"Let's do the Time Warp again!" takes on new meaning in Theatre 55's "The Rocky Horror Show."
It's still about two innocents who stumble into a castle whose residents, led by kinky Dr. Frank-N-Furter, celebrate sexual freedom. But the musical, opening Friday, features a cast and crew who are 55 or older. Theatre 55 founder Richard Hitchler, who directed the show, says "Rocky Horror" resonates differently when its innocents are played by older actors.
"You get a little on [Netflix comedy] 'Frankie and Grace,' maybe, but you don't see much that explores the sexuality of people over 55 or 60 and you don't see them depicted as sexual beings in the LGBT community at all," Hitchler said.
"Rocky Horror" also spoofs '50s alien invasion movies, which Hitchler sees as a way for Theatre 55 — whose goal is "to enrich the lives of elders as artists, audiences and lifelong learners" — to spotlight the alienation some seniors face.
Lori Constable, who plays naive Janet (Susan Sarandon in the movie), is here for all of that. Her performing and directing career goes all the way back to playing Abe Lincoln's brother in third grade. But at age 62, she's playing an ingenue for the first time.
"She's someone who never got to explore who she was and what she wanted. In a way, that's what our society does with women," said Constable, of Eden Prairie. "Any woman who explores her sexuality gets labeled. So we're forced to pretend we're not. I'm playing her as someone who for whatever reason — societal restraints, desire to please others — was never able to explore."
Constable was a regular at showings of the movie version in college in Madison, Wis. In fact, another reason "Rocky Horror" suits Theatre 55 is that many of its actors were part of the first generation that experienced it when the 1975 "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" became a cult film, attracting fans who donned costumes, wielded props and returned week after week.
Carole Conama, 64, remembers that vividly. The South St. Paul woman spent a chunk of the late 1970s and early '80s as a Mann Theatres employee, cleaning up after midnight screenings. She loves the buttons that "Rocky Horror" pushes.
"So many community theater shows are clean, but this one is not," said Conama, who is in the randy chorus. "At our age, we're pretty comfortable in our own skins, despite the aches and creaks and pops."
Part of a generation that came of age during the sexual revolution, Conama and Constable think "Rocky Horror" has helped create understanding. Constable notes, however, that its outdated take on consent spurred productive discussions at rehearsals.
"Many of the men I'm pretty close to because we've been in shows together have gone through agony with their own sexuality. When the show came out, it was shocking for men to run around Uptown in their lingerie. Cross-dressing has always been there, but it wasn't always accepted. Now it's old hat," Conama said.
One thing that's not old hat for theaters is dealing with COVID. All members of the cast and crew are triple-vaccinated. Masks were worn throughout rehearsals. The theater is even determining whether the cast should perform masked; actors who venture into the audience definitely will wear them.
"As far as physically being close to each other, we do have to talk it through, anticipating we will not be masked at a certain point in performances," said Constable. "In the song 'Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me,' we're cognizant that we are right up in each other's faces. We need to be respectful."
Kisses have been staged so actors create the illusion without lips actually meeting, but Theatre 55 is used to making adjustments. Hitchler notes that he's always maintained a box of "reader" eyeglasses, in case older eyes have trouble with scripts. So it's been easy to add facemasks to the pile.
In terms of staging, Theatre 55 avoids total blackouts, to make sure performers can move confidently, while the choreography accommodates creaky joints.
"There's a moment after the song 'Time Warp' where everyone collapses on stage. But not everyone here can get up so quickly, so you learn ways to make that work," said Hitchler, who wants the show to resonate with audiences of different body types, too. "The person playing Rocky [presented in the show as the ideal male] is not a muscleman. He's learned to embrace the fact that dad bods are sexy, too."
Although she emphasizes that the show is not a scholarly treatise, Constable thinks it will make audiences think, including her adult children.
"We need to give each other the space to be all facets of who we are," said Constable. "My role with my children is as their mother. In those contexts, that is what I'll be and, hopefully in four months, as a grandmother. But when I'm not in those contexts, I'm the same brassy, in-your-face, 14-year-old student I was."
That attitude toward aging is why Rainbow Health Minnesota partnered with Theatre 55 on "Rocky Horror."
"To position it as something that connects to older adults is new and refreshing," said Phil Duran, director of advocacy for the organization that offers health services for LGBT people. "We look forward to continuing to expand the conversation about what's possible for older adults."
Hitchler saw that expansion in rehearsals every day.
"Nobody is ashamed of being who they are or what they want to do. They go all-out, all the time because they want to show what they have," he said. "I think you hit that point of, 'Ah, hell, am I ever going to get a chance to do this again? No. So, I'm going to go for it.' "
'The Rocky Horror Show'
Who: By Richard O'Brien. Directed by Richard Hitchler.
When: 7 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun. Ends Feb. 6.
Where: Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.
Protocol: Proof of vaccination and masks required.
Tickets: $5-$40, theatre55.org.