Sometimes the only thing a parent needs to win a beauty pageant is a little glitter, projection and authoritarianism.
“Little Miss Grotesque,” a play written and directed by Andrea Baldwin, a graduate student in speech communication from Abilene, Texas, focuses on three young girls — Matsy Stark, McKenzie Kay and Georgina Vandercamp — and their moms Rosie, Marsha and Jan as they prepare for the Little Miss Everything beauty pageant where, so the play claims, “If you’re not everything, you’re nothing.”
Through individual monologues, mood-setting music and intriguing photographs, viewers learned quickly that beauty pageants aren’t all they seem cracked up to be for both children and parents. As the play progressed, the audience watched the three parents instill their competitive spirits, greedy intentions and personal desires to win into their rebellious children.
But then the girls suddenly turn into puppets and start reciting their pageant introduction lines as though they were programmed to do so, just like they came with batteries and an instruction manual.
However, all of the doll-like attributes were no match against Baby Tiffany, the 6-month-old plastic doll who competed alongside the girls and took the pageant’s Grand Supreme title despite all the girls’ training and practice.
Baldwin said the idea to include Baby Tiffany came when she was watching an episode of “Toddlers in Tiaras,” where a baby won the Best in Show title at a pageant and all the other girls became upset with how undeserving she seemed to be. She said a conversation with assistant director Diana Woodhouse confirmed that they needed a physical representation in the play of all the plasticity and fakeness they were expressing that comes with pageant competition.
Baby Tiffany not only represented that fakeness, but also proved that it doesn’t take much to win a beauty competition, said Rachel Birdsell, a freshman from Jacksonville studying architecture.
“(The play) didn’t show the baby being made-up, and it didn’t show her working out or (her parents) worrying about being completely prepared,” she said. “With Baby Tiffany, I think the writer was trying to show the audience that the people who spend all their time and money on being the best aren’t necessarily always the ones who are.”
Though interesting moments were frequent and well-received, the play’s final monologues seemed to provide the most insight into why the girls’ parents put them through all the stress and discipline, Birdsell said. She said the final monologues proved that a lot more goes on behind the scenes in the little girls’ minds than what’s pasted on with glitter and bows.
“It’s almost like the moms needed their own assurance that they were pretty and that their daughters were pretty,” she said. “And that’s really why they put their daughters through that.”
Hanna England, a freshman from Cobden studying geography, said the monologues that put the play into perspective for her were the ones that discussed the girls not coming with an instruction manual.
“Some parents unfortunately do think that way, and they think it is important that their kids have to be talented to be successful, “ she said. “But it’s not like that at all.”
Toward the middle of the play, viewers were able to watch the genuine and naïve Matsy and her mother Rosie discuss her pageant confidence as well as her intentions for ones to come. It was then that Rosie began to sing Matsy a song as she stood up and recited a monologue that sent the play for a twist.
As Matsy stood under the red light in her red and pink pageant outfit, she started to talk about her first sexual experience as literally as it can be taken — her moment of birth. While the 6 1/2-year-old girl stood there indirectly explaining that the Little Miss Everything crown wouldn’t be the first to ever sit on her head, the audience watched as birth photos of crowning babies flashed on the screen mixed with others of young pageants girls at holding their trophies.
Baldwin said although the photo set was open for interpretation, there were at least two messages behind it. She said it all boils down to wanting some kind of accolade for acceptance whenever she thinks about mother and daughter relationships, and that accolade is a crown in this play’s case. She said it was that realization that started her research on all the meaning that comes with a crown.
“First, I image-searched a crown on Google, and my first results were crowning as in the act of birth,” she said. “So then I just kept researching the act of birth as it ties into mother-daughter relationships, but the deciding factor to include the photos came when a friend of a friend told me a story about a mother who said her daughter would win a beauty pageant because she was born with a crown on her head.”
England said she knew she was in for an entertaining and slightly political treat to watch a play in the Communication Building’s Kleinau Theater so much that she watched it twice. She said the first watch was just as entertaining as the second, but she realized something about kids with her second viewing.
“Pageants are probably never, ever OK for children,” she said.