An early November evening, a brimful Presentation theater had 500 eager USF students–ready for a show composed of lingerie, high heels, lipstick, profanity, orgasms, sex positions, and a little strip tease–for the yearly Fall tradition of the College Players’ Rocky Horror Picture Show Production.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a controversial campus production due to the sexual liberation it displays. Although sexual liberation can be a very broad term, a common definition of it among the sources defined it as the right to be sexually active outside of marriage and other restrictions with who one desires, meaning pre-marital sex, polygamy, and extending it to same-sex partners as well.
Because Rocky Horror exhibits the idea of sexual liberation at a religious institution, some members of the community are shocked it is able to be put on, for it seems inconsistent with the Jesuit values of the college.
One student stood in line for the show her first year at USF, and her first year seeing the school’s production, and said, “I have seen Rocky Horror back home. They play it every weekend at the theater in my town. But I was still shocked to see it put on here because of the sex and stuff that’s in it since this is supposed to be a religious school.”
“We had a presidential campaign that was offensive. More offensive than Rocky Horror could ever be. It’s harmless. It’s just a show. It’s like going to the Castro on Halloween or something,” David Pangaro, Professor and the Director of the Presentation Theater, 65, said defending the production.
Although this is a Jesuit-driven university, USF’s President Father Fitzgerald, and USF’s Chancellor Father Privett also defended Rocky Horror’s right to be shown on campus.
USF’s President, Father Paul Fitzgerald, SJ, 58, says “the Jesuit values of the institution are consistent with the showing of the Rocky Horror Production”.
According to the university website, one of the core Jesuit values of the school is a belief and commitment to “diversity of perspectives, experiences and traditions as essential components of a quality education in our global context”.
(For the rest of USF’s Jesuit values visit: https://www.usfca.edu/about-usf/who-we-are/our-values)
Fitzgerald also noted that he does not decide what is put on in the theater. Students and faculty are given the right and trust to construct and display their artistic expression.
“Production decisions are made by students, faculty, and staff who have been delegated this authority. But, I do think USF defends–and should defend–the inalienable dignity and worth of every member of our University community,” said Fitzgerald.
USF’s Chancellor, Father Stephen Privett, SJ, 74, says Rocky Horror and sexual liberation are also important or beneficial in discussion. He says he has never seen Rocky Horror, and that he “did not even know it was put on at the school”, and that “he would not be interested in it because it’s a cult film for young folks”, but he supports it being put on at USF.
Privett did not dive into the movie being shown to honor diverse identities, but for it to be shown as an educational experience.
Privett says using it in an educational context is beneficial.
“Generally, things that are controversial are good if its put in an educational context, but not for sheer entertainment, it may be a teachable moment,” said Privett after regaining composure after laughing when the orgasm contest that takes place before the show was described to him.
Performing Arts and Social Justice Professor, Roberto Varea, agrees with Privett.
Varea said there’s a university culture, and when “one begins to become educated our horizons broaden, and assuming there is a natural curiosity or inquiry in your academic field or in your personal life it allows an open and supportive context to support sexuality and to understand your own and yourself.”
A freshman also agreed on the educational approval of Rocky Horror.
Christopher Francis, 18, who played Brad in this year’s production of Rocky Horror said, “If college is a place of learning, then I think it should include about yourself”.
Some expected the Jesuits of the university to be against the production, but they have been thought to be accepting, modern, and liberal.
Pangaro said, “I have been here thirty years. I think the Jesuits are more accepting of the way things are than any right-ist or conservative. I think they’re more liberal than any catholic group there is.”
Pangaro said they are more accepting, but he also said he has also received pushback from religious members of the community due to the Rocky Horror show.
“We’ve had Jesuits walk out of our shows in the 80s for really mild reasons over the years. They won’t come to Rocky Horror. They don’t want to be confrontational on this stuff so I don’t think they would come,” said Pangaro.
Pangaro also said there has been “problems in the past with certain Jesuit professors and teachers that thought it was a little too risqué to be doing for a Jesuit institution.”
When sexuality extends beyond watching and learning, some view it as problematic practices for the student body. This has led to censorship and student frustration.
Before the movie there’s the “virgin games”, where those in the audience who are watching Rocky Horror for the first time–with a ‘v’ painted in red lipstick across their forehead– are pulled on stage by the “sluts”, the dancing cast members, of the show to participate in sexual activities like: orgasm contests, sexual position contests, and a strip tease.
Because this involves being sexual instead of just watching it in a movie, some members of the community disagree with it.
The College Players have even had to change the name of the pre-show activities, the “virgin games”.
Pangaro explained that the College Players were informed by Student Leadership and Engagement that they had to change the name of the famous pre-show activities from the “virgin games” to the “v games” this year due to the use of the word “virgin”.
This censorship was a common reason students felt they were restricted from being sexually liberated on campus and with the show.
“Sexual liberation on our campus is none. We have trouble saying the word virgin during the v games. I understand that we are a Catholic university but we also live in the heart of the city and should be allowed to use any words in a positive manner. We shouldn’t be given a list of words we can and cannot say,” said College Players’ Stage Manager, Junior Evan Boukidis, 20
Frustration with the censorship was common among the College Players. Their Executive Producer, Senior Emma McCool, 20, also commented on the lack of sexual liberation on campus.
