If you know anything about BRAWL, you know we are in the business of championing women’s strength. But when we heard that another CLAW (Collective of Ladies Arm Wrestlers) league (LUEWWD) had hosted a beauty pageant celebrating men’s beards and mustaches, we wanted to take that concept as far as we take our arm wrestling matches. So we decided to put on a live show structured like the Miss America Pageant, where contestants appear on stage in swimsuits and evening wear, present a talent and answer interview questions. These men competed for a specially-made crown and the title “BRAWL KING OF BEAUTY” on a precious pink sash. As with the arm wrestlers, each had theme music and most created characters, though the latter was optional.
“It’s something that I don’t think anyone’s ever done or seen. There has never really been a men’s beauty pageant that I’m aware of. It’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek to show some of the ridiculousness of women’s beauty pageants. We’re following the format of a pageant but trying to get people to think beyond the regular paradigm of beauty,” stated Kira Kinney, BRAWL organizer, in an interview with the Hudson Valley newspaper The Daily Freeman.
Our excitement about this began in the dead of this year’s harsh upstate NY winter, when we gathered for our usual meeting and potluck and all ended up dancing around a kitchen island, singing the prototype of a song formulating in the head of our intrepid ref Michael Truckpile: “Men’s beauty pageant! There’s beautiful men in the world! Men’s beauty pageant! Pageants aren’t just for girls!!!” We knew we had to make this happen and posted a video of our impromptu performance on social media. We got a couple of immediate responses from enthusiastic guys.
We all divvied up responsibilities for months in advance of the show but our roadhouse roots helped us not to over-stage it. We invited anyone who identified as a man, whether straight, gay, bisexual, trans, gender queer or otherwise, to join us. We made calls, we sent out emails, we stopped friends at the grocery store and then we waited for the applications to roll in. Ten men applied. Ten men were accepted.
Kira Kinney, a farmer by day, acted as our contestant recruiter and stage prompter. Tricia Mazzocca, a clinical social worker, was MC for our evening as “Bodacious T.” These two also edited and created contestant bios, wrote pageant questions and worked to help the men be more comfortable with their ideas. Amie Worley, a science teacher to our local youth, took on the role of production manager and theater liaison. These tasks included balancing contestants’ concerns about their expectably grand entrances with the theater’s concerns about dry ice and glitter! Artist, musician, DJ and computer wiz kid, Michael Truckpile, helped with the pageant questions and put his ref stripes aside to hand-craft a white prairie dress, handed down from Elizabeth Mitchell, into a hair metal cult leader uniform with hand-crafted bead work. He got the crowd going for the show with the now fully realized theme song written just for the event. (Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpGNJGm5YFM and here:
We auctioned off a spot on our judges’ panel to make extra money for our beneficiaries. Everyone thought our auction winner, Sonja, was an audience plant because she fit in so well with our other judges, regular BRAWL organizers Jacinta Bunnell, an artist and educator, as “Magenta Delecta”, the Don King of BRAWL, and Vanessa Vera, a massage therapist, as “Donatella Rump,” cousin to The Donald. (She called from the stage for an anti-presidential campaign.) We also had the pleasure of having Ellison Baus, a teen boy in beautifully executed makeup he did himself and a fabulous lavender wig, as “Judge Madame du Monsieur”. He reported being so delighted to be part of it all. And it certainly showed that night.
We received so much support from the Rosendale Theatre Collective, one of our beneficiaries for the evening, and from the community at large that filled the house. Rosendale Theatre Collective member Laurie Giardino created some projected visuals that really enhanced the production as well as a video just for the hell of it. DJ Ali Gruber chose just the right songs to keep things fabulous. We started the evening by asking the Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band and Social Club to play in the street for the hour leading up to the event. We had hoped to have some mock protesters on the sidewalk a la second-wave feminists against objectification but this didn’t pan out. Cool! NO DETRACTORS, real or fake!
Local businesses contributed bouquets, gift certificates, snacks, and the beautiful green room. Other businesses such as Shapers Hair Salon (none other than BRAWL’s own Annie Scissorhands) donated their time to pretty up the guys for the event by doing their hair and makeup. The people of our area got INTO it! The 260-seat theatre was JUST shy of sold out.
In addition to the Rosendale Theatre Collective, we raised money for the local organization Sparrow’s Nest and felt damn good about being able to give them $1,600 each. Almost all of this came from ticket sales. This was our first experience with pre-selling seats as our arm wrestling matches are most often stand-up-and-throw-cash affairs. We used Brown Paper Tickets and we think we may have worked out the bugs on how to do that properly in future!
