"There She Is,
There she is, your ideal
With so many beauties
She'll take the town by storm
With her all-American face
And there she is
Walking on air she is
Fairest of the fair she is
BERKELEY - On Wednesday, June 25, UC Berkeley
theater/performance studies major Autumn Zangrilli will
be in Fresno trying out for her most difficult role yet: Miss California. The
comes with a hefty paycheck - $10,000 in scholarship money. The winner
also has a 1 in 50 shot at the "fairest of the fair" Miss
America showdown in Atlantic City.
But Zangrilli, who is Miss Contra Costa County 2003, says she's
not really after the big purse. She would be content even with
a bit part as fourth runner-up, who receives $2,000. Because
despite all the time she's spent on stage in make-believe land,
has a firm grasp on reality. She is not modeling her evening
gown (a strapless, brown tulle Michael Casey design that she
dress") and swimsuit (a plunge-necked, blue and black one-piece)
for thrills and glory, but for practical reasons.
Zangrilli is on her own financially,
and has put herself through her first four years at UC Berkeley
with a combination of scholarships and part-time work.
she's decided to continue
her studies for a fifth year, she's on the hunt for a way to pay
for it. If she wins, there's a bonus - she gets to publicize an issue that's
near and dear to her heart. For the past two years, through the UC
arts education outreach program ArtsBridge, Zangrilli has taught
theater classes to Oakland third graders for whom English is a
Last year, funding for the program was slashed by 80 percent, and
ArtsBridge likely won't survive this year's budget wrangling. Zangrilli
Arts in Education her "platform," the message she'll get to deliver
at all her public appearances as Miss California -if she wins.
Zangrilli was raised in a town so small she usually just says she's
from Amador County, California. Her parents have never had much
money, but as theater lovers, they took her to see plays in nearby
and enrolled her in dance classes at an early age. "In sixth grade
I took a class from the Sacramento Theater Company and fell in
recalls. At Amador High School, Zangrilli threw herself into the
theater program. She spent summers at theater schools, and as a
named a California Arts Scholar by Governor Pete Wilson. By her
senior year, she was teaching a drama class to seventh and eight
She was also working, starting with her first job at the age of 14, as a cashier/stocker
for the Bucksmart dollar store in Martel, California, where she
worked all through high school. "If I wanted money, I had to work," she
shrugs. When it came time to apply to colleges, Zangrilli was also
on her own
financially. Her quest for scholarships led her to her first pageant.
She entered Miss Amador County in pursuit of the $2,000 scholarship
attached to the tiara. "There was no beauty part," she says - the judging
was based 25 percent on grades, 25 percent on community service,
25 percent for "on-stage presentation," and 25 percent on
the interview portion. She won it, along with
a lengthy list of other community scholarships, including from
the California Alliance for Arts in Education, the Lions Club,
Elks Club, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and
"Martha Graham is a cracker"
At Cal, she's held several jobs, including working part-time in a
law office since 1999 and raising money for the Cal Annual Fund.
But by far her favorite extracurricular activity remains the theater.
the last three years Zangrilli has run Barestage, UC Berkeley's
original student production company. She's produced, directed,
and even written
numerous plays and musicals, and drew on that experience to teach
a De-Cal course on "Making Student Theater at Cal." She cites with
particular pride the All-Female Women's Festival, a celebration
of women in theater,
that she's put together two years in a row. "The festival gives any
girl who wants to write, direct, or act a chance to do so," she explains.
For the most recent festival, Zangrilli had all the participants
write about what it meant to be female, then melded them together
as a performance
piece called "In the Beginning" that was put on to benefit a women's
Meanwhile, in addition to also majoring in English and writing an
honors thesis about the sociopolitical history of student theater
on campus, Zangrilli has
also somehow found the time to
work as a tutor at
Berkeley High School, act as the student representative
on UC Berkeley's Consortium for the Arts board, and as
an ArtsBridge outreach instructor.
Elementary in Oakland, she teaches drama classes to around
50 third-grade students. Although she has a lot of experience
these students present a particular challenge. Few speak
first language, and "they think a theater is where you go to see movies," she
says. "It's been trial and error, just learning how to warm them up," she
says. "I've learned to focus on doing improvisation with them, because
it teaches them to act on their intuition without using
violence, which they're saturated with from cartoons and
action films. With
improv, you can't say no - you have to go along with what people shout
out - and
that's a good lesson in self-control for them."