“While sexuality and identity is celebrated here for the most part, being sexual isn’t. I think this ties in with being a Jesuit school,” said McCool.
Although Father Privett is okay with sexual liberation and Rocky Horror on the campus as a topic or learning experience, he opposes modeling the behaviors and practices.
One problem Privett has with sexual liberation is the hook-up culture.
“If liberty means a person can have sex with whoever they please, I believe that’s crazy. Sexual activity shouldn’t be reduced to playing pool. Sexuality belongs in the context of a loving relationship. I don’t think a hook-up culture is a good thing. I think stable relationships and sexuality is a good expression of a relationship. But hook-ups are highly problematic. If sex becomes just entertainment, that’s very unhealthy. Rather than liberate a person, it in fact diminishes a person,” said Privett.
Privett also elaborated on why the sexual behavior of Rocky Horror is a problematic practice when alcohol is involved, for it leads to date rape, sexual assault, and other behavior.
Privett says he used to get a regular report of crimes on campus and sexual incidents involving alcohol were the most dominant of reports.
“Alcohol is the most popular drug on campus. Sex and alcohol are very closely related,” said Privett.
According to the Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security crime database, since 2012 USF has had 643 liquor law violations and approximately nine reported cases of forced sex offenses, non-forced sex offenses, rape, fondling, and statutory rape.
Although not directly related to sex, Pangaro gave a vivid description about a Rocky Horror MC in 2008, just a few years after Rocky Horror began to be put on at USF, who was intoxicated after arriving to the show moments after leaving a party with her boyfriend.
“She was totally loaded, and wouldn’t give up the microphone, and she was falling off the stage. We tried to get the microphone and she ran with it and we couldn’t get it from her,” recalled Pangaro.
Although some students believe the religious campus restricts students from being sexual, some say it’s very tolerant compared to other religious universities.
The city plays a large role in the university’s freedom and tolerance.
Other institutions have stricter rules because of their religious backgrounds, but San Francisco tends to mold the structure of the campus.
One student has friends who goes to other religious institutions in the country, and they have less tolerance for things like Rocky Horror or sexual liberation.
“Personally, I have a lot of friends that attend various other religious universities throughout the country. From the stories I’ve heard, USF provides a much healthier and safer spaces than the others.” Said Junior Samantha Anabi, 20, who played Riff Raff in this year’s Rocky Horror production.
Grand Canyon University in Arizona does not even allow students in rooms of the opposite sex. But USF possesses a tolerance adopted by the city.
Privett said, “There are catholic universities that are really strict. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The world San Francisco is a more tolerant and open city. Diversity of the city learns how to respectfully be with people who are different without being afraid, that compliments the university”.
USF provides a safe space for expression, identity, and exploration.
Many members of the community elaborated and said that Rocky Horror is more than a form of expression and liberation though–it is also a form of escape, especially from the elections that took place this month.
Privett said, “Donald Trump is an absolute idiot”.
Others on campus also felt this way, and used the theater as a safe space to come together in.
“RHPS was there to be the beacon of light and let us forget for one night how scared we are for the future,” said Boukidis. “we really gave people the chance to escape from the news.”
Overall though, out of the 40 people polled while waiting in line to see Rocky Horror a few Saturday nights ago, a majority said it’s all about fun. It’s not about Rocky Horror, or dissecting sexual liberation on college campuses, or reflection, or politics–it’s about fun.
College is about learning, experiencing, and having fun
“Rocky Horror is an excuse for fun. It’s about having fun and toying with things that are actually serious in another context,” said Varea.
“It’s poking fun at being human. And everything has been too seriously lately. I’m looking at things to laugh at and enjoy,” said Pangaro.
“It’s fun, but also it celebrates the unconventional,” said McCool.
“I think being able to partake in this weird yet amazing production in anyway is a wonderful thing we have at USF,” said Anabi.
College is about having something like Rocky Horror to attend late on a Saturday night dressed up with your friends, dancing and doing the time warp, cursing and screaming at the characters on the screen, being pulled up on stage to make a Golden Gate Bridge sex position, and snap chatting all your eyes see that your mind cannot fathom.
Fitzgerald said he “saw Rocky Horror in a movie theater when he was in college,” himself, and that he would also “see it at the school if he could”.
MORE ABOUT USF’S ROCKY HORROR PRODUCTION:
- It is put on around Halloween every year (but this year it had to take place in November due to production rights–multiple theaters are not allowed to play the same show within a 50-mile radius of each other, so they do not have to compete for business)
- It is free! (but Panaro says he hopes in the future to change that because not charging causes them to lose money, he hopes to at least break even)
- It has been played every year for 10 years now, since 2006.
- In other versions of Rocky Horror, the audience throws food and other things, but not in the Presentation theater
Have you seen Rocky Horror before? Do you think it should be put on at a college campus, a religious campus? What did you think of the movie? What did you think of the meaning of its context? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
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