This year’s Pageant of the Masters theme — ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, was explored both artistically and historically in this year’s exhibition. A ‘living pictures’ art show, the Pageant is known for recreating famous artwork with live models in costume and utilizing intricate backdrops and props. The show has evolved tremendously from its premiere season running only 8 shows to running nearly every day in the months of July and August. The growing cast consists of roughly 500 multi-generational artists ranging from ages 4 to 80+
The first living picture of the evening portrayed the simple joys of childhood. Children running on to the stage artfully became one with the scene and quickly the masterpiece took shape. Following the display, the first half went on to iterate a brief history lesson on the founding fathers of the United States. After intermission, theatergoers were immersed in rich celebratory traditions and customs from various parts of the world. Cultures, both ancient and modern, were explored in this breathtaking search for happiness.
The second half of the show took viewers on a trip around the world. First, Japanese themes from the artist Chikanobu illustrated the conceptual and symbolic value of how flowers and objects — specifically cherry blossoms, the moon and snow — are all important visual factors in Japanese art and culture. A gentle artificial snow then fell on the audience to conclude that portion. The production went on to further pay homage to different Asian cultures by portraying the Hindu God, Shiva and Bollywood musical productions.
Finally, African culture was celebrated with traditional drums and percussive musical selections. The tribal beats are signatures to West African culture and are the basis for modern music and rhythms. Once again, these elements show that the Pageant continues to shed its limitations by expanding and paying respect to diverse global cultures.
In years past, the art show only featured a single ‘making of’ display in which the audience members actually get to see the artwork coming together before the reveal of the final product. Now, with changing times, shorter attention spans mandate this process right off the bat, with the first and several other performers throughout the show now showcasing the ‘making of’ process. The arduous feat of turning real live people into one-dimensional flat painting is the signature hallmark of the show.
Adding a bit of variety, sculptures and statues are also integral parts of the art portrayed in the Pageant. Early presidents and a celebrated Native American Indian all had statues displayed as tributes to their roles, for better or worse, in American history.
One compelling and unique aspect to this year’s production was the tribute to famous illustrator Norman Rockwell, whose drawings for the magazine The Saturday Evening Post recount America’s story from the latter half of the past century. Rockwell’s characteristic long necks and personality-driven faces, present in several pieces, adding a refreshing touch of humor and simplicity to the show. The artist’s work perfectly contemplated this year’s theme; his works celebrated the simple pleasures found in everyday life and American culture.
The precision and execution in makeup, clothing, staging, performance, and lighting distinguish the Pageant of the Masters as a premier production whose success serves as a testament to the quality, appeal, and talent behind the affair.