Ten Years Later, a One-Woman Show is Still One Man’s Work

Originally published in the New York Times
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Alerts sound about 10 times an hour on Kris Andersson’s phone, but the multitasking performer may be keeping the paper industry in business, as well. Along with writing and starring in his solo show, “Dixie’s Tupperware Party,” Mr. Andersson has also been its booker, producer and promoter. And he does it all with a paper daily planner.

Mr. Andersson never intended to write a play, let alone handle the business of one. It was a series of unexpected events and a friendly dare that started his evolution into Dixie Longate, a feisty redhead with a penchant for Jell-O shots and foul language who has toured the country for nearly a decade, peddling kitchen storage.

“Dixie’s Tupperware Party” kicks off its 10th year on the road in May, with bookings set for the rest of the year — making Mr. Andersson one of the rare actors to parlay a single character into a career.

Dixie came into being when Mr. Andersson’s roommate hosted a Tupperware party at their Los Angeles home. A friend suggested that the actor start selling Tupperware himself; another friend dared him to do it in drag. Mr. Andersson accepted the challenge, borrowed a wig and boots and began his transformation into the raunchy and energetic traveling Tupperware saleswoman Dixie.

“It was a completely horrible, haphazard look,” he recalled, comparing the hairstyle to roadkill. “I refined her over time.”

Tupperware sales skyrocketed, and a friend of Mr. Andersson’s, the director Tomas Caruso, suggested he adapt the party into a stage show, which eventually had its premiere at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival. He then spent a few years selling Tupperware — establishing himself, he said, as the No. 1 sales representative in both the United States and Canada — while developing the show.

In 2007 he took up residence for three months at Ars Nova, an incubator for young talent that has gone on to help jump-start Bridget Everett, Billy Eichner and the current Broadway musical “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.”

Dixie’s Ars Nova engagement was directed by Alex Timbers, who later oversaw the innovative productions “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Peter and the Starcatcher,” both of which transferred to Broadway after smaller-scale runs.

Mr. Andersson took Dixie on tour in 2008, and with the help of booking and press agents, landed gigs for the next two years. He recalled: ”When the booking company said, ‘It’s looking like we’re not going to book that much more,’ I said, ‘Great. I’m going to take a shot at it.’”

“I thought, ‘This can’t be that hard,’” he added. “Somebody’s a tour booker, a manager, an agent. They’re not born with it. They go to school, they learn. If someone else can do it, I can do it.”

Multitasking is nothing new to Mr. Andersson. In fact, it’s reminiscent of his childhood: He worked his first paper route when he was 8 and consistently held part-time jobs through his adolescence.

Now, at 47, he is co-owner and co-producer of a production company called Down South, which he describes as “the umbrella of all things Dixie.”

What that means is hard work. For nine years, he has cold-called arts centers and performing arts spaces to get bookings. Some cities have been so welcoming that a sequel was called for in 2014: “Dixie’s Never Wear a Tube Top While Riding a Mechanical Bull (And 16 Other Things I Learned While I Was Drinking Last Thursday)does away with the Tupperware sales and dives into the character’s personal life and philosophies.

“You’d think, 10 years in, that people know the show, it’s easy to get in any market, and it’s not,” he said. “Unless you’re one of the big, big shows, you’re still constantly knocking on doors.”

Drag performances have inched closer to the mainstream since Mr. Andersson introduced Dixie, which cuts both ways. A one-man show with a set that can be packed into a Tupperware bin, “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” isn’t costly to produce, and Mr. Andersson has worked determinedly to establish its name recognition. He knocked on doors in Nashville for four years until “Dixie” was booked there.

But despite a national presence, investors were reluctant to back Mr. Andersson for an Off Broadway run of “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” last September. He had hoped to bring the show, which has been updated since Ars Nova, back to New York. “They just weren’t interested,” he said.

To expand his audience, Mr. Andersson recently signed with the Gersh Agency, where the agent Matt Charkow will help book “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” into new spaces.

“We’ve been able to place the show outside of the standard theatrical model that Kris has been accustomed to,” Mr. Charkow said. The coming tour includes one-night bookings along with lengthier runs at theaters, casinos and festivals.

It cost $40,000 to produce “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” at Ars Nova for the three-month run, Mr. Andersson estimated, a total he “couldn’t even imagine” then. His touring advances at first totaled $25,000, but have grown over the years as high as $150,000 in a market. (His show runs about 90 minutes, and audiences can be as large as 1,500.)

Now that he’s signed with Gersh, Mr. Andersson is relieved to have some more time on his hands. In the past he would spend several weeks in one city cultivating his fan base; now the stops are shorter with more cities on the itinerary, a cross between theater and stand-up comedy gigs.

Determined to stay relevant, Mr. Andersson interacts with fans through grass-roots marketing and social media. “It’s one thing for an agent to be out selling a show,” Mr. Charkow said. “It’s another to actually be the character, and be in the trenches, so to speak.”

It’s the force of that character — who won’t easily take no for an answer — that makes Mr. Charkow’s job a little easier. “She’s going to find her way to where she needs to go,” he said, “one way or another.”

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