Sarah Schmidt, a 10-year volunteer cast member in the Pageant of the Masters, does not believe in half-measures. To turn herself into a convincing facsimile of Jean Harlow for a larger than life publicity photograph, the 31-year-old, just days before posing for the picture, chopped and colored her long auburn tresses to embody the wavy, platinum bob that defined the legendary Hollywood temptress.
“I feel kind of giddy. It’s all for art and I like being a blond,” said the Santa Margarita resident, who will also embody a bronze sculpture in the long-running “tableaux vivant,” Laguna Beach’s summer-long production where living subjects pose in stage-filling canvases.
The faux Harlow image, along with others depicting Laguna artist Mike Tauber and Pageant scene painter David Rymar as the jolly comics Laurel and Hardy, as well as scene painter Shane Daley impersonating cowboy film star Tom Mix, will greet visitors to the Festival of Arts and set the mood for a show that intertwines history, art and film in “The Big Picture.”
“It’s a lighthearted look at Pageant and Hollywood history,” Pageant director Diane Challis Davy said in a preview this past Tuesday.
That history also includes stars that were former residents, such as Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Bette Davis, who almost performed in the Pageant but dropped out due to an injury. Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Rock Hudson escaped the hustle of Hollywood as visitors. In 1973, avid art collector/actor Vincent Price volunteered as a Pageant cast member featured in the Toby Rosenthal painting “The Cardinal’s Portrait.”
To locals, the opening of the art festivals and the Pageant in coming weeks signals the onset of tourist season.
And, it’s not just the festival artists that welcome art-loving visitors. The entire town benefits from festival season, according to last year’s report by Americans for the Arts. It pegged arts as generating $49 million in total economic activity locally, with non-profit and culture organizations spending $28 million and their audiences ringing up tabs of $21 million. That translated into 1,351 fulltime jobs and $32 million in household income to locals, the report says.
More than 230,000 visitors entered the turnstile of the Festival of Arts and the Pageant last summer. The organizations took in $9.5 million (unaudited), based on last year’s annual report, which in turn is partly returned to the community in scholarships and grants.
The Pageant, celebrating its 80th anniversary, owes its success to its committed volunteers, said Fred Sattler, president of the Festival of Arts, which produces the Pageant.
Emlyn Griffiths, 10, of Laguna Beach, is already a Pageant veteran. This year, she is paired with lanky Christopher Martin in Vermeer’s “Allegory of Painting.” “It’s hard to keep her absolutely still, not to make her laugh,” said Martin.
Joseph Ramondetta of Irvine is performing for the first time, playing the role of Buster Keaton in a vignette from “The General.” Somewhat ill at ease while make-up volunteer Ashley Dillabough of Laguna Niguel applies black and white paint to his face and hands, he recreates Keaton’s precarious position before an oncoming train with a veteran’s aplomb. “It’s a challenge making up men, especially eyeliner. Men are not used to that,” explained Dillabough.
During a preview, visitors also got a taste of what’s to come at the Festival, which marked its 80th year in 2012. Susan Davis, director of events, has scheduled other events such as Art Talks, Jazz and Chocolate, and Jazz on the Green among them.
The Pageant meanwhile will connect the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street on a Rainy Day” and pointillist master Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” The show will end with Leonardo DaVinci’s “Last Supper,” explained Dan Duling, the Pageant’s script writer. “The Pageant keeps us in touch with tradition. We take that as seriously as creating a script worthy of a contemporary audience,” he said. “It’s a chance to turn off the cell phones and contemplate beautiful art for 90 minutes,” he said.
Pageant of the Masters “The Big Picture,” July 7-August 31, nightly 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $15-$220. Tickets also admit to Festival of Arts show all season. 949-497-6582
Location: Irvine Bowl, 650 Laguna Canyon Rd. www.pageantofthemasters.org