Inside AFO's next SoCo: MISTER MISS AMERICA written & performed by Neil D'Astolfo
Tonight. Is. The. Night. Y'all. It's the 85th Annual Miss Southwestern Virginia Pageant, and Derek Tyler Taylor is fightin' tooth and well-manicured nail to win the crown. But when the road to victory is bumpier than a sock fulla Skittles™, Derek must decide how dirty he's willing to play to make his lifelong dream come true.
A SoCo workshop on:
Tuesday, June 11th & Tuesday, June 18th
(Capacity is limited, RSVP to email@example.com)
An interview with playwright/performer Neil D'Astolfo and Giverny Petitmermet:
What first excited you about writing this story? What are you looking to discover next? I’ve always LOVED a good pageant story — they’re such clear hero's journeys with such clear dramatic (melodramatic, often) stakes, and the worlds are often super fun and dynamic. There's SO much about pageants that aligns with a camp/queer sensibility, so, as a comedic creator, I was excited to dig in and play with those glitzy/glamorous goodies. We're, thankfully, now seeing tradition and convention being challenged in many arenas, and so, as I was hearing of greater diversity among pageant winners, I wondered how it'd be for a gay man -- one with a deep love and respect for pageants -- to seek entry and, ultimately, acceptance from one of these institutions. What we've been discovering is that, though incredibly specific, this journey resonates as one of an outsider seeking entry and acceptance from an institution that's long be closed to them. What I'm next looking to discover is how an audience encounters and, hopefully, connects with our hero and his quest. Derek is really sharing this evening with them almost as his support system/chose family, and so I'm excited to feel and build that relationship, as both performer and creator.
Why is this an important story for audiences to hear? I think this story reflects a current tension we're all feeling between a society that’s embracing change and one that's resisting/threatened by it. Transitions and conflicts like this can be painful and bring to the surface lots of confusion and anger. My hope with this piece is that we not ignore those negative aspects, but rather give people a chance to look at them through humor and humanity. A little bit of distance and some laugher can often serve as a reminder why a cultural struggle is so important, and why it’s a fight worth fighting, as we see Derek doing. I also think it's important for an audience to hear a story about a queer character who believes himself worth of love and acceptance. I've thought about my younger self a lot in creating Mister Miss America. As a kid who didn't know any out queer folk growing up, I would've been SO excited to meet and witness the journey of someone as fabulous and unapologetic as Derek. What is the most challenging thing about this piece? What is the most rewarding? I think the most challenging part of this piece has been crafting a character that isn’t a proxy for every social issues worth exploring when talking about beauty pageants (SPOILER: there are a lot). The most rewarding part is the flip side of that coin: in creating a specific character with their own extremely unique struggles, we've heard from folks that they can relate or see themselves in some aspect of Derek.
Why is solo theater, and the art of the solo play narrative valuable?
What’s wonderful about solo theater -- and in this case a play with essentially one character -- is that the audience gets to know him extremely well. Derek -- and me, as a performer -- has to let folks in and be unashamed to share his honest truth, because there’s nowhere to hide. The better an audience is able to understand a character's perspective -- no matter how different from their own -- the more likely they are to relate and, thus, extend empathy and compassion, which we hope they'll take with them and enact when they encounter diversity in their real lives.