Come On, Get Happy! 7

Celebrating Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts 2015


The Pageant of the Masters is a local tradition that has a long history of making people happy, and with this year’s theme, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” expect to be even happier.

“I remember seeing Pageant of the Masters as a child,” says Diane Challis Davy, director of Pageant of the Masters for the last 20 years. “I loved it back then.”

However, Davy notes that the practice of living pictures, or costumed actors and models posed to recreate sculptures and works of arts, goes back even further than her memories of the show in the 1960s.

“Living pictures have a long history dating back to Medieval Christmas seasonal parades and pageantry,” she says, “It started becoming a parlor amusement in 18th century France and then eventually got to the United States by the 19th century.”

Living pictures made it to Laguna Beach by the 1920s.

“The first time we had living pictures with the Festival of the Arts was 1933,” Davy says.

Living pictures have appeared in the form of Pageant of the Masters every year since, with the exception of the years between 1942 and 1945, due to World War II. While the first shows ran for only a week, the modern season lasts eight weeks, running nightly this year from July 8 through August 31.

As director, one of Davy’s responsibilities is determining the show’s theme, and, for 2015, she draws on the simple joy the pageant brought her as a child.

“In the last year and a half I have become more concerned with the fact that so many peoples’ lives are being swallowed up by technology, by phones, by devices and distractions and just constant noise in their lives. And, I thought, here is the Pageant, which is a show about people being very still. “

This year’s “The Pursuit of Happiness” theme explores the many things that bring us joy and make life worth living. (Hint: it’s not your iPhone.)

“It’s a contemplative show,” Davy says, “We want to encourage people to stop and take time to look at art, because we think it’s life-enriching and life-enhancing.”

This year, audiences can look forward to a first act that is almost exclusively American art.

“We end act one very patriotically, talking about the origin of the phrase “pursuit of happiness,” and we have Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and George Washington and some fun extras and special effects,” she says.

In the second act, the show investigates happiness on a larger scale.

“Act two is very international, with a more global search for happiness, examining ways that all humanity is the same as far as their need for joy and happiness.”

There will also be a new “builder” this year, or demonstration of how living pictures are assembled.

“We have found an interesting way to incorporate video, so people get a sense of what happens behind the scenes,” Davy says.

The use of video is an example of how the Pageant has evolved greatly since its humble beginnings. It’s also an example of how technology has a place in the pageant, just not as a ringing cell phone.

“Early pageants had no lighting, very simple backgrounds and not too much by way of technical artifice,” Davy says, “But, as the years went by, directors added more refined improvements–added things like lighting and three dimensional sets on rolling wagons–and, in the last decade, we have added digital projection to our show. Although it is an old-fashioned pastime, the living pictures are so popular, we keep making improvements.”

As Pageant of the Masters has grown, so have the events surrounding it.

“The Festival of Arts, founded one year earlier than the Pageant in 1932, is open for the eight weeks as well, with 140 artists exhibiting,” says Davy.

Known as one of the nation’s most highly acclaimed juried fine art shows, the Festival features the work of photographers, woodworkers, painters, jewelers, printmakers, and more, from all over Orange County, and it is a draw, not only for festivalgoers, but also for local artists.

“Painting is kind of a lonely job, “ says Festival artist Scott Moore. “You come up with the idea and you stretch your canvas and everything is done in your studio, with not much interaction with the outside public.” But when summer comes, Moore says, he looks forward to the interaction with both other artists and the public. He also serves as president of the Festival of the Arts Foundation, and will participate in the juried show for the 37th time this summer. A renowned watercolorist and painter, Scott was encouraged to add surrealism to his repertoire after his experience with the festival, and he has found much success.

“One of my very first summers, I took note of the art pieces that got people’s attention,” Moore says. “From that, I kind of got an idea of where my talent lies. I think that feedback through the years has made me change in a really good way.”

Weekly events run with the Festival season. Daily art workshops for children, teens and adults are available for a moderate materials fee. Art Talks is a lecture series featuring a Festival artist each Thursday leading a discussion on different topics. Also, each Thursday, Kendall-Jackson sponsors Art, Jazz, Wine & Chocolate with chocolate and wine pairings and live jazz accompanying your art viewing experience. Concerts on the Green are Saturday afternoon concerts with the likes of Stray Cat’s Lee Rocker scheduled to perform this year.

“And, on the final Saturday of our run, we have a Celebrity Concert Benefit,” Davy says.

Tickets to the private red carpet event and concert featuring Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester on August 29 start at $40 and include admission to that evening’s Pageant performance.

However you choose to experience Pageant of the Masters, Davy hopes you find a way to let art bring you happiness this summer.

“We want people to stop and smell the roses,” she says, “That is where we start in our search for happiness–making a decision to turn off our phones and look at art for 90 minutes.”