One of Fiesta’s most popular events, Cornyation originated in 1951 as a sendup of the Coronation of the Queen of the Order of the Alamo, an exclusive and elaborate ceremony featuring the city’s debutantes.
The show that evolved over the decades into a lavishly costumed stage production lampooning politicians and pop culture is the subject of a new book by Amy Stone titled Cornyation: San Antonio’s Outrageous Fiesta Tradition.
Stone is associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Trinity University and author of the 2012 book Gay Rights at the Ballot Box as well as numerous articles in scholarly publications. Published by Trinity University Press, Cornyation explores the idea of incorporating LGBTQIA individuals into the community, tracing the history of Texas’s most popular LGBTQIA event, and its evolution into a formidable fundraiser.
As part of Saturday’s San Antonio Book Festival, Stone will participate in a panel discussion about her book with Cornyation emcee Rick Frederick and longtime Cornyation designer John McBurney at 11 a.m. at the Studio, located in the McAllister building of the Southwest School of Art, with a book signing to follow. The fifth annual book festival runs from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Each of the book’s five sections is organized by decade, beginning in the 1950s when the show was described as the “Fiesta for the little people.”
The ’50s were just the beginning of what would turn into an influential and timeless celebration of satire, gay humor, and sexual politics. At the very start of its run, Cornyation was created simply to satirize the Coronation of the Queen of the Order of the Alamo, a traditional focal point of Fiesta involving San Antonio’s oldest and wealthiest families. Cornyation’s first show was run by Russell Rogers, Homer Utley Jr., and Joseph Salek, all involved with the San Antonio Little Theater. Although they knew the new show would be great entertainment, the three men had no idea that they had launched a new tradition for Fiesta.
The 1960s brought even more popularity for the Cornyation show – along with controversy. The politics of the show began to broaden, and San Antonio life as a whole was fair game for lighthearted critics and jokes. However, in 1965, the San Antonio Conservation Society voiced concerns about the content and costumes presented in Cornyation, and calls to cancel the show were made.
In 1965, Cornyation was removed from the NIOSA lineup. During the next two decades, Cornyation was essentially on hiatus, although there were several shows performed in the same satirical style during Fiesta.
In 1982, the show was successfully revived with the same irreverent attitude toward elite culture, politics, and national issues, and Cornyation regained its status as an official Fiesta event in 1985. In 2000, the event moved to its current home at the Empire Theatre, where it was staged as a sketch comedy show with skits, elaborate costumes, and a larger cast.
Stone’s book is vibrantly illustrated with both vintage black-and-white and more contemporary color pictures that trace the history of Cornyation in all its outrageous glory. Stone interviewed numerous past participants in the show, and the book includes script excerpts that recount the pointed humor aimed at local and national politicians and celebrities.
Cornyation details the origins of such traditions as King Anchovy and why audience members throw – or used to throw – flour tortillas.
In the book, the author also addresses the fundraising aspects of Cornyation.
“An important fact about Cornyation is that it’s a major fundraiser for HIV/AIDS,” Stone told the Rivard Report. “It has raised money for other causes as well, including a theater scholarship, but I suspect this event has raised more money for HIV/AIDS services than any other event in the city.”
Stone said she began researching the book in 2012, three years after she attended her first Cornyation.
Cornyation: San Antonio’s Outrageous Fiesta Tradition is an important representation of a LGBTQIA-specific topic in the San Antonio Book Festival, which features books on a range of topics from local history to cooking to the Harlem Renaissance.
The book also will be sold at Cornyation.