By Greg Aragon
Summer is here and that means it’s time for the beach and barbecues. And if you love art – especially the kind with living people in it – then it’s time for one of the greatest performance spectacles around. It is time for the annual Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach.
Held each summer in an open-air canyon theater, the event is something that any lover of art and culture should experience at least once.
Now in its 87th season, the world-renown stage show incredibly recreates and brings to life famous paintings with a group of live, motionless models and beautiful backdrops, set within huge picture frames on a massive outdoor stage, with a professional orchestra, live narration, and sophisticated lighting.
Located in a rustic Laguna Beach canyon, two blocks from the ocean, The Pageant’s 90-minute nightly performances are highlighted by tableaux vivants or living pictures that take the 2,000-seat Irvine Bowl Park stage in the corner of the festival grounds.
The “pictures” are remarkable re-creations of classical and contemporary masterpieces, “painted” with real people, painstakingly made-up with costumes and makeup. The paintings are then filled with authentic backdrops and wrapped by giant picture frames. When the curtain is lifted, each 90-second-long picture is accompanied by an orchestra, with an original score; a live narration; and sophisticated lighting.
The title of the 2019 Pageant is “The Time Machine” and it promises audiences a trip around the globe and into the past, present, and future in search of great art and amazing stories. Taking its cues from science fiction and steampunk fantasies, The Time Machine will be a “ticket to thrills, laughter, beautiful music and extraordinary living art under the stars.”
Pageant of the Masters producer/director Diane Challis Davy says this year’s show was inspired by the novel “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells “and we intend to conjure up a collection of artists who imagined and re-created scenes from the past and future. We hope The Time Machine will become a mysterious journey through time and space, and art,” she says. “Of course, there’ll be no shortage of surprises along the way, perhaps a few pop-culture cameo appearances.”
Act 1 of the Pageant show begins with an incredible live recreation of the painting “Napoleon and his General Staff,” by Jean-Léon Gérôme from the 1860s. This oil painting shows Napoleon on a military adventure on the back of camel in the Egyptian desert, surrounded by his men.
Another stunning picture brought to live is “Cleopatra on the Terraces of Philae” by American painter Frederick Arthur Bridgman. This 1896 oil on canvas shows Cleopatra with two other women standing by the water, with a boat and palm trees in the background.
The performance ends with “The Final Impossibility” by Norman Rockwell, which depicts two astronauts landing on the moon. As with all of the other “paintings” it is very hard to believe that these are real live people recreating these scenes.
The pageant is part of the larger Festival of Arts, a summer-long celebration of art and artists. This year’s festival showcases the works of 140 of Orange County’s best original painters, sculptors, ceramists, jewelers, and photographers. The festival also offers free daily art workshops for the whole family, live jazz and blues, wine tastings, cooking classes, restaurants and more. In 2017, the Festival of Arts debuted its brand new $10 million facility which features a new layout for the art exhibit area, workshops, gift shop and concert stage. Admission to the festival is $10. For more information, visit: LagunaFestivalofArts.org.
During my visit to Laguna Beach for the Pageant of the Masters last year, I stayed at The Inn at Laguna Beach, a boutique, water-front hotel perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, with 70 guest rooms, a roof top terrace, swimming pool and a complimentary Wine Hour, held each day between 5 and 6 p.m. For more information on the hotel, call (800) 544-4479 or visit: innatlagunabeach.com.
The 2019 Pageant of the Masters, The Time Machine, runs through Aug. 31, 2019. Advance tickets start at $15 per person and are on sale now. A Pageant ticket is also a season pass to the 2019 Festival of Arts Fine Art Show, which also runs through Aug. 31, 2019. For more information on tickets, call (949) 494-1145 or visit: foapom.com.