Cornyation strips down to bare kernels of comedy in current events

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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.

 

 

 

 

Coming home to roost to celebrate San Jacinto Day?

corrmorants

 

Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life,
The middle Tree and highest there that grew, 
Sat like a Cormorant; yet not true Life
Thereby regaind, but sat devising Death
To them who liv’d….

Paradise Lost, John Milton

Satan disguised as a cormorant to spy on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden seems apt to me.

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USDA photo

The gloomy-looking double-crested cormorants always spook me. They love to pose on the chains by the dam by the marina, stretching their pterodactyl-type wings as though offering to lift the chains for the barges to cruise right under, dramatically plunging to the level below.

I feel a little bit better about this display now that I know they have no oil glands to repel water; they have to spread their wings to dry out their water-logged feathers. They can’t help it.

But cormorants pop up suddenly from underwater, seemingly out of nowhere, as you walk along the river’s banks. Like Lola Fandango swimming in the tank in Where the Boys Are, these expert fishermen can hold their breath as they swim underwater for a long time. More than a minute.

Even one of river’s cormorants can give me the willies. That’s why this Hitchcock-like gathering of the birds on the Mission Reach seemed particularly ominous the other morning. For birds added to the list of those protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the 1970s, this had to represent some kind of major powwow. Fortunately, their eyes focused toward downtown, the water buzzards let us pass by them unharmed.

What could the convention of cormorants portend? The Irish part of me heaved a sigh of relief – at least the sea crows were not perched atop a church steeple.

Some cultures consider cormorants noble, but, while I’m trying to regard the glass as half-full, I can’t sell myself on that one.

Fishermen regard their sighting as good luck; the fish they seek should be found nearby. One plus for the cormorant.

According to the USDA, greedy cormorants keep fish from overpopulating the river. They actually are an environmental indicator species, meaning the environment of the Mission Reach is healthy. So our cormorants are bearers of good news. Chalk up one more for the cormorant, plus one for the work of the San Antonio River Authority.

In old Norwegian legends, a trio of cormorants bear messages or warnings from the dead.*

But we encountered a whole army of them ready to invade downtown. There were maybe 100 of them. Maybe even more than 200 (Okay, I’m not sure how many. But we definitely were outnumbered.).

But good ol’ Cliff helped me figure this out. Norwegians also believed the dead used the cormorant guise another way as well – so they could fly home for a visit.

the spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

the noble spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

So, based on my extensive research, my interpretation of the meaning of the gathered army follows.

Obviously, those cormorants were the defenders of the Alamo, rising up to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Mexican Army at San Jacinto in 1836.

What do you think of that brilliant idea, my friend, Phil Collins?

Fiesta San Antonio must be their favorite holiday for rising from the grave. Betcha they come back next year.

*I have to stop right here and make a confession to the spirit of Mrs. Masterson. Some of these concepts came from CliffsNotes.com. But I promise. I never opened one of those guides once in your class in high school. Not for Milton. Not even when Moby Dick threatened to swallow all time for social life. Plus, I knew you could smell a CliffsNotes’ idea in the answer to a discussion question before the ink dried. Toward the end of the book, though, I did start reading only every fifth chapter…. That was still a whale of a lot of pages.

Weather Forecast: 11 Days of Confetti Showers Ahead

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Royalty from Fiesta San Jacinto, 1915

Thousands of eggshells from February’s Cowboy Breakfast are recycled annually by volunteers from the San Antonio Conservation Society who stuff them full of colored confetti, transforming them into cascarones to crack over the head of revelers at A Night in Old San Antonio. During NIOSA alone, 200,000 cascarones are cracked. Can’t imagine what the overall total is for the entire 11-day run of Fiesta San Antonio, April 16 through 26.

Although San Antonians continue to exuberantly embrace the more than 100 events packing the calendar, few pause to remember the origins of Fiesta. The festival was founded as a salute to the Texian victory at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

Perhaps a reporter, though, writing a century ago in the San Antonio Light best summarized what the annual event means for natives: it transports San Antonians “from the prosaic, work-a-day world to a wonderful fairyland” – a ten-day escape from reality.

