The other night, I combined my first Pageant of the Masters experience with my first visit to the Festival of Arts.
The 2012 Pageant blew me away, working its magic on me and most of the spectators who attended the VIP showing on July 6. But I'm sorry to report that its older twin, the Festival — long touted as the crown jewel of Laguna Beach's summertime art shows — impressed me less.
While folks in Laguna might bristle at the suggestion I am about to make, I think that some people would agree that the FOA can be improved. It's ripe for a change.
Because the Festival is marking its 80th anniversary this summer, now is the time to think about changing the rules of eligibility for artists exhibiting there, by making the juried open-air show a more competitive one and opening it up to artists who live beyond the Festival's zone of eligibility, which limits entries for the show to artists living in certain parts of Orange County.
I will return to this point later. First, let me praise "The Genius."
This year's edition of the Pageant lived up to its name. I have never seen anything like it.
The highly imaginative and large-scale slide show of "living pictures" or "tableaux vivants," which pays homage to masterpieces of painting and sculpture, intrigued me from the beginning and kept me riveted in my seat in the Irvine Bowl.
Hats off to the Pageant's director, Diane Challis Davy, scriptwriter Dan Duling, narrator Richard Doyle and conductor John Elg, and along with the rest of the orchestra and support crew, for pulling off yet another fine production.
An equally loud round of applause should go to the hundreds of volunteer cast members from Laguna Beach and beyond who worked so hard to breathe life into these recreations of the great tableaux and sculptures. These brave men, women and children, in very chameleon-like ways, inserted themselves into the various recreated works, and appeared not even to breathe.
Here and there, I did spy a few of them blinking, but, for the most part, I found it hard to grasp that these were real people inhabiting the fast-moving and inter-changing display of frames and sculptures.
Among my favorite pieces were the opening frame, "Gallery of the Louvre" by Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872), the various pieces paying tribute to the Dutch masters, and the recreations of the Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and Georges Seurat (1859-1891) pieces. How did the girl in yellow balancing herself on the horse in Seurat's "Le Cirque" manage to stay so still and upright without budging?
This make-believe show was magical. Act One climaxed with large, illuminated balloons floating off above the Festival of Arts grounds at the end of the sequence of astronomically themed scenes.
This prompted my friend Stewart — who had come from Temecula to watch the Pageant with me — to turn to me and whisper giddily, "It's just like Vegas!"
The Pageant lifted our spirits, all right. That said, this year's Festival, which I visited earlier in the day, left me deflated. I'm not suggesting that the show was totally devoid of fine examples of visual art but, as whole, it did not live up to my expectations as a first-time visitor.
I saw too few examples of paintings that provoke the viewer and get him or her to think, and too many paintings of pretty outdoor scenes and still-lifes.
Given that the Pageant and the Festival are joined at the hip and widely touted as the gold standard of Laguna's summer shows, I think that the twins should be equals in artistic excellence. After all, the tagline for the FOA boasts that it is "California's premier fine art show."
But how can the Festival honestly claim this when its artistic exhibitors are restricted to living in 34 O.C. ZIP codes?
Which is not the case with the Pageant, whose volunteers, according to the guidelines printed on its website, have no residential restrictions, as far as I can tell. And next door at Art-A-Fair, by my understanding that juried art show has no geographic restriction.
So here's what I — as an outsider who doesn't live in Laguna — suggest: that the Festival's Board of Directors commemorate its 80th anniversary by having a serious conversation among themselves and with the community at-large about whether the time has come to abolish the ZIP code stipulation from the rules governing eligibility.
While it's important to protect and promote Laguna's local artists, the Sawdust Art Festival could still accomplish that by remaining the one major art show in town that keeps its summer show restricted to artists who reside in Laguna.
Such a bold move, ladies and gentlemen of the board, would be courageous, if not ingenious.
IMRAN VITTACHI is the features editor of the Coastline Pilot and its sister papers, the Daily Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. You can reach him at (714) 966-4633 or at email@example.com.