MEET THE P.I.s “PAGEANT INVESTIGATORS”
“Pageant Investigators” of the Research Committee
by Dan Duling, Ph.D.
In this, the summer of The Art Detective, it seemed like a perfect time to do a little reconnaissance and report back about the Pageant’s own team of art sleuths, our volunteer research committee. They’re an elite and dedicated group, a heady mix of volunteers, young and old, of seasoned veterans and bright-eyed newcomers united in a common cause: to seek out future artworks for Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy as the next Pageant begins to take shape.
In recent years, the research committee has seen its numbers grow as more P.I.s – Pageant Investigators* have joined in. (*okay, I made that up in honor of The Art Detective.)
This past fall at the annual research “show and tell” meeting, I invited members to share a little about their experiences, why they joined, and why they come back to help out when next year’s theme is announced. But first, a bit of historical perspective.
Pageant make-up volunteer and Festival Life Member Judy Flanders – a local wine salesperson by day – recalls how Glen Eytchison, Pageant director until 1995, enlisted a few trusted volunteers to help search for ideas for new tableaux. Twenty years ago, the only way to view the collections of the world’s museums was to track down their publications in libraries or visit the institutions. Those early efforts were time-intensive and frequently frustrating. But when Diane Challis Davy began her tenure as director in 1996, she recognized that formalizing a research committee could also be a way to maintain volunteer involvement and enthusiasm during the off-season between closing night and casting call in January. Her innovation of reintroducing Pageant themes also provided her volunteer detectives with a major lead in their search for possible artworks. Today, with the vast array of research tools provided by the Internet, it’s possible for anyone to be only a few clicks away from the world’s collective knowledge of art history, sharing bandwidth with home videos of adorable kittens and endless “selfies.”
Since Challis Davy put the fall “show and tell” meeting on the off-season calendar, it’s become the unofficial launch for the following year’s theme. As members present their ideas to the director and scriptwriter as well as the rest of the committee, the excitement generated kicks off the creative journey ahead. As a final treat for the committee, Challis Davy and her staff put together a fall research party to celebrate the coming year’s selections and acknowledge those whose suggestions were included. During her tenure, Challis Davy has seen the research committee’s numbers swell from a handful to nearly 100!
Even with Internet resources, there’s still one aspect of the Pageant’s art-research beat that’s tricky: developing the ability to recognize artworks that lend themselves to presentation as a “living picture.” Key questions include: Are there human figures? How many? How difficult are the poses? What will it look like from the 40th row? And can it be recreated on the Pageant stage? With time, veteran research committee volunteers eventually develop “Pageant-vision,” an eye for artworks that can inspire exciting “living pictures.”
Sometimes, a suggestion ultimately finds a home in a future Pageant. Case in point, Festival Life Member, longtime cast member and Research Committee participant Nina Rietsch presented a gallery of sculptures of model-turned-actress Audrey Munson two years ago. With no room left in 2013’s “The Big Picture,” Nina’s detective work still paid off. Munson’s remarkable legacy is a perfect fit for The Art Detective.
A Gallery of Researchers
Though there isn’t space here to acknowledge each research volunteer, let me introduce you to a few members of our inspirational collective:
For six of the past ten years, Janelle Frese, last year’s Anaheim Union High School District’s Teacher of the Year, and her daughters have participated in the research committee while also being frequently cast in the Pageant (Janelle will be in the green cast presentation of Botticelli’s Primavera this summer). Janelle, noted for her exuberance and inspirational enthusiasm, asserted, “Research is where it all begins, happens, ends, and starts all over again. It’s ALIVE!”
A property accountant in Irvine, Rachel Arndt has been volunteering at the Pageant for the past ten years since her daughter Kaia first was cast. Rachel’s involvement with the research committee for nearly as long adds variety and excitement to her efforts. Rachel is proud to note she’s had three artworks she’s proposed end up in various Pageants.
“The camaraderie and sharing of ideas is part of the fun,” says Laguna Niguel woodworker and frequent Pageant cast member Rick Ruotolo. “It makes us feel a little bit more a part of the big wheel.”
Laguna residents Roger and Ellen Kempler and their daughters Alex and Holly have been active in the Pageant for 14 years, including eight on research. For The Art Detective, Ellen was a winner in this year’s party quiz and Roger is a cast member. He praised the committee’s openness. “All input is welcome. Great ideas come from unexpected sources,” Roger said. “The research presentation is warm, democratic, unpretentious and friendly, which we appreciate.”
If loyalty over time is a core value in the research committee, so too is the contagious enthusiasm of newcomers. Arti Aggarwal of Anaheim, her son Aditya and daughter Radhika discovered their passion for all things Pageant two years ago. Aditya appeared in “The Big Picture” last year; Radhika took part in last fall’s “Pageant of the Monsters,” and Arti embraced the sense of community, education and goodwill at the heart of the Pageant experience for all of them. “Pure magic all around,” she proclaimed.
