Research can start with a night out. It did for sociology professor Amy Stone, who followed the advice of colleague Christine Drennon by taking a break from a research project and attending Cornyation during San Antonio's Fiesta in 2009.
Stone found one ticket online and was mesmerized by seeing the city manager on stage in a bawdy costume along with drag queens in bordering-on-lewd get-ups and lots of campy skits ripe with social commentary. A researcher on a range of LGBT issues, Stone learned that Cornyation holds a valuable place in the LGBT community as the antithesis of Fiesta gatherings and parties attended exclusively by the city's social elite.
After seeing the show, she wanted to know more. "I asked the questions that any good sociologist would ask: How did they do this? How did this become so central to San Antonio?" Stone says. Her search for the answers took her to the San Antonio Playhouse, where she uncovered closeted scripts from Cornyation performances from the 1950s and "60s. A year later she found a home video. She interviewed people she never thought would open their homes and hearts, learning how the show had weathered concerns about its risque atmosphere.
After five years of exhaustive research, she compiled her findings into Cornyation: San Antonioís Outrageous Fiesta Tradition, published by the Trinity University Press.
The book chronicles Cornyation's travels across different venues, from its time as a fundraiser for the San Antonio Little Theater to its current charitable outreach for HIV and AIDS research. She chuckles at the zany antics that once included tortilla-throwing episodes from actors to audience and back but no longer take place and marvels at the new "sense of purpose" in the event. As part of her journey, she was asked to portray a duchess in one of the shows, reveling in the merriment.
The book has been a sensation since its release in early April 2017, right before Fiesta. Trinity University Press director Tom Payton said the book is available at standard outlets such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and local bookseller The Twig. He adds that some stores felt Cornyation was "too saucy" but other venues snapped it up: a delicatessen, various museum shops, a chocolate store, and Schnabel's Hardware, among others.