Acting Against Cancer brings ‘Rocky Horror’ to the Play stage on Halloween night

Karmen Kazzi with Michael Detmer and Celeste Vonderschmitt in AAC’s “Rocky Horror” | Photo by Sophia Gordon

Louisvillians planning their Halloween night might want to check out the final performance of Acting Against Cancer’s  2018 production of the perennial sci-fi celebration of song, space and sex: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The film — and the musical upon which it is based — has been an indispensable part of queer culture in Louisville and around the country for decades. Various theater companies, movie houses, devoted fans and performers, and “shadow casts” have never let it fade for long.

For the last five years, and probably for at least five more, that tradition has been continued by Acting Against Cancer (AAC), and the company has grown what was originally supposed to be a one-year production into a multi-state, month-long October adventure.

Cast of AAC’s “Rocky Horror” | Photo by Steve Squall

“Rocky” director Remy Sisk has developed a special love for the show, which he recently detailed for Queer Kentucky, in an article that chronicled the Kentucky history of the cult film phenomenon.

Sisk, who serves as the company’s artistic director, says that while he thinks AAC has made their particular production their own, he knows it is part of something larger.

“We are really honored to move forward with ‘Rocky Horror’ in Louisville. Its legacy here is so rich and so culturally significant to the city, and we do not take that lightly,” Sisk tells Insider.

AAC became a multi-year part of that legacy without meaning to.

“It was very unintentional. No one was doing ‘Rocky’ … and Charlie (Meredith), who was part of our organizational leadership at the time, really liked ‘Rocky’ and said he’d love to do ‘Rocky Horror’ as part of the season,” he says.

AAC is often Louisville’s source for musicals that key into pop culture in some way. Last year they performed the jukebox musical “Rock of Ages,” as well as the creepy adaptation of “Carrie.” So “Rocky Horror” fits right in.

They booked the show for their 2014 season, rehearsed it and performed it.

Then, in 2015, AAC was working on a production of “The Addams Family” but realized the performers from “Rocky” all still knew their parts. They decided to do a one-night-only return engagement in Central Park. By then, they began to realize they loved performing the show and started thinking about doing it every year.  

In 2016, the third production, if you’re counting, moved to its current home at Play Dance Bar. It’s a fitting venue for the show. For years, “Rocky” was one of the most public, though still underground, places for the queer community to gather and celebrate. Now Play is one of best LGBTQ nightclubs in Louisville.

After getting their bearings at Play for one year, AAC took “Rocky” on the road to Play’s Nashville location, a trip they made again this year.

Olivia Duff and Charlie Meredith | Photo by Sophia Gordon

Though the production is very stripped down, it has still taught Sisk some things about preparation. 

“When we went to pack it up (this year), I thought, ‘Surely I made a list last year,’ but I didn’t,” he says. “So this year, I made a list and I know exactly what it takes.”

AAC has their own wireless microphones, a set of props — for the actors and the audience — and costumes.  

“It all fits in the back of my car,” notes Sisk.

This year, AAC adds another layer to their relationship with Play. One of the club’s regular “Playmates” is performing the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter. 

“We asked Karmen Kazzi if she had any interest … he sent a clip of him singing ‘Sweet Transvestite,’ and it was amazing,” says Sisk.

The “he” there is David Edwards, the civilian alter ego of Kazzi. Edwards also is a part of Louisville’s theater scene. But Sisk was careful to note that in AAC’s “Rocky Horror,” Kazzi is the one performing, and he said she’s incredible.

Sisk has high praise for all the performers, many of which have participated in multiple “Rocky” productions.

“By this point, with how many events we do in October, they sign their lives over to ‘Rocky Horror.’ We are always in rehearsal, every weekend has its own event,” explains Sisk. “While I’m proud of myself and Acting Against Cancer as an entity for developing our ‘Rocky’ this far, without those people to do it with me, it would be nothing.” 

Remy Sisk in AAC’s “Rocky Horror” | Photo by Sophia Gordon

Sisk’s love for his cast echoes the strong ties that historically bound the “Rocky Horror” fan community together.

AAC’s entire cast got a chance to see that history come alive earlier in October, when they performed as the shadow cast for the Speed Art Museum’s screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

That showing was programmed to commemorate The Vogue Theatre, which closed 20 years ago this fall. The Vogue was the Louisville — and Kentucky — home of “Rocky” from 1979 until it closed in 1998.

For the Speed’s celebration, former shadow cast members, fans and once and still misfits showed up to remember a time when queer visibility in pop culture was almost non-existent, and “Rocky Horror” was the only place they could be.

It’s that community, according to Sisk, that makes him want to keep putting “Rocky” on stage year after year.

“It’s so important to us … Yes, it’s fun for us and it’s a good fundraiser, but what it contributes to the legacy of Louisville’s ‘Rocky Horror,’ that means a lot to me,” says Sisk. “I want these people to always have a ‘Rocky Horror’ to go to, and I want young people to have that same feeling.”

You have one more chance to see AAC’s “Rocky Horror” this week. Sisk and company will hit the stage at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at Play, 1101 Washington St. After that, you’ll have to wait another year until you can do the time warp again. Tickets are $10.