The King’s dressing room
Actors gather in the King’s dressing room at the Empire Theatre. Credit: Courtesy / Joshua Perez

The entrance to the Empire Theatre is located just outside of stage left, where acts enter the stage for their performance. I arrived shortly after the first act had begun. There were already several actors standing in the soft, dark-blue light awaiting their turn on stage. I could feel the excitement and hear the constant hushed shuffle of the group as it prepped for its big moment.

It’s a mesmerizing vantage point, being hidden just behind the curtain, seeing every face in the crowd and knowing they can’t see you. I would have stayed there the entire night, but I was on a mission to document the chaos and camaraderie of Cornyation‘s backstage. I had heard from my friends and veteran participants that backstage was the place for a photographer to be.

I walked down a small set of stairs. The light was now fluorescent and no one was worried about keeping their voices down. It was hectic and beautiful. I entered a dressing room with my camera in hand and was immediately greeted with chicken strips and toast. I must have taken less than 10 photographs before the bottle of José Cuervo and a Solo cup made their way into my hands. I’m no lush, but I know better than to turn down fried chicken and tequila. I indulged and began to photograph the action.

I entered another dressing room filled with people in drag makeup dressed as tacos. A few seconds into shooting a portrait, I’m shown more hospitality in the form a coconut-flavored jello shot. We cheer the tiny salsa container full of jello and take more portraits.

The level of love and acceptance beneath the Empire Theatre for the three nights of Cornyation is truly remarkable. Not one single person declined to have their photograph taken. There are so many tiny details that spectators will never know sitting in the audience – from costumes to makeup, to the guys sweeping after each act. It takes a village.

I had the honor of being on stage at the end of the night when the entire cast came out to receive its praise from the audience. It gave me chills even though I had contributed nothing more than photographs. My pass for Cornyation this year grants me full access all three nights, and I have every intention of taking full advantage of that.

I may also need the entire year to detox.

Joshua Perez is a San Antonio-based photographer. He earned a bachelor's of fine arts in painting in 2015. Though he doesn't consider himself a painter, creating large paintings influenced by neo-expressionism...