For 39 years, Richard Cassiere has volunteered with the Pageant of the Masters as a cast member in “The Last Supper,” performing the role of St. Thomas. The Whittier native is the longest-running volunteer with the Pageant and has seen the performance change dramatically since his first appearance on stage at the Irvine Bowl in 1974. The Indy sat down with Cassiere to discover his favorite things about volunteering, what the role means and what keeps him going as St. Thomas.
Q: What initially sparked your interest to audition for the Pageant of the Masters?
A: As a kid, I heard of an amazing performance where live human models dressed in costumes and makeup recreated famous art pictures by standing still and holding their breaths for three minutes. Boy, was I impressed and full of wonder that grown-up people could hold their breath for three whole long minutes without passing out. Growing up in Whittier, I had no idea where Laguna Beach was or who lived there – it must be a magical place filled with unique individuals with incredible lung capacities. How could they do it? Such is the wonder of a child. After my family had moved to Mission Viejo in 1970, I had some free time and auditioned for the Pageant. My measurements were taken, and luckily, there was a spot for me. I was in. At my first rehearsal, even at the age of 24 (I was pathetically trusting and naïve), I wondered if I was up to the challenge of holding my breath for those three long minutes. Much to my amusement, I discovered no such requirement was necessary. At the same moment, I fondly remembered my older neighbor, a born storyteller, who planted in my mind the wonder of a magical place called Laguna Beach and The Pageant of the Masters.
Q: How many years have you been with the production, and what makes you return each summer?
A: I began in 1974 as a cast member. The first time I modeled St. James the Lesser in The Last Supper and substituted as a bare-chested Native American in a Remington painting. For the next 10 years, I backpacked and taught English as a second language in South America, followed by five years as an international tour guide conducting tours in South America and Pacific Rim countries. Finally, after getting tired of perpetual travel, I returned to the Pageant in 1984 and have been involved ever since as St. Thomas in the Last Supper.
Each summer, I look forward to returning to my “special neighborhood” filled with a special group of people I have known for so many years. I enjoy the camaraderie of the volunteers, dining out with The Last Supper’s Last Supper at local restaurants and watching young volunteers still in grade school grow through the years, graduate from college, get married and have their own children. Something I do not think happens in many neighborhoods nowadays.
Also, why travel during the summer when you must contend with hordes of families and other tourists when travel destinations are uncrowded and delightful in spring and autumn?
Q: How have you seen the Pageant change over the years?
A: Over the years, performances have changed from being static to more dynamic. In the past, the audience’s attention was focused strictly on the sequence of tableaux shown on the main stage with accompanying music and narration. Over the last 27 years, performances have come alive, being filled with movement, song and dance, parades and hillside statues presented on the two sides of the amphitheater, along with the main stage presentations with its orchestral music and narration. Going from static to dynamic has been the biggest change over the years.
Q: Do you have a favorite or memorable theme that stands out?
A: “Partners,” presented in 2016, was my favorite performance in recent years. I enjoyed the idea of how partners have collaborated throughout history to bring us scientific progress or enjoyable entertainment – be it historic figures like French 18th-century scientist Antoine Lavoisier and his wife or more recent 20th-century entertainers like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Partners was an enjoyable concept for a night of entertainment under the stars.
Q: What’s the best thing about volunteering with the Pageant?
A: The best thing about volunteering anywhere is the wonderful people you associate with. Volunteers are special people. Why bother to spend your free time with anyone else when, in life, you have to be content with so many “turkeys?”