Most of the men played off-the-wall characters they had been fleshing out for weeks. The audience was introduced to ten great people and lots of fun characters: a science geek, “Super Awesome Boyfriend,” an artist, an ice cream man, a sea captain, a cowboy, a would-be opera singer, a colorful septuagenarian, and a wolf-human hybrid. For his talent portion, our artist painted a portrait in the allotted five minutes, which we promptly auctioned off for $50. (He had wanted live chickens for “ambience” but settled for a live human model after the theater informed us of their restrictions regarding live animals!)
Keith Carollo simply went as “Keith” and WON. In an interview with the Daily Freeman, he talked about “celebrating all your faults and insecurities, which is what the whole show is about for me – challenging myself to go in new directions, doing things I’ve never done. I am a super fan [of BRAWL]. This opportunity to participate in the Men’s Beauty Pageant is my way to join this girl gang,” Carollo was so committed to the pageant that he rented a rehearsal space to practice his choreography for his talent segment. His investment paid off! The judges awarded him 10s across the board. Madame du Monsieur attempted to give him 10,000 points (even though scores were 1 through 10) for his not-even-precarious-looking half-thong (that’s right: half thong) during the swimwear competition, a “feat of engineering” Keith declined to disclose.
Magenta Delecta’s mom, who has the proud distinction of being our oldest arm wrestler to date, got to sneak in during sound check and choose, literally, the #1 best seat in the house from which to watch her husband of 37 years, the man who drives a backhoe and operates a chainsaw for a living and who traveled two and a half hours to compete in the pageant, take runner up at a beauty pageant at age 77. She also designed and made his swimwear (a satiny pink take on an early 1900s bathing costume)! We have all been so thrilled and honored to watch “Flamingo Delecta” take shape over the years, allowing BRAWL to take him to wig-and-glitter places he hadn’t really gone before. How great to have him in our pageant and for him to be awarded second place!
“I never saw such good organization and planning in my life. I didn’t see one mistake anywhere. There was a lot of talent there at the pageant. There was some that wasn’t the best. The judges were great. I think they treated everybody fair. People at home in Pennsylvania are happy for me but some think I am crazy. But they don’t get it. It is such a good cause. I love the people in the Hudson Valley. They are so open to anything. I love being runner up. It’s a good feeling to be at the top. I know my talent didn’t come close to Keith’s. The MC did a great job but she needs to wear flat shoes next time. Her feet were killing her and she was really suffering toward the end of the night.” --Edward Antoine (“Flamingo Delecta”), runner up, Men’s Beauty Pageant, 2015.
The winners were chosen based on the judges’ scores in all four categories. We gave the audience a chance to get in on the action and collected and tabulated their votes for the People’s Choice Award. Guess who won that? That’s right: Keith! TWO bouquets in addition to the crown and sash!
Gender is silly putty, a see-saw, a really great hand-built swing, a water slide. In this event we got to play with, celebrate and nurture various gender expressions. Each and every male participant in the Men's Beauty Pageant showed a vulnerability. Words like transformative and transcendent have been heard around town ever since that night by contestants and audience members alike. Case in point:
“The Men’s Beauty Pageant was the most joyous live performance I have ever experienced in my entire life and I have been an avid performance goer for 30 years. I felt such pride for the men for having the kind of bravery that it takes to be that vulnerable.” --Deborah DeGraffenreid, photographer.
“I was asked onstage how participating in this pageant had changed my life. It was supposed to be kind of a silly question, but the honest truth is it had. Just preparing for the show and placing myself somewhere between a parody of a manly man vs. ladyboy helped me celebrate all sides there really are to being a man, to being a lady, to being a person, to being a WINNER! Crazy, crazy joy when I won and totally like on TV walking towards the light all slow and speechless and glitter everywhere (except we couldn’t have glitter). So special. I thought, I will never think bad about myself again. I am a WINNER. I am beautiful!!” --Keith, Audience Choice Award and BRAWL King of Beauty, 2015.
All told, we think we may want to do this again! What do you think?
View our fabulous album from the night taken by Ted Dixon: https://www.facebook.com/ted.dixon.14/media_set?set=a.1149515165062400.1073741840.100000117814569&type=3&pnref=story
--written by collective members of Hudson Valley BRAWL (Broads Regional Arm Wrestling League (Jacinta Bunnell, Tricia Mazzocca, Kira Kinney, Vanessa Vera-Peterka, Amie Worley, Michael Truckpile and honorary girl gang member, Keith Carollo)