Zangrilli worries that funding for programs like ArtsBridge will be excised from the state budget. "With budget cuts, the arts are always the first to go," she laments. "It's a struggle to try and keep arts education going. It reminds me of a poster I saw once that said, 'There's not enough art in our schools - no wonder kids think Martha Graham is a cracker.'"
A lesson in every port
As busy as she is, no one could fault Zangrilli for wanting to take
an extra year to complete her studies. For her last few months,
she has her heart set on doing a Semester
at Sea program administered
the University of Pittsburgh, a kind of learning cruise for credit
that will dock for days at a time in Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya,
Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan. Despite a late start - her first trip
abroad was in college, when she visited a student she'd been tutoring
in Japan - Zangrilli ranks travel as equally important to her as theater.
"I feel like I can't understand who I am in the world without seeing more of the world first," she says. "And with the Semester at Sea, I will get to visit more places in a few months than I ever thought I would in my lifetime."
The catch: most of Zangrilli's scholarships stop at four years of tuition, and the Semester at Sea program costs $14,000. So she dusted off the scholarship-hunting skills that had served her so well in high school, and entered the Miss San Francisco contest on a whim. Unlike Miss Amador County, this pageant most definitely has a beauty component - "on-stage personality in evening wear" and "physical fitness in swimsuit" each count for 10 percent of the overall score.
...and as Miss Contra Costa
County, a contender for Miss California.
With her big green eyes, tawny hair, Julia Roberts-wattage smile, and yoga-toned build, Zangrilli seems like someone who's at ease with her looks. However, "my whole life has NOT been about focusing on my body," she says emphatically. For most people, that would make sashaying around in a bathing suit before an audience a little scary, but Zangrilli claims it's no big deal. "I'm an actor - it doesn't bother me. I've worn more compromising costumes on stage before," she laughs, declining to describe those costumes.
Although she went into it "very skeptically," much to her surprise,
Zangrilli won first runner-up and a couple hundred dollars
in the Miss San Francisco pageant (see
she decided to try for the Miss Contra Costa County crown.
enter any pageant in the general area where they live or
work in California.) This time, she
strode off in her high heels with the $1,000 top-prize
scholarship, plus a $1,000 clothing allowance and professional
guidance (shopping, interviewing, hair & makeup) to prepare
for Miss California.
Zangrilli has been avoiding pizza, amping up her gym time, and taking
dance classes to be able to follow the choreography of the opening
number. While most of the Miss California contestants will be belting
out show tunes or pirouetting in pointe shoes for the talent section
of the pageant, Zangrilli is relying on her well-honed stage skills.
In a costume borrowed from the American Conservatory Theater, she'll
perform the "Love Struck Jailer's Daughter" monologue from Shakespeare's "Two
Noble Kinsman," a monologue she's been performing (and won prizes with)
since high school. "It's a crowd pleaser," she explains. "I'm not doing
this so I can be cast in a Broadway show; I'm doing it to entertain
All the court's a stage
Zangrilli admits that she gets quite a few double-takes about her pageant participation. "Putting UC Berkeley and beauty pageants together makes for interesting conversation. The pageant people are always really interested that I go to Berkeley, and I think they have definitely grilled me harder in the interview portions about current events," she says. "And Berkeley people are surprised, but they're supportive - nobody has acted appalled at what I'm doing."
To Zangrilli, the pageant is not about being named the "fairest of
the fair" in
California, it's just a matter of figuring out how to achieve
her goals. Surprisingly, she does not plan to pursue a career on
the stage, but instead is applying to Teach for America and to
a program for teaching English in Japan. She wants to gain some
experience before either going on to graduate school in education,
or to law school.
"I can't justify taking the career path of becoming a performer. I've
realized that having stability is very important to me," she explains. "I
want to own a home someday and be able to put my kids through
college. Having worked in a law office, I know that law
is something I'll enjoy
and be good at, and I'll probably continue to be involved
with theater. I just never want to have money stand
in the way of what I want to do."