How joining a shadow cast of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” helped me embrace my awkwardness

I’ve always been what you’d consider awkward. I’m always uncomfortable, and thoughts of stupid things I’ve said while struggling to make small talk haunt me weeks after the fact. I typically like to fade into the background, and when it comes to being the center of attention, I’m hardly interested. My friends and family are well aware of my desire to avoid the spotlight, but this statement would surprise people who see me onstage in my underwear at the local arthouse theater. You see, I’m a member of a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast.

Let me rewind a little bit. I always felt like kind of a weirdo in high school, and worried far too much about whether other people actually thought I was weird or if it was just in my head. I embraced my teenage love of pop punk and emo music, Chuck Taylors, and way too much black eyeliner. I later found some friends who wanted to drive around aimlessly listening to Saves the Day and watch Kevin Smith movies with a Hot and Ready. It was these same friends who introduced me to midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a campy ‘70s musical about a cross-dressing alien who teaches two squares about giving themselves over to pleasure.

A few years later, I found out that there was a shadow cast that did monthly shows near my hometown. It took going to a lot of their shows before finally getting up the nerve to ask to join the cast. Once I did, they welcomed me, and allowed me to get onstage as Transylvanian for their next show. The more time I spent with the Rocky community, the more I appreciated it as more than just a goofy B-movie. People of all body types arrived at shows in corsets and their underwear. Men dressed as women, women dressed as men. People complimented each other, and there weren’t any comments about how someone shouldn’t be wearing what they were. The confidence that emanated from the crowd and the cast onstage was incredible.

After a while, I decided to step a little bit further out of my comfort zone and take on the role as Janet Weiss — a role that called for me to run around in a bra and slip for the better portion of the movie, before changing into a corset and garter belt at the end. Like the majority of 20-something women, I wasn’t exactly enthralled with the idea of people seeing my stomach or thighs, especially onstage. I had never thought of myself as sexy, and frankly, I was content in my self-conscious, repressed state of mind. I decided to put my doubts about myself and my body aside, and play the part anyway. And now, almost two years later, I still get excited to play it. I love performing “Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me,” and I get a rush when the crowed cheers during “Rose Tint My World.”

My time with my hometown’s Rocky Horror cast was cut short when I took a job in another state. However, the directors connected me with the leader of my new city’s cast and they, too, welcomed me in. Moving to a new state and knowing so few people is tough, but through Rocky Horror I’ve gotten to meet so many people and have a new theater to call home.

Rocky Horror just celebrated its 40th anniversary, with a made-for-TV version starring the fabulous Laverne Cox that’s premiering later this year. It’s the longest running film of all time, with midnight showings consistently attended throughout the world. It’s hardly an underground phenomenon anymore. However, Rocky Horror fans are a tight-knit community all about embracing your inner weirdo, loving your body and owning your sexuality – whatever it is. Everyone with a positive attitude and an open mind is welcome with open arms. As a straight, cis, white female, the movie and subculture played a huge role in helping me love myself, so I can only imagine what it’s done for the millions of fans who find themselves marginalized.Carmen Bojanowski recently made the move from Detroit to Chicago. She has an affinity for dive bars, pop culture and anything with retro flair. You can find her on Twitter here, and her blog is here.

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