Left to right: Sofie Kane, Zachary Bellward and Angus Yam in Studio 58’s The Rocky Horror Show, with costume design by Donnie Tejani and makeup by Weebee Drippin. (photo by Emily Cooper)
“It’s the fun and freaky escape we’ve all been craving!” announces the press release for Studio 58 at Langara College’s The Rocky Horror Show. And it’s a statement that’s proven true, with an almost sold-out run as the JI went to press this week.
At least two Jewish community members are involved in the production, which takes place live in the theatre Feb. 3-20. Josh Epstein directs and Itai Erdal created the lighting design.
Amid the happy news regarding ticket sales, COVID continues to cause challenges. “We have multiple Plan Bs and we update them often,” Epstein told the Independent. “Enough of the show has been learned that I know, wherever we end up, this incredible group of performers can entertain.”
While Epstein has done other creative works over the past two years, and so has experience dealing with all the pandemic regulations, this show has been “way harder,” he said.
“I was involved in Craigslist Cantata, which was a filmed production; and a workshop of a new musical at Studio 58 I co-wrote, it was basically an outdoor concert. With Rocky Horror, the cast is large, the lighting, sets and costumes are all world-class. We are being extremely careful to follow all regulations, Studio 58 guidelines and avoid infection. We took a week on Zoom when needed and made other adjustments as needed. I also have two kids under 2 – that’s really the harder part!”
Erdal also has been busier than many in the performing arts sector, but he, too, is finding the situation difficult.
“I have been luckier than most designers I suppose, but still, the last couple of years have been a real struggle, both financially and mentally,” said Erdal. “Just last week, I had to postpone my one-man show How to Disappear Completely, which was scheduled to run at Presentation House in North Van – one of the toughest decisions I had to make.
“Making a living as a theatre artist is tough in the best of times,” he added. “Right now, it’s damn near impossible. It’s been tough mentally too – I basically sat at home for a year between November 2020 and 2021. Fortunately, I’ve been writing a play about my military service [in Israel], so that kept me busy and sane for that year.”
That Erdal is also a writer, producer, performer and artistic director (of the Elbow Theatre) must help in his design of lighting for a production, which begins with his reading of the play in question, “taking notes of things like locations, time of day, mood, atmosphere, effects (lighting, gun shots, smoke, haze, etc.).”
He then meets with the director to “hear their vision of the piece and if they have any specific ideas about lighting. Ideally, this is before the set is designed so I have some input into the set design – Is it an abstract set or a naturalistic one? If the set has walls on the sides, then I can’t use side lighting; if it’s staged in the round, it will obviously change my design.”
He takes more notes while watching rehearsals and, for a musical, like Rocky Horror, he needs to know exactly where the performers are for every song.
“Then I will go home and draw the lighting plot – this show has about 150 lights and the crew needs to know where every light is hung, which way it’s facing and what colour or pattern it takes. Then we hang all the lights, circuit them and patch them to the lighting board.
“After the hang is finished,” he said, “we focus all the lights and then we record the cues. A musical will typically have anywhere between 200 and 300 lighting cues, so that will take awhile to record, at least 12 hours. I use light walkers and ask them to stand where the performers will be standing and we record all the cues and put them all in the prompt script so the stage manager can call the show.”
The performers are then shown their every cue, being told “where to stand, making sure the director likes how it looks and the stage manager knows exactly when the cue is called. In a musical like Rocky Horror,” said Erdal, “the vast majority of the cues will be called with the music, so I would give the stage manager a detailed cue list that includes bar numbers so the show can be called musically. After practising all that for a few days, we add the costumes and all other design elements and do a tech dress and then a dress rehearsal. After that, the audience comes in for previews and we do a few last tweaks before we open the show.”
Collaboration is crucial and it’s one of Epstein’s favourite parts of directing this show – working with the students and the creative team. “After a few years away from this process,” he said, “there is nothing that gets me jazzed more than bouncing artistic ideas off each other and then guiding them to life.”
Given the popularity and longevity of The Rocky Horror Show – first staged in 1973 and then made iconic by the 1975 film adaptation – one might be intimidated when faced with staging it, but not Epstein.
“I love and trust my artistic team and give them a lot of ownership over where we’re headed. If we each dream big and make it happen, it will be unlike any other production – and I think we’ve done that,” said the director.
“Usually,” he added, “I avoid any other productions or history of a show but Rocky Horror has had such a unique life. I researched its beginnings, looked for lyric changes, did consultations with different communities, made conscious decisions about context and intention. I really took to heart ‘Don’t dream it, be it’ and have made that a touchstone of our show – that you can be whoever you want to be and, more importantly, be fabulous.
“One thing that’s going to happen,” Epstein concluded, “is we’re going to honour the audience that this show created, in a big way.”
For showtimes and tickets, visit studio58.ca.