Grandmasters of the Arts

The “Pageant of the Masters” has innovated and kept classics alive in this year’s production. Drama and theater were incorporated with a story line and art history lesson as the theme of “The Art Detective” showed how robberies were done at grand art museums in the very distant past as well as in in modern times. Information was garnered to the audience in an entertaining manner, which still allowed for pertinent lessons to be taught and learned.

This annual production is the absolute pride and joy of the artsy city of Laguna Beach. The deliverance of breathtaking portrayals of legendary paintings by real mortal people is thought-provoking. Live actors were incorporated with canvas and materials to create replicas of paintings and sculptures. A full orchestra and narrator added rich symphonic music and warm storytelling to the evening’s showcase.

An elderly lady that sat next to me commented how much she liked the art history lesson being given, and that “some of it isn’t that pretty.” I concurred and mentioned that reality was at least being told.

Hitler’s Nazi-era was of particular significance in this production. A lot of art was lost forever but some pieces were bravely saved by daring people, who risked their lives to preserve art that was valued as both priceless and immortal.

A lot goes on into making the show possible. Every night the backstage area is a flurry of activity. The show is comprised of two full casts, which rotate every week. The headpiece and wig area contains all of the specific pieces for each painting, including the celebrated show finale of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

It takes each cast member about 15 minutes to fully put on their costumes and have their makeup applied for their particular role. Some paintings require cast members to wear what appear to be bulky and heavy looking headpieces, which are actually just carved from Styrofoam with plastic molded around them.

The production team keeps everything extremely organized as each individual cast member has his or her own makeup case. A sheet of paper has the pertinent information for each model with guidelines and illustrations. Styrofoam heads for each model serve as a template so artist can copy the make-up for each performance. Organization is a critical component of the backstage area as a single painting recreation can have up to 11 people in it.

The productions public relations coordinator, Meghan Perez, brilliantly summed up how the production could be explained to anyone to make some logical sense of this great undertaking production. She stated “this show takes something originally in 2-D – a painting, put 3-D people in it and then try to make it 2-D again.”

She further explained how critically important lighting and position are to each piece as the only shadows that should be visible are the ones that were there in the original paintings made by the artist in the creation of their masterpieces. Some pieces have stands and props built into them so the cast isn’t always fatigued by having to hold onto a prop for the duration of their performance. Meghan also stunned me in letting me know that fully nude models are utilized in some pieces, such as the recreation of Edouard Manet’s painting entitled “Olympia” made in the 1860’s.

The cast is fully comprised of enthusiastic volunteers ranging in ages from five to 80 years old. On a backstage tour, I was able to meet an 11-year-old boy who was cast in the role of an old man in the painting “Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind” by the artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, made in the year 1568.

Since the cast was chosen from spatial perspective and measurement, the young boy was cast because the painting requires a smaller framed person to play an adult who is further in the background of the art piece. Each character has to be precisely measured to be in the painting respectively each night.

There are different pieces in relation to this year’s theme of mystery and crimes. The bronze sculpture of Sherlock Holmes made by the artist Gerald O. Laing in 1991 is portrayed on the right side panel to the main stage to allow for a three-dimensional view of the sculpted art piece with only open air being the backdrop.

The storyline is further shown on stage with actors with dialogue doing a recreation of real life art heists in museums. There are also hidden images with paintings, like a human skull that is skewed to be slanted and flattened within another painting entitled “The Ambassadors” all made by the artist Hans Holbein the Younger.

This year’s production of “Pageant of the Masters” has been outstanding in recreating famous paintings and sculptures and providing an interesting story line with a suspenseful theme to captivate the audience’s attention and give them an educational art history lesson in a very untraditional setting of not being in a school or museum. Historical events are brought into focus in the setting of the outdoors with effective lighting and the soothing sea breeze to make this thought provoking experience each summer in Laguna Beach.

Recommended: “Pageant of the Masters” is a beautiful multi-faceted art performance that has to be seen.