Fiesta involves kings, queens and other pseudo royalty, but even the city’s light-hearted 18-day celebration needs some satire on itself. Cornyation is the annual spoof on the Fiesta Coronation where the famous and political are lampooned in on-stage skits.
At its core Cornyation is a stage performance: 300 volunteers, 6,000 audience members, poignant political gaffes, campy controversial catastrophes and tacky troubling topics. It's a three-night performance conducted each year during the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of Fiesta.
Rick Frederick is one of this year’s emcees and his costume includes massive angel wings and golden high heels. To him Cornyation is a tradition.
“These sorts of fool’s parades, fools fairs, have been going on in multiple cultures,” Frederick said. “It’s really kind of great when you see everybody come together and bring a old tradition and keep it alive.”
Cornyation started as a spoof to the Fiesta Coronation in 1951 by Joe Salek and the San Antonio Little Theater to be part of Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA).
“And they performed Cornyation, the Court of the Cracked Salad Bowl,” said Trinity Professor Amy Stone, who has been studying Cornyation.
She says it was in NIOSA for about 13 years.
“Gradually they became more vulgar; they started making fun of San Antonio politics. They got themselves in trouble essentially," Stone said. "In 1964 the conservation society kicked them out of NIOSA for being too adult and too vulgar and not a family friendly show anymore. It was performed one or two more times but it wasn’t fully revived until 1982.”
A king and queen at last!
Cornyation has it’s own version of King Antonio except he’s called King Anchovy, and this year, after 49 king Anchovys, there is a queen at his side. Jody and Steve Newman, owners of the Friendly Spot, hold this year’s title.
The court this year is called Festive Fetes and Frivolous Faux Pas and includes skits with Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman, Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott in the Hunger Games, boy scouts waving rainbow flags, members of City Council bowing down to H-E-B’s mascot H-E-Buddy like an idol, and goats singing alongside Carrie Underwood during her live "Sound of Music" performance on NBC.
A reoccurring favorite is the Pointless Sisters, a group of less-than-eloquent drag queens who are gracing the stage this year in Flamenco dresses. Drag Queen Tencha La Jefa, the boss of the queens, said their skit is always meant to not make sense.
“We were a little drunk one time when we saw this Mexican movie and we said, ‘Let’s do folklorico. A little bit of color a little bit of piñatas.” La Jefe said. “That’s the whole point, it’s pointless. The only point we have I can’t say on the radio.”
An insider in the cast
As a member of the Cornyation cast this year, I am part of a group of ten people dressed in full beard, long hair and duck camouflage as a member of "Duck Dynasty" in a skit called: What the Duck? The Court of Anti-Queer Wise Quacks and Quarky Quotations.
“We have the duck dudes of course and then we also threw in Daffy and Donald with their hijinks and that’s about all I can tell you without giving too much away," said Robert Rehm, the designer. "And it culminates in a big love fest and hopefully it’s one of our best Cornyation ‘Corn-coctions.’ ”
Robert had an accident in the yearly 2000’s while teaching at Jefferson High School, which left him paralyzed from the neck down. But that hasn’t stopped him from designing. This is his 2oth year in Cornyation.
Cornyation sounds ridiculous but that’s part of the fun. There are no sacred cows and someone is bound to be offended somewhere. But Cornyation, like all Fiesta events, is a charity. Cornyation President Tom McKenzie said all of the money goes HIV and AIDS prevention and care.
“This year the money that we raise is benefiting two institutions: San Antonio AIDS Foundation and Beat AIDS,” McKenzie said.
Last year Cornyation raised nearly $200,000. Some of the money also funds the Robert Rehm Theater Arts Scholarship.
Disclosure Note: Joey Palacios is a member of the cast this year.