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SUMMER: Pageant of the Masters


Location: Laguna Beach: at the Irvine Bowl inside the Festival of the Arts grounds, 650 Laguna Canyon Road
When: Summer only! 2013 dates: July 7 to Aug. 31. 8:30 p.m. nightly
Cost: Tickets range from $20 to about $100, and sell out quickly. Tickets can be purchased at the Web site.
For ages: Best for adults, and older children (teens); younger children might get bored.

One of Orange County’s most unique and creative attractions, the Pageant of the Masters — held in the outdoor amphitheater of Irvine Bowl — is an absolute must-see.

Celebrating its 80th birthday in 2013, the live show is a vibrant celebration of art and remarkable performance all rolled in as one, as local actors magically step into life-size paintings and sculptures. Originally called “Tableaux Vivant,” or “living pictures,” the show began in 1933, even including Bette Davis (a Laguna Beach resident in the ‘30s) as a posing participant. (She “froze” in the Sarah Siddons portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds that is housed in the Huntington collection.) … 

Today, with stunning tricks of lighting and makeup, viewers can hardly believe they’re seeing real people on the outdoor stage. Attendees bring binoculars and try to catch the actors blinking or breathing, but most of the time you simply can’t believe you’re looking at a real person. (Actors are volunteer Orange County residents of all ages – a rotating cast of more than 100 who begin practicing each year in February.)

One painting each year is dedicated to showing viewers how it’s done, always called “The Builder.” Guests get to see the actors walk into place, the background roll forward, the props being added. Then the lights go down. The lights come back on. And voila! The audience always gasps. The effect is simply incredible, with lighting and makeup creating a look that is painted and “flat.”

The show is set around a new theme each year. Previous themes have been “Only Make Believe,” “The Muse,” “Seasons,” “Young at Heart,” “Portrait of the Artist,” “Passion,” and “On the Road” (with a tribute to Route 66 art). The 2013 show is called “The Big Picture.” A narrator humorously describes each painting and gives titillating tidbits about the artist or the artwork itself, while a live orchestra offers a beautiful score that drifts up through the canyons in the outdoor amphitheater.

The show always ends with the famous “The Last Supper.”

Where to park: Parking can be challenging, so be sure to leave plenty of time to park and walk. (We usually plan to have dinner in Laguna the night we attend the show, arriving at 5:30 to have plenty of time to park, dine, then walk back to the theater.) There’s metered street parking along the canyon roads if you’re lucky enough to snag a spot, plus paid parking lots throughout Laguna if you’re not (parking runs about $7 to $10 at these). There is a free Laguna trolley that runs to the Pageant grounds, so even if you park far away, you can jump on a trolley to get there.

What to bring: Your pre-purchased tickets, binoculars (binoculars are available for rent also), a sweater or wrap for chilly evenings (blankets are available for rent also), money for wine or snacks during intermission. Cameras are not allowed.

For tickets and more information: 949-494-1145 or the Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters website.

Have you been to the “Pageant of the Masters”? Have any fun tips to share?

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