Friday, August 25, 1995
Pageant of the Masters brings art to life through elaborate
sets, lightingBy Kristin Fiore
Summer Bruin Senior Staff
If museum art just doesn’t "come to life" for you, you may want
to visit the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. It’s like a
museum Â except the art is life-size, the walls are made of
trees, and the ceiling is 10,000 miles high.
The stars are the perfect canopy for this unique spectacle that
gives a second meaning to "performance art." This year, more than
280 volunteers participated in bringing nearly 40 famous paintings,
sculptures and monuments to life through the magic of make-up,
elaborate sets, special lighting, a live orchestra and
Before the show guests meander through the Festival of Arts, a
showcase of painting, sculpture, jewelry, photography and other
singular items by nearly 160 local artists. A section is also
reserved for Laguna’s elementary and high school students, many of
whom are extraordinarily talented. You won’t believe the art that
can roll off of a 10- or 15-year-old’s fingertips.
Many artists have exhibits year after year, giving the festival
a sense of familiarity and continuity for returning guests.
However, there is also a lot of new talent, infusing the show with
fresh blood each year.
As the sun dips behind the canyon, guests file into the Irvine
Bowl for the Pageant of the Masters Â those in the know armed
with binoculars and a blanket.
For many years there has been no particular theme to the
pageant, but with new artistic director Diane Challis, this show
incorporates many new or long-absent ideas. Presumably in the
spirit of Atlanta’s Olympic Games, the first half of the show
focuses on "The American Masters," including Edward Hopper’s famous
"Nighthawks" and tributes to Lincoln and great American authors.
The re-creation of the Lincoln Memorial is particularly moving and
The most fascinating part of the show is the chance to watch the
cast assemble a re-creation, an element included more often this
year than in the past.
Even though you see the elaborate set, the cast in their
costumes getting in position and the props they use to hold
themselves in place for the three or four minutes their work is on
view, it does not prepare you for the effect the re-creation will
have under proper lights.
Even through binoculars, it is difficult to tell that you are
not looking at a two-dimensional painting Â right down to the
dots in Georges Seurat’s pointillism masterpiece, "A Sunday on La
The crown jewel of the American theme, the 1996 Olympic gold
coin, is reserved for the second part of the show. It and the
colorful Native American Kachina dancers, as well as many other
sculptures, photo re-creations and porcelain and gold figurines,
are testament to the fact that the pageant is dwelling less on
paintings and more on other media, as well as more varied subject
The second half of the show includes more traditional works like
Edgar Degas and the always-popular gold Saltcellar by Benvenuto
Cellini. And like every year, daVinci’s "The Last Supper" closes
the show Â this night, with a female Jesus for the first
The pageant also extends its use of areas other than the stage.
The Virginia State Monument, the Robert G. Shaw Memorial and Daniel
French’s Abraham Lincoln confront the audience from the sides,
making use of the Bowl’s hilly topography and unique design. Other
pieces tower above the crowd or stage, adding variety, majesty or
mystery to the show.
The greatest enhancements of effect, however, are the music and
commentaries. From before the curtain first opens to its final
closing sweep, orchestra music Â arranged, conducted and (at
times) written by Richard HennÂ and narration by Skip Conover
give the history of and set the mood for each work of art. From the
tragic story of Orpheus to the swinging days of the
Gershwin-accompanied "Nighthawks," Henn and Conover share equal
storytelling credit and provide what so many wish for while at a
museum Â that vital link with the artist and the history that
shaped his vision.
For 65 years The Pageant of the Masters and the accompanying
Festival of Arts have given art lovers and even the "artistically
challenged" an experience they can’t find anywhere else and won’t
ever forget. From the casual outdoor atmosphere of the Festival to
the nighttime magic and grandeur of the Pageant which seems to
improve with each passing year, the afternoon and evening are well
worth the drive, the price and the (very) early reservation of a
date in your calendar.
Pageant/Festival: Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts
run daily through Aug. 31 at Irvine Bowl Park, 650 Laguna Canyon
Road. $2-3 for the Festival, $15-40 for the Pageant.
(top) Frederic Remington’s "Comin’ Through the Rye" comes to
life at the Pageant.
(left) Live cast members re-create French artist Georges
Seurat’s 19th century painting titled "A Sunday on La Grande