Last weekend, Superman and I got to attend one of our favorite summer events – Orange County’s Pageant of the Masters.
We always reserve our seats early – sometimes in even in December of the previous year – so we can be sure to get good seats for next year’s show.
The Pageant is a 75-plus year tradition here in OC. It began in 1933 – tucked on a little stage in the Laguna canyons, which had already come to be known as an artists’ colony.
Artists (and movie stars, incidentally), began coming to Laguna in the 1920s – the movie stars sipped cognacs and watched the sunsets from the famous Victor Hugo Inn on Pacific Coast Highway (today it is Las Brisas), while the artists flocked to the cliffs and coves to paint the beautiful beach settings and lived in bungalows in the eucalyptus canyons. As more and more artists continued spilling into the seaside town, they began an annual art show. They had to throw sawdust on the ground to keep the dirt from rising and ruining their paintings, and eventually this show became the Laguna Sawdust Festival, which is still growing strong more than 75 years later. Laguna also became home to the county’s first art museum, which is still there, on an ocean cliff overlooking the Pacific.
The Pageant was created shortly after the Sawdust Festival. Back then it was called “Tableaux Vivant,” which means “living pictures.” The show invited local actors to step into life-size paintings and “freeze” for long periods so all could enjoy the interpretation. Bette Davis, in fact, was one of the original participants in the 1930s. A resident of Laguna at the time, she “froze” for the Sarah Siddons portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds that is housed in the Huntington collection.
Over the years, the Pageant has become more and more incredible. Today, with stunning tricks of lighting and makeup, viewers can hardly believe they’re seeing real people in the “frames.” Attendees bring binoculars and try to “catch” the actors blinking or breathing, but the effect is simply incredible. One painting each year is dedicated to showing viewers how it’s done – attendees get to see the actors walking into place, the background rolling forward, the props being added. Then the lights go down. The lights come back on. And voila! The audience always gasps. The magic is incredible. Even modern art or interpretive paintings can be mimicked with the amazing makeup techniques.
The entire show is set around a theme, so each year is different. This year was “The Muse,” which I really enjoyed (showcasing the women who served as inspiration for Vermeer, Dali, Maxfield Parrish, Diego Rivera and others over the years). Previous themes have been “Seasons,” “Portrait of the Artist,” “Passion,” and even “On the Road” (with a tribute to Route 66 art!). A narrator humorously describes each painting and gives titillating tidbits about the artist or the artwork itself, and a live orchestra offers a beautiful score that drifts up through the canyons in the outdoor amphitheater. Superman and I huddle under our blankets and hold hands and enjoy the show every year.
How about you? If you’re an OC local, have you seen the Pageant? (And, if not, why not????) It’s a must if you’re ever in Orange County in the summer.