The giddiest part of the festival was saved for last. The Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest, a bit of competitive street theater conducted beneath the balconies of the Pontalba Apartments on Jackson Square, gave aspiring Kowalskis of either sex the opportunity to use every last shred of their vocal cords. Marlon Brando may have set the standard 50 years ago, when he first bellowed "Stella-a-a-a-a-a-a." But here in New Orleans, no fewer than 25 people gave interpretations of that famous primal scream.
The first contestant poured a cup of water on his head, fell to his knees, and screamed his soul out. One after another, they followed boldly. It was as if these people had been waiting all their lives for just this moment.
"We call this the getting-the-hay-down-where-the-cows-can-reach-it part of the festival," said Robert Bray, a Williams scholar.
But it was great fun. Alec Baldwin and Dakin Williams were judges. The prize "for being the biggest male chauvinist pig in the French Quarter,"as Baldwin put it, went to Christopher Fritz, whose rendition involved drinking a bottle of beer in one gulp, pacing like a caged panther, and crying "Stella" three times with sexy desperation.
And so it ended. But the spirit lingered. As we all walked back to the headquarters, a British-accented man performed his own version of the "Stella" scream: "Darling, do come down," he whispered politely. "I don't want to cause a scene and wake the neighbors."
The 1998 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival will be held March 11-15. For information and reservations, call 800/479-8222.
MARCH Uncle Earl's Hog Dog Trials (Winnfield). Dogs from all over the world gather, competing to corner a snarling wild boar without touching it (318/628-4461).
APRIL Cajun Joke-Telling Contest (Opelousas). Chomp on boudin sausage, then sit back as the Seinfelds of bayou country regale you (318/942-3562). Or hit the International Goat Festival & Cook-off (Plaisance). The meat in question is curried, stewed, roasted, even étoufféed. Who comes?"All kinds of dignitaries from the goat industry," says a spokeswoman (318/942-2392). Spreading into May is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Endless jazz, gospel, funk—and a craft area the size of Rhode Island (504/522-4786).
MAY Bonnie & Clyde Festival (Gibsland). Come visit the place where the dastardly duo pulled their last job before checking into the Big House in the Sky (318/843-6141).
JUNE Le Festival de la Viande Boucanée (Ville Platte). Also called the "Smoked Meat Festival" (318/363-6700). Or try the Possum Festival (Arcadia). It started as a joke; now it's a cottage industry. Parades, mud volleyball, golf tournaments—but no possums (318/263-9897).
SEPTEMBER Shrimp & Petroleum Festival (Morgan City). This odd combination springs from a town whose two main industries are seafood and oil (504/385-0703).
DECEMBER Festival of the Bonfires (Lutcher and Gramercy). Multistory bonfires light the way for Papa Noël, the Cajun Santa. Bring marshmallows (504/869-9752).