Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach’s world-famous theatrical celebration of art through the magic of tableaux vivants (“living pictures”), is pleased to announce the 2020 theme “Made in America.” In next summer’s production, audiences will meet the artists – revolutionaries, innovators, dreamers – who not only made this country their home, but let their creativity be inspired by the freedoms upon which this nation was founded.
Diane Challis Davy, going into her 25th season as producer/director of the Pageant of the Masters, is already busy planning next summer’s production. Eighty-seven years after its first humble incarnation at the 1933 Festival of Arts, the Pageant remains a celebration of art featuring live, original music and narration and breathtaking theatrical illusions performed in the Irvine Bowl.
“In 1976, Don Williamson introduced the idea of themed Pageants with a tribute to this nation’s bicentennial,” Challis Davy said. “Twenty years later in 1996, my first production as director devoted a large portion of it to American artists. Now, thanks to advances in digital imagery and video projection, I thought we should revisit the theme and bring to it not only many new artworks but also a whole new arsenal of dramatic and immersive theatrical effects.”
Pageant Scriptwriter Dan Duling picked up on Challis Davy’s excitement. “Some artists witnessed history and reflected it directly in their art,” he said. “Others actually made history themselves. We believe in telling their stories we’re also going to be able to reflect and offer glimpses of how America came to be and the unique challenges faced by artists who called this nation home.”
Asked to reveal some of the artists whose stories and works will be included in the 2020 Pageant, Challis Davy shared several, many of them acknowledged masters of American art: N.C. Wyeth, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Norman Rockwell, Daniel Chester French, Luis Jimenez and John Nieto. She continued, “We’re going to ‘flesh out’ and ‘paint’ more detailed portraits of the individual artists. I want to make these artists, regardless of their time periods, REAL and identifiable for the audience.”
Challis Davy continued, “John Trumbull was more than just an artist of the American Revolution. He was an eye-witness to many of the most frightening and historic events of his era. He was an assistant to General George Washington, worked in London with Ben Franklin as a diplomat, and he painted a portrait of Thomas Jefferson. He accomplished so much in his lifetime. Four of his colossal works hang in the capitol’s rotunda.”
Challis-Davy’s enthusiasm for her theme also reflects her awareness that this nation is experiencing a period of uncertainty. Solemnly, she said, “I can’t ignore that this is a trying time for the United States. I think it’s all the more important to know and remember our collective history, especially our art history, to understand our common humanity. Through the love of art and history, I hope we will leave our audiences with a renewed appreciation for the resilience of the American spirit.”
Storytelling has always been integral to the Pageant’s theatrical vision. Returning narrator, and founding member of South Coast Repertory, Richard Doyle, whose skillful, live performances every night from his booth at the back of the Irvine Bowl, will help personalize the lives of its gallery of artists for whom America has proved to be so much more than just a backdrop.
Challis Davy added, “In a pre-photography age, American artists provided us with an illustrated history. In our production, we hope to use actors portraying many of the artists to enhance our understanding of their points of view, their perspectives on their lives and times, and their struggles.”
Much like this nation, where courageous individuals banded together to change the course of history, the Pageant is also group effort that has defied the odds. As always, Challis Davy and her team of artists and technicians realize the Pageant wouldn’t be possible without its dedicated volunteers who return year after year to take part. Challis Davy offered a final, thoughtful observation: “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure ‘Made in America’ will be full of thrills, amazing and inspirational stories, beautiful music and extraordinary living pictures under the stars.”