Behind the main stage of Thalian Hall lies the swish of silken evening gowns, a swipe of crimson lipstick, a pair of size 13 Louboutins, and the smell of aftershave. Wilmington’s Opera House Theatre Company rehearses for a beauty pageant that celebrates all the poise, class and talent residing in a regular competition but with a burly twist. All 12 contestants are men.
On Saturday, October 13, 12 confident men will compete in the ninth annual Womanless Beauty Pageant, with evening gown and talent divisions, as well as ‘90s throwback-themed musical numbers. The top five competitors (voted on by audience members) will move forward to the interview section of the evening to strive for the coveted title of “Most Womanless.” The show is an annual fundraiser for Opera House Theatre Company.
The company has undergone changes recently in direction, with director, actor and restaurateur Justin Smith, formerly of City Stage, taking over the creative reins. Returning by his side will be musical director Chiaki Ito. Together, the two have made an indelible impact on Wilmington theatre community in bringing off-the-beaten-path shows that are more fringe, more rockin’ and most of all almost always entertaining (“Reefer Madeness,” “Spring Awakening,” “Rent,” “Next to Normal”). Even more inspiring is Smith’s desire to pay actors a fair wage for their work, with hopes of opening an equity playhouse in Wilmington one day, according to local actress Heather Setzler, who will emcee the Womanless Beauty Pageant.
“I have worked with Justin before and I love his edgy style,” Setzler says. “I’m sure [the pageant] will be a collaboration between all the people involved in Opera House now.”
For tomorrow’s pageant, contestants choose female aliases, such as this year’s bold ladies “Anita Cocktail” and “Jenny Tailya,” in order to fulfill their womanly personas to the highest degree. One participant, Logan Mack, a student at UNCW and passionate thespian, has chosen “Helen Bedd” to vie for votes.
“Who is Helen?” Mack asks with a laugh. “Helen is a stone-cold bitch. She loves martinis. She’s a stereotypical gold digger.”
While the show puts on a hilarious visual of how these men portray women in the most conventional and clichéd way possible, or “how guys actually think girls act, which is vividly incorrect,” it still has depth and carries importance. In a time where satire can easily cross lines into “iffy” territory, contestants are under strict order to follow rules that keep the show from getting too vulgar or political.
“I am performing in the pageant because Opera House is an amazing organization I am happy to support, but also because Juli Harvey (a costume designer for the company) and the creative team share my goal in helping a damaged community share a laugh and escape from the often overwhelming stress in coming back after Hurricane Florence,” Mack explains. “If it takes blisters on my ankles and blowing my back out while shaking my rump; [it is] one hundred times worth it.”