King Antonio I, 1915, San Antonio Light

King Antonio I, 1915, San Antonio Light

The year 1915 was the first year the king assumed the name of King Antonio. Following his ceremonious arrival aboard a whistle-blowing Southern Pacific train, Dr. T.T. Jackson’s chariot drawn by six milk-white horses transported him to Alamo Plaza to kick off Fiesta San Jacinto.

Queen of Arcady, 1915, San Antonio Light

Queen of Arcady, 1915, San Antonio Light

Later in the week, Josephine Woodhull was crowned as “Her Majesty, the Queen of Arcady” at the Majestic Theater. She wielded her scepter over the “Court of Old Romance.” Edged in ermine, her peacock blue velvet train was embroidered heavily with gems, shimmering as a peacock’s feathers.

Numerous parades filled the week, including the “Pageant of Caliph,” a burlesque night parade staged by the Fiesta Association. The first float in 1915 bore the “Duchess of Frijoles,” satirizing the high society coronation of the prior evening. Politicians, local to international, received “a goodly share of ‘guying,’” including a “Floating Vote” float with politicians portrayed aboard as “pulling the strings.”

A century ago, the Battle of Flowers Parade represented the high point of the week, with floats and carriages laden with thousands of fresh flowers. During the mock battle circling Alamo Plaza, even visiting Governor “Pa” Ferguson was pelted with flowers.

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Somehow, the flower-pelting tradition was allowed to continue, despite its tumultuous first year. The following is pulled from a post from several years ago. Sarah Reveley transcribed the description of the 1891 melee from an April 25, 1891, edition of the San Antonio Daily Light:

…The procession contained over 100 carriages and other vehicles, all gaily decorated and many containing decorations of real artistic merit. Mr. Madarasz’s carriage, decked in pure white lilies and variegated grasses, with honeysuckle was plain, pretty and neat. Col. H. B. Andrews’ pony phaeton, with four Shetlands drawing it, was exquisite, and J. J. Stevens’ children in a four-in-hand Shetland surrey, representing a yacht, was also very pretty….

On arriving at the plaza the police divided the procession into two lines, each half going in opposite directions and passing around the park were brought, face to face with each other. The crowd on foot pressed the carriages closely and the fight began and waged furiously for nearly an hour. The occupants of the carriages had all the ammunition while those on foot had none. They began picking the fallen roses from the pavement, and even tore off the trimmings of the carriages, and soon had the best of the fight.  Heavy bunches of laurel thrown soon had their effect, and many ladies lost their temper and used their carriage whips indiscriminately on the crowd. One lady struck Mr. Doc Fitzgerald, a passive spectator, a severe blow on the face with her whip, but did not see fit to apologise for her mistake. Mr. H. P. Drought made an ugly cut with his whip into the crowd…. One young angel with white wings appealed to the crowd for protection from the missiles saying, “I wish you men would make them quit….”

The police were powerless to keep the people off the park beds, and prevent them from tearing off the flowers. One outright fight occurred. Mr. Phil Shook, one of the horseback party, lost his temper, and cutting a man in the face with his riding whip, was assaulted, and a fist fight on the pavement resulted. Both combatants were arrested by the police. Mr. Charley Baker used his umbrella for defense. While the crowd was very dense on the plaza, waiting for the procession to come along, Mr. Cristoph Pfeuffer’s splendid team and carriage took fright on South Alamo street, at an electric car. The carriage was decorated and contained several ladies, a child and the driver. Dashing into Alamo street, past and into the crowd of people and vehicles, it overturned a buggy and horse at the corner, and its driver jumped out and was dragged under the carriage by the lines. The lady on the front seat caught one of the lines and held it, but the horses made straight for the crowd of women and children in the park and struck a very deep mass of them, it being impossible for them to move out of the way. The ladies were thrown out and their clothing was badly torn. One little boy was knocked senseless, another was bruised, and one little girl had her apron torn off.  Other children were trampled by the frightened people. The plunging horses were secured and the carriage was taken to a side street….

Some irrepressible small boys arranged a dog fight in the midst of an interested crowd of spectators, during the battle, and a regular stampede ensued. Some of the combatants whose supply of ammunition had exhausted, resorted to buggy robes and quirts for aggressive warfare, and umbrellas and parasols for the defensive….

The battle was a success, but if it is given next year, more police will be needed, carriages must not be allowed on the plaza at all, and the participants must not lose their temper.

Let the chaotic merriment begin. Viva Fiesta!