Dixie Longate is quite the character, in every sense of the word.
The Tupperware expert and mother of three hails from Mobile, Ala. and stars in her very own one-woman show, aptly titled Dixie’s Tupperware Party. Longate is bringing that show, created by Kris Andersson, to Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium from Sept. 22-23. We talked with Longate, entirely in character, about her life and show in an interview punctuated with frequent giggling.
“I started selling Tupperware about 15 years ago as a condition of my parole,” Longate said. “My parole officer said that was a condition of getting my kids back.”
Longate found herself on the wrong side of the law after some minor shoplifting incidents. She said she knew nothing about Tupperware, but decided to give it a shot because it was her only real choice.
Of her first Tupperware party, she said, “It was a disaster. I didn’t know what anything was so I just laughed and giggled my way through it. We still laugh about this. I picked up a spatula and called it a spoon. I was just having a fun party.”
This spirit of fun and the ability to never take anything too seriously is the foundation for her one-woman show which a friend, who is a director in New York, helped her develop in 2004. The show premiered at a New York International Fringe Festival that same year and made its off-Broadway debut in 2007.
The inspiration for the show came from the late Brownie Wise, a pioneering American saleswoman largely responsible for the success of Tupperware through her development of the "party plan" system of marketing.
A former sales representative for Stanley Home Products, Wise was a divorcee with a son to support. She found Tupperware to be a product with broad appeal and began selling it at home parties. In 1950, she moved to Florida and created a social networking marketing system through dealers and sellers that quickly outsold Tupperware’s store sales.
This caught the attention of Earl Tupper, Tupperware inventor, who invited her to be vice president of Tupperware Home Parties in 1951.
“Tupperware was being sold on store shelves. It took Brownie to create a culture,” Longate said. “She made people realize the opportunities out there to be bigger and better in a community and that you could do something that was fun, and that was the thing that put Tupperware on the map.
“I want to tell her story and go out and do something amazing. I want to take that story and make it a call to action.”
That call to action is directed at audience members, who are encouraged to become active participants in the show. This makes for some hilariously candid and unscripted moments that add to the light-hearted atmosphere.
Longate interacts with her audience prior to the start of each show as she passes out candy and makes sure everyone gets a name tag. Then she gets the conversation started about Tupperware and demonstrates the uses for different items while also telling stories and discussing what’s going on in the world.
“Every night is different because people in the audience participate. This always keeps me on my toes,” Longate said.
During the Q&A part of the show, she asks people to talk about a favorite Tupperware item they got at a party.
“There was this one lady in Nashville who’d actually seen the show the first time I was there and she talked about having to move her mom into a senior living facility,” Longate said. “She saw all these holes in her mom’s backyard. Her mom told her that she had buried a cat in a Tupperware bowl, but couldn’t remember exactly where. So she went digging to find out where the cat was buried.
“She said the bowl had kept the cat remarkable fresh and that none of the critters had gotten to it.”
Tracy Lawie, marketing manager for Miller, said she thinks Longate’s brand of honest, impromptu dialog will resonate with those who attend.
“This is something that’s kind of quirky and off-color which shows her humor,” Lawie said. “We are always looking for different entertainment to bring in to Kalamazoo. We want to have a diverse offering of music, dance and family-friendly entertainment. Dixie's Tupperware Party is the type of comedy that’s accessible.”
Longate said the goal of her show is to make people laugh “their butts off” and come away with a positive message.
“I had never done nothing like this at all, but I have a knack for talking a lot and making people smile,” Longate said. “I’m from a small place and didn’t grow up with a lot of money. Nobody had nothing and we never had anything big ever happen where I come from.
“I want to tell people that they should dream bigger and that they can do things bigger than they think they can.”
Dixie’s Tupperware Party
2200 Auditorium Dr., Kalamazoo
Sept. 22-23, $40
millerauditorium.com, (269) 387-2300