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The Rocky Horror Show Digital Study Guide

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Written by Stephanie Johns, Education Coordinator, Education Department (Stratford Festival) with Lois Kivesto, PhD, researcher and dramaturgical consultant


"Don't get strung out by the way I look

Don't judge a book by its cover

I'm not much of a man

By the light of day

But by night I'm one hell of a lover

I'm just a sweet transvestite

From transsexual Transylvania" - Frank N. Furter, The Rocky Horror Show

The Rocky Horror Show has been deemed a cult classic due to its social relevancy even 40-plus years later. Discussions of ambiguity, gender identity and sexual freedom are surfacing in the media and in classrooms every day. Musical theatre provides a way to have these sometimes difficult conversations with students in a way that is neither threatening nor uncomfortable. Discussions and analysis can happen through the viewpoints of the characters in the musical rather than through the perspective of an individual student. Students will use the themes and motifs of The Rocky Horror Show to understand their own place in the world and give them the agency and the vocabulary to explore these ideas further.

Curriculum Connections

Suitable for Grades 10-12

  • All grades: Language/English (listening to understand, speaking to communicate, reading for meaning)
  • All grades: Drama, Music, Visual Art
  • Grades 10-12: Health and PE (interpersonal skills, conflict resolution harassment, violence and abuse, leadership)
  • Grade 11: Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology (explaining human behaviour and culture, socialization)
  • Grade 11: Gender Studies (the social construction of gender, power relations, sex and gender)
  • Grade11: Dynamics of Human Relationships (healthy relationships)
  • Grades 11-12: Philosophy (metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, aesthetics)
  • Grade 12: Challenge and Change in Society (social change: causes and effects of social change)

Key Themes and Motifs

  • Sexuality and sexual freedom
  • Gender identity, performance and exploration
  • Discovery and experimentation
  • Innocence to experience
  • Foreignness and otherness
  • Society and self
  • Power, choice and control
  • Tradition and subversion
  • Madness
  • Love


An Interview with Donna Feore, Director and Choreographer of The Rocky Horror Show

Why did you choose to direct this production? What excites you most about it?

Everything about this show excites me! The Rocky Horror Show provokes a dialogue in wild and entertaining ways, encouraging us to break through our shyness and reserve to celebrate being alive. It takes acceptance for granted. It's about freedom and letting go in a sexy and wacky way. I hope the experience gives you no choice but to yield.


What new perspectives do you find this well-known classic offers a contemporary audience?

For good reason, it has been an audience favourite since its creation. The moment you enter the Avon Theatre, I want you to be immersed in Dr. Frank N. Furter's world - the whole decadent, seductive, sci-fi B-movie charm of it all.


What new perspectives do you find it offers a contemporary audience?

Every new cast of performers, by definition, bring something unique to any revival. Our 2018 perspective only deepens our respect for the original material and the inspiration we draw from it. Whether you're seeing it for your first time or your fiftieth, I hope you'll be swept away on a journey of delicious self-discovery and fulfillment, with a stellar cast to guide you.


How should audiences prepare to see the show?

I encourage everyone in the audience to participate in classic moments like the Time Warp. Get your dance moves ready! No need to worry if you've never been to The Rocky Horror Show before. Even better! There will be a guide available, so nobody will be left out.


Ask students:

  • What images come to mind when you hear the title The Rocky Horror Show? What genre do you think this musical fits under?
  • Have you ever been stranded on the side of the road without a cell phone?
  • Have you ever succumbed to peer pressure? How did that feel?
  • Have you ever felt like an outsider? Have you ever been bullied or called a name you didn't like?



This exercise is designed to introduce students to the topics explored in The Rocky Horror Show. Through research, students will collaboratively define the tricky topics discussed in the musical without creating the definition with their teacher. Creating their own definitions as a group will give them ownership over the terms and allow them more freedom when exploring these topics in the future.


  • Computers (for researching)
  • Bristol board and markers to record their discussion points


  1. Split the class into groups of four to research the topics explored throughout The Rocky Horror Show.
    • Gender
    • Sex
    • Sexuality
    • Sexual orientation
    • Gender identity
    • Gender expression
    • Gender spectrum
    • Transgender
  2. Then have students record their findings on bristol board. The boards will be displayed on the classroom wall throughout the unit on The Rocky Horror Show for reference.
  3. Once their discussions are complete, all but one student from each group will rotate through the other groups and learn about each topic from the "expert" who stayed at the original group.
  4. Once all students have rotated, original groups will reconvene and teach the "expert" about the other topics.

Debriefing Questions:

  • Are there any topics that are still unclear?
  • What topics do you as high school students deal with on a daily basis?
  • Do you think approaching these topics in a musical or play makes them easier or more difficult to talk about? Explain your reasoning.



Students will be introduced to the style, songs and characters of The Rocky Horror Show. They will read scene 1, song 2 and scene 2 in small groups and decide what happens next in the story. They will then write their own version of the next scene and perform it for their classmates. The class will vote on which version is the most plausible from the information they already have about the story.


