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Living Art: Everything You Need to Know About The Pageant of the Masters

Living Art: Everything You Need to Know About The Pageant of the Masters
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Elaborate sets transform the outdoor stage into a framed painting; intricate costumes adorn living people, who pose completely still and unblinking to recreate masterpieces; and complex lighting designs bring it all together, illuminating the artwork and bringing it to life. The Pageant of the Masters—arguably the most popular event of Laguna Beach’s Festival of Arts—is an incredibly unique fest that is absolutely worth seeing with your own eyes.  

The annual Festival of Arts began 85 years years ago and carries on to this day. This year, the festivities begin on July 5, with the Pageant of the Masters joining the fun on July 7 and running through August 31—providing plenty of opportunities to see the spectacle. While the Pageant of the Masters is known as the “crowning jewel”, there are many reasons to check out the other festival events, especially since your Pageant of the Masters ticket also includes unlimited access to the fine-art shows. 

See world-famous artworks, such as Johannes Vermeer's The Music Lesson, recreated on stage at Pageant of the Masters, taking place from July 7 through August 31. Photo courtesy of Festival of Arts Laguna Beach.

These shows display the work of 140 incredible Orange County artists, covering mediums as diverse as photography, ceramics, paintings, jewelry, sculpture, woodwork, and glass—with many other innovative forms joining the scene each year. As one of the oldest juried fine-art shows in the country, the festival has adapted over the years to create something for everyone. Should you fall in love with a piece of jewelry or find a painting that would look perfect on the mantle, just look for the artist, and it can be yours. 

After a day spent looking at the awe-inspiring artwork, head to the Festival Green to check out the special performances before the Pageant of the Masters. You can catch the curated lineup of live musical shows at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and at 1 p.m. on Saturdays. (Alternatively, you can stretch it out during Art & Yoga, held at 1 p.m. on Fridays throughout the festival.)

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The theme of the 2019 Pageant of the Masters is Time Machine, transporting audiences around the world and into the past, present, and future with its tableaux vivants. Photo courtesy of Festival of Arts Laguna Beach.

While these leisurely activities are a great way to spend the day, the main event starts as soon as the sun goes down, so once 8:30 p.m. strikes, the art comes to life with tableaux vivants under the stars. This year’s Pageant of the Masters is called Time Machine, transporting audiences to faraway places, back into the past, and forward into what the future—all without leaving the comforts of Laguna Beach. So, get ready for an hour and a half of stunning imagery featuring living people recreating some of your favorite contemporary and classical works of art. 

For each painting, the Pageant of the Masters casts two sets of volunteer performers, who rotate on a weekly basis. After being cast, every performer undergoes extensive makeup sessions; is dressed in an elaborate costume that mirrors the appearance of the original painting; and is placed methodically on stage to create a nearly identical replica of the original artwork. These unbelievable performers are complemented by live narration and an original score, which both help to bring the painting to life and create a dream-like sequence under the California night sky.   

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To recreate the masterpieces, volunteer performers undergo elaborate makeup sessions and wear costumes that appear similar to those of the original painting. Photo courtesy of Christopher Allwine.

Start planning your road trip to the Festival of Arts and the Pageant of the Masters before the season is over so you don’t miss out on the magic. Consider making it a stop along your Pacific Coast Highway adventure, a detour during your weekend in L.A., or a day trip after heading to Anaheim—you definitely won’t regret it.