Volunteers Line Up for Coveted Pageant Parts

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Nieve Cohen, 9, of Aliso Viejo, gets measured during the Pageant of the Masters casting call on Sunday. Photo by Charlie Craig

Chilly temperatures and even a little rain did not dampen spirits at the casting call last weekend for the Pageant of the Masters’ 2019 show, “The Time Machine.” As many as 1,200 would-be volunteers streamed into the Festival of Arts grounds and snaked backstage at the Irvine Bowl to fill out applications and be measured and photographed.

Nieve Cohen came with her parents, Russ and Jeanene Cohen, from their home in Aliso Viejo. As they pulled up near the theater, Nieve’s dad suggested his wife try out with their daughter. “You’re going to be with her anyway,” he said. She agreed, and mother and daughter proceeded to the lines of staff waiting to record their contact information and take 34 different body measurements, which were recorded by hand, on a large white card to which their photograph and a cast number was attached.

Nine-year-old Nieve, who is currently in a play at her school, Canyon Vista Elementary, was perfectly aware that this gig did not involve acting, only the ability to stay perfectly still for 90 seconds.

Approximately 500 volunteers ranging in age from 5 to 80 years old, will be selected to participate as cast, or for behind-the-scenes positions like applying make-up and fitting costumes. They may find out if they made the cut as early as next month when rehearsals begin, or as late as May, director/producer Diane Challis Davy said.

Jeanene Cohen is measured during the Pageant of the Masters casting call on Sunday. Photo by Charlie Craig

Laguna local, Alice Harmon knows the drill all too well. She has applied 19 times to be a cast member. “I was chosen once, in 2006,” she said. “They must have been desperate that year,” she joked.

Davy said she was inspired by H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel when choosing this year’s theme.

“The Time Machine” she said, promises a trip around the globe and into the past, present and future. The poster from the movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” will be re-created. This pageant will bring great art and amazing stories to the 140,000 patrons who come out each summer for the Pageant, she added.

To date, two sets have been built on site, as all eventually are. Technical director Richard Hill and casting director Nancy Martin now begin sifting through those white cards looking for the two physically compatible volunteers who will be cast for each position and share one costume for the duration of the performances. Each tableau has up to eight or nine people in it who work seven days, then have seven off.

Davy noted that “The Time Machine” takes cues from science fiction and steam-punk fantasies. Two paintings by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, “The Vintage Festival” and “The Roman Art Lover” will be re-created. Alma-Tadema was known for his depictions of Roman splendor and was renowned for the historical accuracy of his paintings, some of which have been used by Hollywood designers as a reference for set builders of movies such as “The 10 Commandments” and “Cleopatra.”

“Napoleon and his General Staff,” a painting by Jean Leon Gerome, will also be re-created in this year’s show, Davy said. Other notable pieces are Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” and Paul Manship’s sculpture “Time and the Fates of Man Sundial,” depicting the three mythological Fates who determined one’s course of travel in life.

Rehearsals will begin in February and continue, in stages, throughout the year as the sets are built. In addition to Martin, and Hill who also designs the lighting for each tableau, 22 other artists and technicians, 18 of whom are paid, are responsible for staging the show. They include two sculptors, a headpiece maker, several carpenters and scene painters, lighting and sound specialists, a welder and costume and make-up directors. All rehearsals take place with the cast in full makeup and volunteers who will assist with make-up are trained during the rehearsal period. Each performance is also “directed” by four staff members who carry the title of “posers,” assisting the cast in the pose they must maintain.

Nieve Cohen, center, holds her all -important white card. Photo by Charlie Craig.

Luckily, those who think this all sounds like “too much fun” to be missed can still try out by calling 949-494-3663 to make arrangements.

The 2019 Pageant of the Masters, “The Time Machine,” runs July 7—Aug. 31. Advance tickets start at $15 per person and are on sale now. A Pageant ticket is also a season pass to the 2019 Festival of Arts Fine Art Show, which starts on July 5 and ends Aug. 31.

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