For backstage volunteer Liz Paskerian of Newport Beach, whose son and husband have been cast during the past three years, 2014 marked her second year on the research committee. She considers her experience “the art history major I missed out on.” She added, “Who can resist a good story?!” Her involvement also encouraged her to join a local museum as a docent. Liz also noted how the director’s themes make the research more fun. “There are so many different directions you can look further into. At the ‘show and tell’ meeting, it is surprising how many different angles the rest of the members come up with.”
Stephen and Michaela “MJ” Jeppson and their daughter Dakota are newcomers to the research committee, drawn by curiosity about the show’s evolution. Their enthusiasm for the family atmosphere and eagerness to help out in whatever capacity show they have what it takes to be dedicated P.I.s.
Laguna Beach resident Rachel Russel is enjoying her second year on the research committee. “I feel blessed to be a part of the Pageant,” said Rachel, who is an executive producer with Fat Box Films. She’ll also be a “Star Maiden” in the cast of The Art Detective.
During her 15 years helping out in makeup for the green cast, insurance education specialist Nadine Levin of Mission Viejo has devoted 10 years to research. She singles out her excitement when the program selections are revealed at the annual research party and, of course, the thrill when an artwork she’s suggested is included in the show.
“Even during the off-season, I continue to search for Pageant-worthy pieces on my trips to museums or wherever I find art,” says Deanne Zinn of Laguna Niguel. She and her four daughters have been making the Pageant a part of their lives since 2006, often in the cast but also performing various supporting duties backstage as well. Since 2008, Deanne has added the research committee to her Pageant activities, and demonstrated a knack for recommending artworks that end up in shows, including two in this summer’s production: Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch and Cellini’s Saltcellar.
Bragging rights when one of her pieces is picked for inclusion in the show is a big part of the fun for makeup supervisor Alison Godleski of Aliso Viejo. Alison has been involved at the Pageant for 14 years, and she and her mother, Mary Giedzinski, enjoy the unique challenges of discovering artworks that complement the different themes.
Technology support trainer Linda Ward of Laguna Niguel is in her seventh year as a P.I., and her involvement each year reinforces her love of the Pageant’s summer family of volunteers and creative artists.
If the research committee has a court jester, it’s attorney John Connolly of Mission Viejo. During a dozen years in research and activities backstage, he’s never passed up an opportunity for a humorous sidebar or droll, pun-infused presentation. Few will forget his proposal for 2009’s The Muse, in which he proposed artworks inspired by “The Moose.” John knows how to entertain. But, his fellow sleuths also appreciate his investigative powers. “It’s a great reason to go to the Norton Simon, Huntington, MOCA, and the Getty,” he admits. Due diligence indeed.
And, if there is one “P.I.” who holds the record for sustained research efforts, it is most certainly Ann Webster. After 28 years as a makeup supervisor, Ann opted to run for the Festival board where she has now served for 13 years. Ann began volunteering her knowledge of world art as a resource for ideas and information in the 1990s. Her frequent travels to Europe provided her with opportunities to visit many of the masterpieces that eventually found their way onto the Pageant stage. A determined lobbyist for artworks she holds dear, Ann has watched the research committee evolve from a tiny coterie of Pageant devotees to its present state, with nearly 100 active and engaged participants of all ages.
Back in 1997, Ann Webster was one of five key research volunteers profiled in an article in the Pageant souvenir program. In that article, Director Diane Challis Davy, who was helming her second Pageant that year, Hidden Treasure, insisted, “I couldn’t do it without them. When it comes to research, they’re my A-Team.” Seventeen years later, Challis Davy is still a believer. “We’re a family,” she said. “I can count on their inspiration and energy. Year after year, they jump-start our journey toward another opening night.”
In addition to other party games and contests over the years, a regular feature of those parties is a pun-filled research quiz that encourages everyone to test their powers of deduction, “think outside the frame,” and examine the selected artworks for details easily overlooked.
[Note: An asterisk (*) following names notes Research Committee Volunteers who suggested artworks included in The Art Detective]
Keith, Judy, Maisie, Bryon & AvonLea Ahern
Arti, Aditya & Radhika Aggarwal
John & Cathi Begg
Harvey & Elaine Fliesher
Linda & Gerald Freeman
Jason & Katie Gladding
Keith & Noemi Grabiel
Kathy, Harry & Dan Helling*
M.J. & Stephen Jeppson*
Roger & Ellen Kempler*
Jeff & Tyler Koski
Karen & Sean McCauley
Mike & Elizabeth Paskerian
Haley & Stephanie Simpson