By Rande Archer
Halloween is right around the corner and to spook things up on the stage Theatre Baton Rouge will be presenting the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the 29th and 30th. DIG was able to catch up with the theater company’s sweet transsexual Transylvanian transvestite doctor, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, played by Collin Smith, on the show and what it feels like playing a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania.
DIG: To start off, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into acting?
Collin Smith: Well, by day I have a pretty normal life. I’m a banker, and I needed something creative to do in my spare time. I decided to come back to the theatre after six years. I started acting when I was 10 years old. I had always loved singing and performing, so my mom brought me to audition for The Wizard of Oz at the Strauss Young Stage (now Strauss Youth Academy for the Arts) in Monroe, Louisiana. I got a part as a Munchkin, and that’s when I fell in love with the theatre. I did productions up until I went to college, and then I didn’t have time because of class and work. But I’m back, and it feels great.
DIG: Are you a fan of Rocky Horror?
Smith: Absolutely. I saw a clip of “The Time Warp” at a Hard Rock Café when I was 12 years old and wanted to see the rest of the movie. The next time my mom brought me to Blockbuster, I snuck a copy into our stack of movies and waited until everyone was asleep to watch it. I was in love, and when I found out there was a stage version, I knew I wanted to play Frank one day.
DIG: Are you a fan of Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter?
Smith: Yes! He created the role in the original West End production, then brought it to Los Angeles and Broadway before the release of the film, so his is the definitive performance of the role. He was so charismatic and creepy at the same time, which I think is why people are so enamored with the character.
DIG: How are you liking playing such an iconic, cult-classic role?
Smith: I love it. Like I said, I’ve wanted to play this role since I was a kid, and to finally have a chance to play Frank is a dream come true. At the same time, there’s some pressure. For lots of people who are fans of the movie, Frank is their favorite character, so I want to live up to their expectations when they come to see our interpretation of the show.
DIG: Any particular instances or scenes you loved from Curry’s performance?
Smith: I particularly like any scenes where he loses his cool. Frank wants to come across as poised and polished, but occasionally he just bursts, whether it’s in anger or despair. Tim Curry is such a gifted actor, and he handles those cracks in Frank’s façade in such a nuanced way. And those eyes! He could act out the alphabet with his eyes.
DIG: Are you going to try to emulate any of those in your performance?
Smith: One of the challenges with a role this iconic is making it your own while still giving fans of the film a taste of what they love. So yeah, I will definitely be taking inspiration from those moments, while still trying to make it my own performance.
DIG: Will you be drawing any other inspirations from other evil doctors from classic horror movies to add to your own performance?
Smith: Not from horror movies per se, but I’ve definitely gotten inspiration from some unsavory characters. Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest has been a great reference point for Frank’s temper, and Regina George in Mean Girls is a great example of a character who both draws followers yet strikes fear in the hearts of those around her.
DIG: Are there any scenes in your production that you just absolutely love or stand out to you as your favorite?
Smith: I really love the scene where Frank is enraged at Riff Raff for allowing Rocky to escape the castle. Clay Donaldson, who plays Riff Raff, is such a good sport in several scenes, but this one, in particular, involves a whip. We discussed it before running the scene the first time, and he said “Just go for it.” The whole cast has been that way, and it allows everyone as actors to give performances that commit fully to the material.
DIG: Adding to that, are there any musical numbers from this production that are your favorite?
Smith: “I’m Going Home” is my favorite musical number to perform. It’s a rare chance to see the vulnerable side of Frank, plus I get to interact with the audience during that song, which is always a lot of fun.
DIG: Speaking of music, what is your favorite musical segment from the movie?
Smith: “Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me” is such a fun scene. One of the central themes in both the play and the movie is sexual awakening, getting in touch with that side of yourself, and that song, in particular, gives a glimpse of a person learning about her desires and exploring them.
DIG: Any co-stars that you enjoy working with?
Smith: All of them! Everyone in this show is a dream to work with, and they have all worked so hard and given themselves so fully to the show. Anytime you can work with people who let down their guards and commit to a role, it makes the entire process so much more fulfilling for the audience as well as for you as an actor.
DIG: How are you with Frank-N-Furter’s accent? Has it been a trouble nailing down?
Smith: Tim Curry created the accent for Frank, and it works so well for his character that I decided to use that dialect for my performance. I’ve been practicing it since I was 12, so it’s second nature to me now.
DIG: Were there aspects of Frank-n-Furter that were hard to get or has the role been somewhat natural for you?
Smith: The most challenging aspect of Frank’s character is his nonchalance toward other characters’ emotions. He allows himself to express his feelings but punishes those who do the same toward him. It’s difficult to be so selfish or rude, but it gives you a chance to examine how you treat those around you when they need to express themselves.
DIG: How are Frank’s outfits? Will the iconic fishnets and leather corset make an appearance in the show?
Smith: Definitely. Frank’s outfit (corset, fishnets, heels, heavy makeup, oversized jewelry) are integral to his character. He’s an alien who doesn’t fully grasp the social norms of culture on Earth; he only knows what he has observed as an outsider. He wants to create a sense of grandeur in every aspect of his life, so everything is almost a parody of that. He gathers everything that he views as elegant or fancy and wears it all at once, and because he exists outside of a traditional gender binary, he doesn’t care that it’s all traditionally women’s garments. So yeah, the corset and fishnets are there to stay for Frank.
DIG: How do you like wearing it?
Smith: Honestly, the costume has been one of the bigger challenges for this role. Not because I’m self-conscious about wearing it, but logistically; heels and corsets change how you do things. I had to learn how to sing and breathe differently in the corset, and how to dance and run in heels. Storey Wilson has been absolutely wonderful and so creative with the costumes, and they’re so beautiful that you quickly get over any discomfort because you’re just proud to wear them.
DIG: Finally, what are your thoughts on the production as a whole?
Smith: Everyone who has had anything to do with the production has worked so hard and done such an amazing job on this show. The set, costumes, and lighting all work together brilliantly, and when you add the incredible cast into the mix, it makes for a really magical experience onstage. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of it, and I hope audiences love it just as much as we do.