  • Script excerpts: scene 1, song 2, scene 2
  • Paper
  • Writing utensils


  1. Have the students work in small groups to read the scene 1, song 2 and scene 2 script excerpts. Students should identify the characters who appear, identify the setting and make note of any interesting/puzzling/surprising moments that occur.
  2. Once they have read the excerpts, each group is required to determine what comes next in the story. No computers allowed. Simply use the information gathered in their analysis of the excerpts and come up with what each group thinks is the most probable next steps in the story.
  3. Write a script for the new scene. The script must include the characters Brad and Janet and can include the Narrator and any other characters the students invent.
  4. Students will then assign roles and a director and block their scene. Students will have 10 minutes to block their scene before they perform it for their classmates.
  5. Students perform their scenes. Once all scenes have been presented, students will vote on which scene is the most plausible to come next in the story.
  6. As a class, read the next section of text - song 3, "Over at the Frankenstein Place" - and compare and contrast to the student-written scenes.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What topics discussed at the beginning of the unit surfaced during this activity?
  • Did your scene resemble the real scene in any way? How did your scene differ from the real scene?
  • The terms normal, ordinary and healthy come up in the Narrator's speech after song 2. What do normal, ordinary and healthy mean in this context? Why might the Narrator use these terms? Is his use of these terms important? Why or why not?
  • Discuss how acceptable behaviour, language, fashion choices etc. change over time. How might this be demonstrated in our study of The Rocky Horror Show?


Ask students:

  • What choreographic musical numbers really captured your imagination? Why?
  • What aspects of the set(s), costumes and lighting did you like the most and why?
  • What is the central message of The Rocky Horror Show? Is this show simply for entertainment or does it have a deeper meaning?
  • Did any questions arise while experiencing the musical at the Stratford Festival?
  • If you have also seen the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, how did seeing the stage version compare? What similarities and differences surfaced?



Students will explore how the issues/topics discussed in the warm-up activity were addressed in the musical. Students will write a three- to four-page response focused on one of the issues/topics discussed previously. Students will use evidence from the performance and outside resources to support their argument. The goal is to prove the show was successful or unsuccessful at addressing their chosen issue/topic.


  • Bristol board issue/topic definitions from warm-up activity
  • Computers and/or paper
  • Writing utensils
  • Personal notes from performance


1. Individually, students will select an issue/topic addressed in the musical from the list below:

  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Sexuality
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression
  • Gender spectrum
  • Transgender

2. Once they have chosen an issue/topic, they will use their notes from their visit to the Stratford Festival and at least three outside sources to write a three- to four-page analysis of the production's effectiveness in addressing the chosen topic. Students can use the attached list of resources to begin. Students must include three quotes from the musical and three references to external sources within the body of their response. Students must include a bibliography listing their three external sources in MLA format.

3. Students will be paired up one week before the due date to peer-edit one another's work. This will stimulate healthy debate and encourage students to strengthen their written arguments before handing in their paper for a final grade. Students will make note in the margins of spelling/grammar issues, missing citations and any questions they have for the writer.

4. Students will hand in the peer-edited copy and the final copy one week later to their teacher.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What topics were fully addressed in The Rocky Horror Show?
  • What topics were not addressed in The Rocky Horror Show?
  • After being part of this experience, do you feel you can be more open in discussions about these topics at school? At home? In your life in general?
  • Would you recommend The Rocky Horror Show or the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show to a friend or family member? Why or why not?

Click here to access a Reference Glossary for Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show by Lois Kivesto. Scroll down to learn about the various film references that occur throughout the play. These reference glossaries will help you understand the references that help to make The Rocky Horror Show so popular today. 





Evans, David, and Scott Michaels. Rocky Horror: From Concept to Cult. London: Sanctuary, 2002.

Inside Rocky Horror (New Line Theatre, St. Louis, MO).

Miller, Scott. Strike Up the Band: A New History of Musical Theatre. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.

O'Brien, Richard. The Rocky Horror Show. New York: Samuel French, 1983.

The Official Rocky Horror Company Web Site.

Wollman, Elizabeth L., The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical from Hair to Hedwig. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 2006.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show [film version]:

Henkin, Bill. The Rocky Horror Picture Show Book. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1979.

Hoberman, J., and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Midnight Movies. New York: Da Capo Press, 1991.

Locke, Liz. " 'Don't Dream It, Be It': The Rocky Horror Picture Show as Cultural Performance," New Directions in Folklore 3 May-July 1999.

Peary, Danny. Cult Movies. New York: Delta Books, 1981.

Piro, Sal. Creatures of the Night: The Rocky Horror Experience. Redford, MI: Stabur Books, 1990.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show.



IMDb, Richard O'Brien - Biography:

Stage agent:

The Guide to Musical Theatre:



The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Twentieth Century Fox. 1975.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do The Time Warp Again. Twentieth Century Fox. 2016.

Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show makes reference to many films and characters in film history. This guide will help you understand the pop-culture references made throughout the The Rocky Horror Show. Click through the images below to read about each film reference.


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