Englert’s Rocky Horror Picture Show tradition continues as private screening for raffle winners

The Englert Theatre and FilmScene have teamed up to make sure the beloved tradition of screening “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Halloween can go on, even with a limited audience in a new venue.



Tim Curry, Nell Campbell and Patricia Quinn star in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in 1975. (20TH CENTURY FOX)

Jenna Post, Arts Reporter

This Halloween, a limited number of Englert Theatre patrons will return to the Frankenstein Place with Brad and Janet for the annual showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

In past years, the cult classic has been performed live by actors from Iowa City’s improv comedy group, Comics in Action, to a packed audience at the Englert. This year, the theater is collaborating with FilmScene to provide three raffle winners and their private groups a cinematic version of the tradition.

Jessica Egli, The Englert’s events director, said the theater’s team felt the event was too beloved to cancel and were determined to find a way to make it happen despite the pandemic.

“For people who expect this as part of their yearly tradition, we wanted to make sure we were there for them,” Egli said. “Providing artistic experiences for our patrons who support us year after year is what we’re supposed to be doing, so it felt like if we can make it happen, that’s our job.”

Although hundreds of fans in costume won’t be shouting scripted obscenities at the cast this year, the FilmScene viewing experience will include all the props necessary for full audience participation. The group for private screenings can be no larger than 16 people, according to FilmScene’s website.

Superfans of the production participate in coordinated audience reactions to the show, some of which involve various items, including rice, newspapers, and water pistols.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Englert operations director Sarah Shonrock said that during a typical year, it takes the staff, actors, and volunteers an hour to clean up the theater because of scattered props and confetti. The whole crew uses leaf blowers, brooms, and electronic fans to speed up the process.

RELATED: Grounded is a soft approach to a hard-hitting show  

Dennis Lambing, a spokesman for Comics in Action, has plenty of memories of post-show cleanup from years of performing in and producing the show. He said after enduring the events of 2020 thus far, people are in need of an escape, and Rocky Horror provides that.

“An amazing number of college students go,” Lambing said. “We’ve had parents go with kids, teenagers, people in their fifties and sixties. It does run the gambit between all of those groups.”

Lambing said that from both a performing and audience standpoint, Rocky Horror is iconic enough to bring back this year, although he’ll miss the atmosphere and audience interaction of the stage version.

“There’s enough people in Iowa City that support theater, that support what The Englert’s trying to do, that supports FilmScene, that supports LGBTQ+ people that we could make it happen,” Lambing said.

With movie-going now held as a special event, FilmScene events manager Dan Stolley said the theater is happy to provide a sense of normalcy to its patrons. He added that the raffle winners have all expressed excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to attend the screening.

FilmScene and The Englert agreed that bringing the show back this year as a team effort focused on serving the community.

“We feel so strongly that arts organizations do better when we work together,” Egli said. “They [FilmScene] have figured out how to best show films safely during this time, so they’re the perfect partner for this.”