cape to show off my amazing costume. Silver and black stilettos, black thigh high fishnets, silk black gloves and a black sequined corset that glittered under the stage lights. The audience, once again, rose to their feet cheering and yelling with excitement. I felt like such a rock star at that moment! In fact, we all did. The rest of the run was an incredible time. The audiences remained wild and untamed things, and the cast rose to that crazed energy. Our midnight shows (we did two of them, I think) saw our audience members dressing up as their favourite characters. Our backstage crew and orchestra added boas and costumes and experimented with makeup. We toured the show to the Showplace Theatre in Peterborough and rocked that house too!

Christopher Horner and Jeff Schissler in The Rocky Horror Show.

When I meet others who have done this show, there are many common experiences that we share. We bond over how our casts personally connected, we share stories of our wild audiences and reminisce over how much fun we had. Writing this memory for the Players has brought me back to those moments. It has warmly reminded me of the magic that can happen among casts, connecting with an enthusiastic audience and the value and joy of live theatre. It has also reminded me to dig out that DVD of ​Rocky Horror​! It’s almost time for that annual viewing. Happy Halloween my Phantoms!! ​“LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN!!”