HomeJuly 2012Tricking the Eye

Tricking the Eye

The nature of genius, the relationship between art and advances in science and technology and how it impacted and advanced the Masters marks the 80th anniversary celebration of Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters in the creative “The Genius.”
Tributes to the lives and masterpieces of geniuses whose works have withstood the test of time provide the guiding light of this 2012 Pageant.  Artists include Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, Giovanni Bernini, Jacques-Louis David, Edward Manet, Picasso and Norman Rockwell.  Legendary composers – Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Strauss – are immortalized in a series of artworks dedicated to these maestros of classical music.  Also highlighted will be a tribute to some of the great minds in science and astronomy, from Ptolemy and Copernicus to Galileo.
“Genius exists in every field of endeavor, and it’s a fantastic source for moving stories of triumph, tragedy and courage,” stated Dan Duling, marking his 22nd year as script writer, adding “If you’re looking for inspiration, this show is going to dare you to think big.”
This very creative experience in trompe l’oeil (fooling the eye), a segment of a unique artistic extravaganza once featured on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” television show, takes place each year, in the hilly coastal art colony of Laguna Beach.  Quiet most of the year with white water, surfers and artists, the village comes alive every summer as it hosts the Laguna Beach Arts Festival and the internationally acclaimed Pageant of the Masters, where a cast of thousands have mastered the art of holding still.
For seven weeks every summer, (from July 7 to August 31 this year), local residents take their positions against painted backdrops and pose like the painted or sculpted figures in reproductions of great works of art.  As a result of highly skilled lighting effects (enhanced this year along with a new sound system), cast members look exactly as if they are painted on canvas, carved in marble or etched in glass.  They are celebrating a tradition conceived in 1933 (and continued annually except for a hiatus for World War II) by civic leaders who decided to adopt an old art form to accompany their summer art show.
This tradition was born as an effort of survival by local artists during the Great Depression of 1932 when they sold their work from displays on easels and wooden fences to beach tourists.  The festival moved in 1941 to its present location which today hosts a potpourri of entertainment and displays.
“Few performers, all unpaid volunteers — from children as young as six to teachers, lifeguards, architects, bankers, chemists and wigmakers – realize they are upholding an ancient tradition of tableaux vivants (living pictures) dating back to medieval Europe when church fathers held pageants to re-create stories from the Bible,” explained pageant director Diane Challis Davy, now in her seventeenth year as creative commander-in-chief.
Even when the stage hands assemble a presentation before your eyes, as they do several times during each performance, the sold-out audience of 2,600 remains incredulous.  It’s like watching a magician “teach a trick.”
In the 14th and 15th centuries, cities vied for supremacy of street pageants to welcome visiting monarchs.  Subject matter came from art, history or mythology, with participants often singing to musical accompaniment.  Non-animated tableaux were revived in the 18th century in France, emerging as turn-of-the-century entertainment in the parlors and Sunday schools of America.  Laguna’s pageant offers an art trip through centuries and around the world.  Between segments the audience is treated to an animated art history lesson, all accompanied by live orchestra.
The extravaganza utilizes to full advantage the natural amphitheater setting.  Some program items for the two-hour show are set on the main stage, while others are shown in niches at the sides of the main stage, on the upper stage, the hillsides, even on the roof of the stage building.
For Laguna’s modern living pictures there are no auditions, just casting calls run by Davy and key production personnel.  Volunteers’ statistics are filed by size and used to fill 320 places of two casts that perform on alternate nights.
There are no understudies.  And the show always goes on.  “Even when a figure once slipped backstage just before curtain time,” according to Davy, “she valiantly posed with bleeding thigh and nary a twitch.”  Another time when a member of the cast fainted just before showtime, a spectator in the audience was recruited.  Before he knew what hit him, he was in makeup, costume and “freezing.”
Often the pageant creates family togetherness.  Seven-year-old Aiden La Marche, appearing in his third year, joins his mother who works in makeup, and father Eric Gale, poses in two settings — the Waterloo Chess Set and joins his six year old daughter Jamie in Michelangelo’s The Artist’s Studio.
The wizardry appears as clothes are painted and stiffened with white glue into their wind-swept attitudes.  In natural light the rigid muslin costumes appear reminiscent of an impressionist painting as creases and folds appear in splashes of reds, blues and greens.  A boy, whose face will appear in silhouette sports make-up on one side of his face, culminates with a blue line painted down the center of his nose.
Outside the amphitheater, the grounds house Laguna’s annual Festival of the Arts.  Chosen by a panel of judges, 140 artists and craftsmen from the Newport Beach to San Clemente coastal area exhibit for sale their creations ranging from paintings, etchings and photography to stained glass, model ships, weaving, jewelry, ceramics, carving and furniture.  This year features 28 new artists and 17 repeaters of 30 years or more.  Included this year will be the figurative sculpture of Elaine Cohen, the contemporary furniture of Will Paul Silverman and the pastels of Molly Lipsher.
Launching this year will be the exhibit’s first self-guided cell phone-based audio tour.  This will enable visitors to dial a designated local phone number to focus on the booth number of an artist for a brief explanation of the work and an insight on a certain medium or technique.
Though food service is available on the grounds, trams run from the town’s business area for those who prefer to dine at Laguna’s many gourmet restaurants before joining the multitudes who seek the living example that you can fool all the people most of the time.
The Arts Festival grounds are located at 650 Laguna Canyon Road.  Tickets for The Genius, starting at $15, may be purchased at www.PageantTickets.com.  For further information, call (949) 497-6852 or (800) 487-3378.

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