Dan Duling has been the script writer for the Pageant of the Masters since 1981, but even the author, actor-playwright, and critic, who has a doctorate, is daunted when trying to explain the magic of the show to someone who has never seen it.
Fortunately, he didn't have to at the Oct. 11 Friends of the Library dinner at which Duling was the guest speaker.
"Thank God," he said when no one raised their hand after he asked if there was anyone at the dinner who had not seen the show. "I have learned you cannot explain it.
"Back up to 1981 — I got a call from [then-pageant director] Glenn Eytchison who was looking for a new script writer. He is describing the pageant and I am laughing because he sounded so ridiculous."
Eytchison convinced Duling to attend a rehearsal.
"I walked into the [Irvine] Bowl and I just knew it was a magical place, and I don't use that word often," Duling said.
Duling worked with Eytchison for the next 15 years — since then for Diane "DeeDee" Challis Davy.
"I've done it for half my life and I can't imagine not doing it," Duling said.
Duling researches and writes the narration for the pageant, among other duties.
Three narrators have voiced Duling's words, tailored to their individual talents.
"Thurl Ravenscroft has a basso voice [his was the voice of Tony the Tiger in commercials] who will never be forgotten," Duling said.
Ravenscroft was the narrator from 1974 to 1993.
"In 1994, Skip Connover replaced Thurl," Duling said. "He was a musician. In 2011, Richard Doyle came from South Coast Rep and that was a new challenge for me.
"But Dee is the real genius behind the show. She has brought back the notion of themes to the show. It creates context for the narration that hopefully unites with the music and the visual."
This is Duling's favorite time of the year.
"We are shaping what will be on the stage next year," he said. "The theme is 'The Big Picture.'"
It will be the 80th anniversary pageant.
The show has evolved from a rag-tag presentation in broad daylight in 1933, the second year of the Festival of Arts, which was held on city streets.
J. Howard Sheridan, assisted by Marie Ropp put on what was called the "Spirit of the Masters Pageant."
By 1935, Marie and Roy Ropp had taken charge.