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A “Time Machine” of Living Art

The H.G. Wells novel inspired this year’s theme for the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach

Saturday, July 6, 2019
Empire Clocks

One of the art world’s most unusual events is taking cues from steampunk and science fiction, as the Pageant of the Masters has adopted “The Time Machine” as its theme for 2019. The pageant features “living pictures” in which cast members re-create famous works of art. It runs nightly from July 7 through August 31 as part of the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach, California.

The Time Machine theme was inspired by the H.G. Wells novel, and “we intend to conjure up a collection of artists who imagined and re-created scenes from the past and future,” says pageant director Diane Challis. Featured works include the poster art from George Pal’s 1960 film adaptation of the book, along with posters for The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957).

The re-creations are highly realistic thanks to clever use of makeup, costumes, backdrops, and other stagecraft. They are accompanied by a narrator and full orchestra.

Challis says she typically chooses each theme about 14 months in advance of the opening. “I try to sense what is happening in pop culture — to try to tap into what is meaningful and interesting,” she says. “A Pageant theme is intentionally somewhat ambiguous in order to pave the way for many diverse artworks.”

Cast members are volunteers who audition to be in the show. About 500 are selected as cast or to work behind the scenes. The event has been held every year since 1933, except for four years during World War II.

Program highlights

In addition to the movie posters, the 90-minute program includes artworks portraying Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, and Stephen Hawking. Cast members clad in gold will re-create a collection of 19th century French Empire ormolu clocks (shown above). Douglas Tilden’s 1901 sculpture The Mechanics Monument will represent the Industrial Revolution.

Three works, John Sloan’s Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair; Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses; and Robert Delaunay’s The City of Paris, will pay homage to the 1913 Armory Show, the first major exhibition of modern art in the U.S.

Other notable works include Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, Salvador Dali’s The Nobility of Time, and Norman Rockwell’s The Final Impossibility. The latter painting celebrated the first human landing on the moon. The finale will be a re-creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, which has become a tradition at the event.

The complete program is on the website.

Tickets and location

Advance tickets cost $15 to $240. The event is held in an outdoor amphitheater, and attendees are advised to dress for the area’s cool evening weather. Photography and video recording are not permitted during the production.

The festival grounds are located at 650 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, CA 92651. Laguna Beach is in Orange County, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles and 80 miles north of San Diego.

The gallery below includes photos of cast members preparing for the production, along with some of the living pictures and the works on which they are based.

See the pageant website for more info.

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