Someone obviously didn’t get the memo. While the organizers of Miss America have decided to do away with the swimsuit portion of its beauty pageant this year, it remains a big part of the musical satire Pageant, currently on stage at Vancouver’s Go Studios.
In Pageant though, this antiquated objectification of the female body is never meant to be taken seriously. Instead, it is a cheeky satirical look at beauty contests, where six men in drag pursue the tiara and title of “Miss Glamouresse”.
In this Q&A with director Christopher Shyer Johnston we find out more about Pageant, and its cross-gender cast.
This interview has been edited.
Take me beyond the press release, what is Pageant about?
Mrs Elizabeth Glamgouer-Meade is holding a beauty contest to find their next figure head to represent her cosmetics company, “The House of Glamouresse”. The girls have to be savvy, smart and beautiful and ready to hock a beauty product at a moment’s notice. With the help of our third string Love Boat-esque host Frankie Cavalier and the culling of judges from the audience each night, the self promotion will continue.
Why are the roles played by men in drag?
The authors devised to use a cross-gender casting to amplify and satirize the American notion of beauty contests. Having female beauty pageant contestants played by men highlights the absurdity of patriarchal beauty standards to which women are forced to adhere.
What excites you about the production?
What excites me and consistently keeps all of us on our toes, is the ever existing what’s going to happen element in the process, not just in rehearsals but the live experience of it all. As in life, things have been changing constantly and what I love about live theatre is the ever-evolving nature of it, always in process and forever growing from audience to audience, and from moment to moment.
Does the script go beyond bitchy comments and raging egos of the “contestants”?
There is nothing bitchy or any raging egos in the material. It’s a charming, relic of a piece that is harmless and endearing. What moves us is the character taking on the various competitive segments. These are female pageant archetypes, not drag queens, or gay characters. A man in a dress doesn’t get the same reaction it once did, a smarmy comment or eye wink still has an effect, but it’s the desire of the contestants to get you on their side. To watch the actors ‘trying” to win the audience over is the rub. The Miss America pageant has recently removed the swimsuit segment from their competition to allow us to focus more on character, and it’s the same for us in this musical, but through satire. The real conversation to have now is, why are we so obsessed with surface beauty?
Why should people not miss this show?
It’s a lot of fun. The cast is fantastic, the band sounds great, there is some cheesy pre-shot footage, and we all need a good laugh these days.
Pageant continues at the Blake Snyder Theatre at Go Studios (112 East 3rd Ave, Vancouver) until September 8. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets. Showtimes vary during the run so be sure to double check your tickets.