Leland Stone, Chris Hill and James Lifshutz at The King's Coming Out Party. Photo by Page Graham.

Although King Antonio and Rey Feo are the best-known Fiesta royalty, there’s one more important figure in this pantheon of nobility: King Anchovy. After all, who wouldn’t want to be named after a small, salted fish?

This year, this honor has been bestowed upon Chris Hill, a local developer and owner of the Esquire Tavern and various restaurants and residential projects downtown. As part of his duties, King Anchovy oversees the The Court of Cracked Crowns and Tarnished Reputations, not to mention the event known as Cornyation.

The show is basically intended to lampoon Fiesta Coronation, while getting in more than a few good jabs at local notable figures. Rumored to be fueled by plenty of Jello shots in the dressing rooms before the show, the volunteer actors tend to let it all hang out.

In order to kick things off – and to raise some addition funds – a reception was held Tuesday afternoon at The Friendly Spot in Southtown to celebrate “The King’s Coming Out.”

When asked what he intends to accomplish during his reign, Hill responded, “I’m going to create as much mayhem – and glee – as possible. Isn’t that my duty as King Anchovy?”

King Anchovy L Chris Hill. Photo by Page Graham.
King Anchovy L Chris Hill. Photo by Page Graham.

Aside from a rollicking good time, Cornyation is a great way to raise funds for AIDS-related charities and college scholarships. Last year, $168,000 was donated – $80,000 each to the San Antonio Aids Foundation and BEAT AIDS, along with four individual $2,000 scholarships. Over the years, more than $1.5 million has been donated.

According to the Charline McCombs Empire Theater website, the origins of Cornyation can be traced back to as early as 1951. Originally staged by San Antonio Little Theater (SALT) at the Arneson River Theater, it was part of A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA). Its irreverent nature ultimately led to its demise as part of NIOSA, which is hosted by the San Antonio Conservation Society. It was moved and performed once more in 1965. The show was revived in 1979 for one year as part of NIOSA. Finally, in 1982, Bob Jolly and Ray Chavez started the current version. To this day, Chavez continues to run the show.

Although the basic premise has remained the same, the modern incarnation of the show has evolved over the years. The show was first performed in the upstairs ballroom of the Bonham Exchange, but it became too popular for the space. It was then moved to Beethoven Hall (now home of the Magik Children’s Theatre). More recently, Cornyation is performed at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre.

In a blog post, local deli owner Michael Bobo explains the evolution of Cornyation.

“In (early) days designers would create some sort of crazy, over-the-top dress/outfit/contraption. The designer would then find a dear sweet unsuspecting woman friend who might be willing to parade around a stage and runway in the astounding and often extremely cumbersome creation for a few shows. The show has evolved. These days the designers create not merely a costume, but a whole vignette, complete with choreography, voice overs, scenery, specific lighting, even special effects, usually building toward some sort of wonderful, climactic, scream-inducing reveal,” he stated.

Former Congressman Charlie Gonzalez looks on as Karlos greets an old friend. Photo by Page Graham.
Former Congressman Charlie Gonzalez looks on as Karlos greets an old friend. Photo by Page Graham.

The show is held on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of Fiesta week, with two shows per evening. Tickets are quickly snapped up – in fact, there is even a ticket lottery – and these tickets tend to be one of the more desirable Fiesta commodities.

According to former Cornyation volunteer John Kimble, the show has refrained from moving to a larger venue in order to retain its intimacy. A move to the Lila Cockrell Theater has been suggested, but that cavernous hall would likely alter the intrinsic character of the event.

This sort of satire – not to mention the bawdiness – is not for everyone. But if your sense of humor runs along these lines, Cornyation is undoubtedly the hot-ticket Fiesta event.

Related Stories:

Fiesta Cornyation: The (Not So) Dirty Underbelly

A Cornyation Virgin’s Voyage Through Cringes and Glitter

City Calls for a Cleaner, Fitter, Friendlier Fiesta

Fiesta 2014 Day 18: The Final Day

Page Graham

Page Graham

Page Graham has been a resident of San Antonio – on and off – for over 30 years now. He has moved into the corporate world, making a living developing training materials and Powerpoint presentations...