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Pageant Spotlights ‘The Genius’ of Art and Science

(Left-right) Jeff Scudder, Robert Toscas, and Scott Bade perform in a painting by Norman Rockwell.

The Festival of Arts turns 80 this summer and shows no signs of aging. It seems to have its own fountain of youth, flowing most likely from its wine bars or the new bar about to serve up beer and pretzels during its upcoming event TGIF@Foa, as in T.G.I.F at the Festival of Arts.

Visitors might be doubly invigorated since Brendan Willing James and Justine Bennett will serenade them with American folk music similar to that performed during “Lonesome Traveler” at the Laguna Playhouse last winter.

Technology is also doing its part to refresh the festival. Should an artist be absent from his or her booth, visitors can still find out what’s behind works of art that intrigue them by using their cell phone to call up an audio recording of the artist expounding on their latest work.

“This year, the festival features 140 artists, 28 of whom are first-timers and 17 who have shown at the festival for more than 30 years,” said Fred Sattler, president of the festival’s board. “We bring people to Laguna Beach and, after 80 years I’d like there to be a robust appreciation between the city and the Festival of Arts.”

"Waterloo Chess Set," performed by Isabel Meekma, Aiden LaMarche, Katie Negrete, Juliana Luengas, Joe Garcia, Rachel Richardson, Arick Gale, Molly Baker, Tripton Babcock, and Incia Haider.

Watercolor painter Jacquie Moffett anticipates her 45th year as eagerly as photographer Cheyne Walls does his first year as an exhibitor. (Moffett’s not-to-be missed small painting of a white Matilija poppy is almost undistinguishable from a photograph. Walls’ unaltered photograph of a bright red rock brings to mind yet to be discovered planets.)

Regan Foy, headpiece volunteer.

Watercolorist Kirsten Whalen painted this year’s Festival poster. She specializes in whimsical scenes, including furry critters piloting bi-planes. “My father was a pilot,” she explained.  A five-year exhibitor, she said that painting in watercolor is calming and not as daunting is it seems. “Sometimes I just take a garden hose to a piece and start over,” she said. Such calm resolve comes in handy since husband Bob is a candidate for Laguna’s City Council.

During a Pageant of the Masters preview earlier this week, an epic battle symbolically unfolded on a giant chessboard. “Waterloo Chess Set,” by Charles Stadden, alludes to Napoleon’s infamous defeat by the Duke of Wellington in 1815, with pieces embodied by volunteers in sizes cast to proper scale. Here, the horses carry the smallest rider-buglers, 7-year-old Aiden LaMarche of Laguna Niguel and his pageant buddy Tripton Babcock, also 7, a Laguna Beach second grader.  Aiden follows family tradition. His mother Kristin LaMarche, grandmothers Barbara Price and Jeanine McCleery, and aunt Jennifer Price all served as Pageant volunteers.

Anna Heitman (left), model, and Yvette Nevares, makeup volunteer.

Entitled “The Genius,” the production is the 17th for director Diane Challis Davy and the 31st for script writer Dan Duling. The show departs from previous ones by  honoring artists like Michelangelo, Johannes Vermeer and Leonardo DaVinci, but also lesser knowns (as painters, at least) such as Samuel F. B. Morse. His “Gallery of the Louvre” evidences the inventiveness that famously resulted in the Morse Code.

What really sets the show apart is that Davy and Duling delved into the history of art and science to spotlight depictions of Copernicus, Galileo and Ptolemy as well as the Griffith Observatory Murals by Hugo Balin. Composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Strauss also get their due via replications of monuments such as the Chopin Monument in Warsaw. This year also marks a return to tradition with the Pageant closing again to Da Vinci’s Last Supper rather than last year’s Salvador Dali version, which received tepid reviews.

"Galileo at the Court of Isabella," performed by MacKynzie Miller, Samantha Thomas, Micaela Richardson, Camille Arredondo, Ian Ring, and Richard Hawthorne.

As in previous years, 800 volunteers and 20 staffers are fine-tuning every production step, painting background scenery, testing make-up, putting finishing touches on costumes and rehearsing standing statue-still for 90 seconds in often precarious positions. The curtain rises on July 7.

Davy and Duling wrote “The Genius” as a companion piece to the wildly successful 2009 production, “The Muse,” which focused on women’s contributions to the world of art. “I thought it would be interesting to craft a companion show with a masculine sensibility focusing on the power, strength and intelligence inherent in masterful works of art,” said Davy.

David Cooke, scene painter.

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