Dim lighting soaks the cast of Pluma Blanca Community Theater’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” shadowcast. Performers set up on the balcony working to open another midnight showing.
They “create a space that people can come as they are and be accepted and celebrated,” said Jackelin Treviño, director and owner of Pluma Blanca, “(and that it) meets a need that we all have to be validated.”
From the moment you enter the theater, societal norms are discarded, encouraging an “anything-goes atmosphere,” Treviño said, adding that they channel the energy from the cult-classic film. Pluma Blanca produced Saturday night shows through October, with a Nov. 4 finale at the Cine El Rey Theater in McAllen.
The universe of the 1975 comedy-horror musical starring Tim Curry as an alien-transvestite scientist, took a life of its own after a disappointing theatrical release. RHPS is now the longest-running film in history. Troupes around the world pay homage to the campy classic with live, interactive performances.
Through the props, the audience gets to take part.
In the prop bag given to audience members comes a sheet of newspaper, water gun, noisemaker, rubber gloves, a bell, a red balloon, a roll of toilet paper, a deck of cards, flashlight and a party hat. As the audience flings, point or wear the props, they become part of the production.
“I think every person that comes to see a show, whether it’s a concert or a theater show, wants to be on stage or wants to be the star,” said theater co-owner Bert Guerra. “Anytime you get to do that it’s magical.”
The film, and especially the shadowcast, is known for pushing societal boundaries.
“There’s a transformation that happens with every member of our team … because we are the ambassadors of this in-your-face, absurd, intergalactic-performance energy and a big part of that for some of our cast members is makeup,” Jackelin Treviño said.
Before the show, light from vanity mirrors cuts through a fog of powdered makeup looming around the actors.
They spend hours transforming themselves into the colorful, unorthodox characters that make up the show. The cast helps each other embody their role, with support from local makeup artist, Bridgette Treviño. For some, that requires physically manipulating their appearance with proper wardrobe and makeup in order swap identities, sexualities, genders and even species.
Eric Reyna, who takes the role of master of ceremonies for the pre-show, gets to channel his personal alter ego, Brooklin Mars.
“Eric and Brooklin aren’t the same person,” he said while filling in the curves of his spandex suit. “When you throw something like a drag queen in someone’s face you get a reaction.”
And reactions were plentiful.
Mars entertains those who dare show up in time for the pre-show. In between interactive games and dirty jokes, Mars schools the audience on how to properly use the items found in their prop bags while establishing some house rules.
“If you shoot me in the face (with a prop water gun), I have two strikes but I’m not afraid of jail,” Mars taunted.
Mars also performs the initiation ceremony for shadowcast first-timers, who were labeled at the door with a lipstick mark of a “V” (for virgin). Veterans were marked with an “S” (for slut). After reciting a vulgar rendition of the pledge of allegiance, they are rebranded with “S” and the show begins.
“It’s taking something that would normally be derogatory and reclaiming it,” Treviño said.
‘ACT OF RESISTANCE’
Jackelin Treviño began as a RHPS actress eight years ago, before her troupe took over the production.
She got involved at 21, “a turning point in life when people give up on their artist dreams,” she said. “I believe very strongly that pursuing your bliss is an act of resistance.”
Spending time working on the creative project showed Treviño that art could be a part of her life while still pursuing her educational and professional goals, she said. Producing the show means facilitating that environment for others to benefit.
“If you work your job, go home, stay in your house, cook …, watch TV, wake up the next morning and go back to your job … you might not have friends beyond where you work,” she said. “If you look at the ‘norms’ that we’re talking about … they serve to divide people or keep people away from each other.”
Treviño said society often reinforces a binary perspective, unable to appreciate the nuance “in the gray, state of flux or fluidity.”
She said the attributes that make her successful and happy today are the same she was teased about as a child.
“It took a lot of growing to understand those parts of me are worth celebration and were awesome regardless of what society says,” she said. “When you have a part of you that is unsure of how it fits into societal norms, and queerness is essentially that: this magical, sparkling part of you that is actually really bright and can make you feel really proud … but society says it shouldn’t be there.”
Treviño said the rhetoric and policy of the current administration could alienate some. She thinks the popularity of their event is a response.
“It is a celebration of queerness in that it’s a celebration of all that is strange or peculiar or outside socially accepted norms,” Treviño said. “So if you look at the movie and you’re not looking at it (that way), it makes no logical sense.”
The original version of this story failed to mention contributing makeup artist Bridgette Trevino.