Pagent of the Masters

Last night my daughter and I attended the Laguna Festival of the Arts Pagent of the Masters (  This is the show where masterpieces are reproduced to human scale and people are ‘painted’ right into the pictures.  The other time I attended was with my parents about 35 years ago now (the Festival has been around for 75 years).  I remember sawdust on the floor of the Sawdust Festival, where A-frame stands held works of art and there were too many people mulling around.  I also remember sitting in the middle section to the left near one of the rotating stages and having a close-up view of a statue where the humans on it were painted a metallic silver.  I was awestruck at how still they were.  This is where I learned about the skin being the body’s largest organ, and if it is completely covered in paint then a person could die.  Fascinating stuff.

Now the Festival has hundreds of pieces of art on display and for sale, with artists in attendance trying not to look at the expressions on the faces of the people examining their ‘babies’.  There is also ongoing entertainment from a central stage, multiple food booths selling the usual fast food, and hawkers peddling rentals on binoculars and seat cushions.  The entertainment was a band playing soft rock, interspersed with people reciting bits of Shakespeare.  I’m not sure why they were, for the theme of the festival was Only Make Believe and focused on myths, legends and fairytales.  The first bit of the Bard we heard while strolling the zig-zag around the walls of art was from Much Ado About Nothing (we recognized it from the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson film version that I must have watched twenty times), and definitely not a piece from Oberon or any other fairy from A Midsommer Night’s Dream which would have made more sense.  Anyway, it didn’t go over very well unfortunately but the audience were sitting at tables eating or waiting until the Pagent began, so it didn’t really matter if they had Shakespeare soliloquies thrust upon them.

The Pagent takes place in an outdoor ampitheatre with the usual drop-seat plastic chairs and a decent view from anywhere.  I didn’t even think to bring binoculars; it wasn’t mentioned in anything I read in the website, probably because they rent them there.  They would have helped.  Our tickets were given me by a friend, and were up in the third section.  I could see well enough but without detail.  Either I could tell there was a person in the painting, or I couldn’t and just appreciated the care with which they reproduced the artwork, and without binoculars to examine the makeup and staging it wasn’t as thrilling as I had remembered from my pre-teen self.  Just before intermission they had dragons flanking the audience and breathing soap bubbles while an enormous inflated one appeared clawed foot by clawed foot over the roof of the stage.  This bit of theatrics was very fun and possibly the highlight of the show, but had nothing to do with paintings or painted  people.  The orchestra in the pit below the stage had the most arduous task and performed beautifully.

I believe that the most impressive thing for me was that the entire show is made up of volunteers.  Having run a volunteer group before, I know how even the best-intentioned group can go astray because volunteers are just that… unpaid help.  The level of professionalism and talent with the staging, make-up, costumes, orchestra, planning and execution is phenomenal.

So I wasn’t as excited as I had hoped, but perhaps binoculars would have made some difference.  But what have I to complain of?  A beautiful evening outdoors in Southern California listening to good music, looking at art, talking with artists, and seeing a unique show that is quite brilliant and fun, isn’t something to sneeze at.  I’m glad that my daughter had a chance to see it; having artistic talent herself made her particularly interested in many of the displays, and she identified all the birds represented in various artwork as well.

If you haven’t seen the Festival and you like art, you really should experience it.  Avoid the toll road though, and prepare to pay for parking and take a windowless shuttle (it blows your breath away).  The program is available for download from their site (above), and don’t even think of bringing a camera because they have you check it in at the door. It really is a good time.

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