Halloween Rocky Horror Picture Show returns to New Orleans


Courtesy of Chloe Russo

Chloe Russo (second from right) plays Janet Weiss in a performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Prytania Theater. The Halloween show marked the first return to stage for the cast since the show was halted in February 2020 due to COVID-19.

Chloe Russo did not spend Halloween night trick-or-treating, or bar hopping on Frenchman Street. Instead, Russo spent the holiday on stage, dancing to the time warp as a member of the Prytania Theater’s Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast.

The Halloween season marked the return of the Prytania Theater’s notorious Rocky Horror shadowcast shows, which were put on hold at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Russo, who uses they/them pronouns, is part of a troupe of actors who dress up as characters from the cult musical and act out their parts on a stage while the movie is shown on a screen behind them. The tradition originated in the 70s, and peaks around Halloween time.

While Russo has been a member of Prytania’s cast for four years, they said they were hooked on the tradition from their first time seeing it as a high school senior.

“I’m originally from suburbs outside of New Orleans and had a pretty sheltered upbringing. Seeing Rocky Horror was one of the first times I ever witnessed true queer pride and community, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it! I went to every single show for a year and got to know the cast,” Russo said.

Russo said that after seeing the show they wrote in their journal that it was the “best night of my life,” and that they “had finally found my people.”

For cast member Austin Wallace, each Rocky Horror performance feels like a long awaited family reunion.

“I am really excited and it’s also nerve wracking. We’ve been doing these rehearsals and we’re a little rustier than we thought, maybe,” Wallace said.

Wallace, who uses they/them pronouns, is in their third year as a Rocky Horror cast member, which they joined only one month after moving to New Orleans to attend Loyola.

Rocky Horror was a huge part of Wallace’s high school experience, they said, and soon after coming to Loyola an upperclassman noticed their tattoo inspired by the film and pointed them in the direction of the Prytania cast.

After going to their first show, Wallace was hooked. They stayed behind to speak with the cast after the show and were quickly invited to an upcoming rehearsal. The rest is history.

At Loyola, Wallace is a music industry major and public health minor. They say these interests perfectly intersect during Rocky Horror, which they describe as a great example of queer expression.

“Queer people don’t usually get to talk about our sex lives in the mainstream media often, so Rocky Horror is the perfect place to have these conversations about stuff like safe sex practices that queer people don’t always learn,” Wallace said.

Wallace said they hand out condoms to audience members at shows, as well as plug free HIV testing resources. They said the atmosphere of the show creates the right environment to educate about safe sex.

Russo also noted that the accepting environment of Rocky Horror has been an outlet for overcoming bullying about their weight that they faced as a child, while also growing more confident in their body.

“Nothing boosts your self esteem more than being on stage in just your underwear and having the audience scream and cheer and holler for you,” Russo said.

Bringing the show back to New Orleans has been a complicated process, Russo said. As a member of the cast’s executive board, Russo has witnessed each difficulty the group has had to overcome in order to put on the show once again.

Initially, the monthly performances were halted in February of 2020. Even as the pandemic began to weaken in New Orleans, Russo faced a growing number of openings in the cast as former members were displaced due to the pandemic.

Even as infection rates in the city began to fall, mask mandates posed a further dilemma. A critical element of the viewing experience for the movie is fan engagement, call backs and lip synching. During the pandemic, mask wearing made each of these elements difficult.

In the fall of 2021, the cast began to regroup only to be halted by Hurricane Ida, which caused significant damages to the Uptown Prytania Theater location where the group puts on their shows.

Due to the Uptown theater’s closure, the show was moved to the Canal Place location until repairs are finished. The Canal Place theater is smaller, Russo said, and so the cast had to turn to creative solutions to rework their show in a new space.

Keeping the show going in spite of these challenges was pivotal, Russo said.

“Being part of a tradition that has been going on since the 70s, specifically a queer tradition, is something so special, and I want to keep that alive,” Russo said.

As a senior cast member, Wallace also noticed the adversity facing the cast leading up to the Halloween show, and felt a similar determination to overcome it.

“There was a bit of time where I was afraid, and I think the rest of the cast was afraid, that we weren’t going to be doing Rocky Horror again for a long time,” Wallace said. “We are the only ones in New Orleans who do it. If it’s not us, it just isn’t happening here.”

Russo said they hope that the Halloween shows will mark a return to normalcy for the cast, and that monthly shows will start back up as soon as possible.

“We are so glad to be back. We know a lot of people have missed us, and we have absolutely missed them,” Russo said.