“BEAUTY IS A FORM OF GENIUS–IS HIGHER, INDEED, THAN GENIUS, AS IT NEEDS NO EXPLANATION.”
Years ago, on a neighborhood stroll with my entourage of giggly young Girl Scouts, I caught my first glimpse of the Pageant of the Masters. Lured by faint orchestral strains, we happened upon the fence that bordered the back of the amphitheater. Taking turns peering through thick shrubbery to the stage far below, we could barely see a thing—but just being in proximity was magical.
Twenty years later, I found myself wandering the courtyard of the famed Festival of the Arts—sipping a glass of Riesling, listening to a bit of jazz, and strolling through open galleries where local artists display their work. At dusk, I took my seat in the amphitheater to finally experience the Pageant as it was intended—and to say that it was thrilling is an understatement.
Produced by the Festival of the Arts of Laguna Beach, the 79-year-old Pageant of the Masters is a magnificent artwork exhibit in which paintings and sculptures are recreated for the stage with eye-popping detail and accuracy. Accompanied by a narrator, orchestra, and live vocalists, the presentation itself relies on an art form known as tableaux vivants, or “living pictures.”
The theme this year is “The Genius.” In a fascinating mix of art and science, pageant director Diane Challis Davy and scriptwriter Dan Duling pay homage not just to art, but to the likes of astronomy, music, and engineering. Dozens of pieces—from the rich paintings of the Dutch Masters to the brilliant works of Michelangelo, Rodin, Rockwell, Velasquez, and Manet—graced the stage, proscenium arch, and surrounding areas, keeping the eye moving and the heart captivated. The production couldn’t have been more impressive or well received.
Lavish sets, painted with painstaking precision, provide the backdrop for volunteer cast members wearing elaborate costumes, stiff hats and wigs, and perfectly shaded make-up. The result: stunning artwork recreations on the grandest scale. So seamless is the display that it’s nearly impossible to tell where the background painting stops and the costumes start—or which figures are painted into the set and which are represented by actors posing within the artwork. Set, costumes, lighting, and music all come together in a spectacular display that’s a true feast for the senses.
It’s like watching magicians at work. How do they—with uncanny realism—turn a three-dimensional set with live actors into flat Seurat pointillism or a black-and-white woodcut print? How do their subtle tricks with makeup and fabric believably transform human skin into marble, gold, and bronze? Even the most realistic recreations managed to elicit gasps and applause from the appreciative crowd.
Though each living work is remarkable in its own right, several stood out as exceptional. Pageant directors used Winslow Homer’s Breezing Up to give the eager audience a glimpse into the making of a living work. First, a time-lapse film clip showed an artist painting the background set to capture Homer’s scudding clouds, billowing waves, and tilting mast. In dim light, the background set rolled onto the stage, where a massive frame was adjusted to fit the “canvas.” Taking their places in the boat, four costumed cast members assumed their stance. An arm stretched this way, a head turned that way, a knee bent. But as the stage lights came up, the magic transpired: Individual elements, silent and motionless, ceased to exist as they melted into the background and transformed the scene into a living work of art.
A long-time fan of Van Gogh, I was especially impressed by the tableaux featuring three of his vibrant paintings. The orchestral accompaniment “Vincent” (composed by the talented husband-and-wife team of Starr Parodi and Jeff Eden Fair) provided the perfect response to the paintings with its flurry of staccato notes that appropriately echoed the artist’s erratic life.
When a military assembly of life-size chess pieces marched across the proscenium arch high above us, it took our collective breath away. Replicating Charles Stadden’s painted-pewter chess set with unerring detail, each piece (representing figures from the Battle of Waterloo) stood fixed on its base—holding a flag, waving a hat, or perching on a prancing horse. There aren’t enough words to describe this enthralling moment.
To the delight of the approving audience, the Pageant closed with a return to tradition: the recreation of Leonardo DaVinci’s beautifully rendered Last Supper, providing a fitting end to a spectacular evening. The 2012 Pageant of the Masters does not disappoint. Captivating and inspiring, it will simply blow you away.
In a word: it’s Genius.
photos by Rick and Cheryl Lang (Lang Photography)
Pageant of the Masters: The Genius
Festival of the Arts at Irvine Bowl in Laguna Beach (Los Angeles and Regional Theater)
scheduled to end on August 31, 2012
for tickets, call 800-487-3378 or visit http://www.foapom.com/