A century ago, a San Antonio businessman dressed in drag to parade around as the Duchess of Frijoles to lampoon Fiesta royalty. That Fiesta San Antonio tradition continues somewhat in the form of the rowdy and bawdy Cornyation – now 50 years old.
King Anchovy reigns over the colorful pageantry in the Empire Theatre. King Chris Hill arrived on stage crowned with a slice of lime and perched on his throne, “rocks” in a salt-rimmed margarita glass. As appropriate for someone who recently purchased El Mirador, Hill’s royal court was Especial Number 2. The ingredients pranced around separately before reclining on a platter to create a whole enchilada dinner. The only complaint with his court was the giant, protruding, glitter-covered jala-penis of one of King Anchovy’s attendants continually blocked camera shots, resulting in extreme camera angles (although I often shoot that way).
No current event, politician or celebrity is too sacred to escape being targeted by the elaborate skits, amplified by commentary from emcees Rick Frederick and Elaine Wolff. This year included the ride-sharing versus taxi battles, with ride-sharing representatives wearing chestlights and taxis stripping down to reveal their checkered undies. The conflict was lorded over by the Duchess of Bumbling Bribes and Bumming Rides.
The Duchess of “I Hunt. It’s Legal. Get Over It, HUNTIES!,” represented “the positively true adventures of the selfie-taking, varmint-wasting Texas cheerleader.” Skits captured the tumultuous transition of Bruce Jenner and the ample hindquarters of Kim Kardashian. Along with Ricky and Lucy, the Castro brothers of Cuba appeared, although, on their flipsides, they assumed the roles of the Castro brothers from San Antonio.
At one point in its history, Cornyation was performed in the Arneson River Theatre as part of the San Antonio Conservation’s Society NIOSA. Not sure what transgressions caused the event to be banished from the NIOSA kingdom, but the 50th anniversary edition certainly wouldn’t have passed the society’s rating system without yards upon yards of additional costuming.*
The costuming is elaborate, although, by the end of numerous skits, much of it is barely there. You find yourself praying for no wardrobe malfunctions, as you already are viewing more than you want. Everything is so fast-paced, though, you generally only get quick glimpses. But still photos seem to focus and freeze on lots of butts, without the benefit of the accompanying music and moves, bringing back memories of being on the front row during a showing of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos as Divine lowered “her” bottom towards me.
Director Ray Chavez has been staging the choreographed chaos of Cornyations since 1982. He lost one of his major collaborators this past year with the death of Robert Rehm, so the final skit honored him in a fittingly wild fashion. Robert definitely lived his life as a “the-show-must-go-on” kind of guy. I briefly was able to make his acquaintance and interview him when working on a December 2012 feature on Jumpstart for ARTS on KLRN-TV.
Since becoming a nonprofit organization, Cornyation has contributed close to $2 million to charities and to underwrite scholarships for theater students. It continues through Friday night.
Hey, Ben and Tim, thanks so much for including us!
*Although many of the defenders of the Alamo were exposed to San Antonio’s wild fandangos, I was relieved to see no cormorants in attendance. Think they’d be better prepared for haunting NIOSA.