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Pageant of the Masters hosts media preview

In a show built around the merging of mystery and art, Shun Goss had a puzzle of his own to solve: how to remain still for 90 seconds while portraying a character in the midst of taking a step.

The Mission Viejo seventh-grader seemed to have a solution in mind.

"Don't faint," Shun said as a makeup artist dabbed his face backstage Monday at the Pageant of the Masters. "Eat before you get onstage."

Apparently, Shun did both Monday night as the pageant held its annual media preview, with a selection of scenes from the coming summer show presented to visitors. In the first tableau, Shun posed as the man on the far left in Rembrandt's "The Night Watch," and his character, caught by the painter in mid-stride, remained suitably frozen.

In July, two of Laguna Beach's most venerable art institutions — the pageant and Festival of Arts — will open for the summer. The latter features works by 140 artists, while the former offers a 90-minute show of tableaux vivants, or living pictures, with real-life models lighted and costumed to portray the subjects in famous paintings and sculptures.

The media preview included glimpses of four of the pieces in this year's show, titled "The Art Detective" and centered on artworks connected to mystery — either through the works' actual subject matter or through their involvement in heists or other real-life intrigue. In addition to the Rembrandt painting, the several dozen in attendance saw reenactments of Johannes Vermeer's "The Concert," Edwin Landseer's "Windsor Castle: Queen Victoria" and Edmonia Lewis' "The Death of Cleopatra."

Three participants in the Festival of Arts also demonstrated their works. Antje Campbell carved clay sculptures and Mark Jacobucci painted landscapes on site, while Nancy Holly, who photographs mustangs and other wild horses, displayed a selection of images.

Around the festival grounds, though, mystery and noir were the dominant visual motifs. Some pageant team members wore long detective-style coats, while a 1938 Plymouth Business Coupe, similar to the kind driven by Humphrey Bogart in the Hollywood classic "The Big Sleep," was parked near the entrance to the Irvine Bowl.

Why detective work for a theme? Pageant director Diane Challis Davy said she was inspired by the recent media coverage of art heists and recoveries, including the George Clooney film "The Monuments Men" and the apparent identification of suspects in the 1990 theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

"It just seems like it's all over pop culture," Davy said.


Elementary, my dear Watson

"The Art Detective" will provide an opportunity for residents to play detective themselves. And they don't even have to be good sleuths to win the top prize.

Starting Friday, the pageant will hold a 30-day sweepstakes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with a new riddle or trivia question about historic art heists every day. Anyone 21 or older who provides an answer, correct or not, on social media will be entered once in the drawing — meaning that those who participate every day will have their names entered 30 times. A winner will be chosen through a random drawing.

The lucky contestant will receive VIP treatment at the pageant's Celebrity Benefit Concert on Aug. 23, plus a bottle of wine, dinner for four at Tivoli Terrace on the festival grounds and more.

Sharbie Higuchi, the pageant's director of marketing and public relations, said the staff is also working out details about another sweepstakes promotion that involves a copy of a Vermeer painting left in different places around the grounds.

For those who want hone their historic knowledge before the trivia sweepstakes, here's some of what the audience learned during Monday's preview:

• Rembrandt's "The Night Watch," which was removed from display in 1939 as the Nazis occupied Europe, was too large to be moved in its giant frame, and hence was rolled up and spirited away for protection to rural hiding places.

• The empty frames that once held "The Concert" and 12 other works still hang on the walls at the Gardner Museum.

• "The Death of Cleopatra," which Lewis unveiled in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, went through a series of bizarre locations — including a Chicago saloon, a race horse's headstone and a contractor's storage yard — before being identified and restored.

Among the other works to be reenacted this summer are the posters for the film noir classics "The Dark Corner" and "Double Indemnity," a bronze sculpture of Sherlock Holmes and a program of "Egyptian Discoveries," including artifacts from Tutankhamun's tomb.


Boys to men

Assembling the pageant every year requires a large group of volunteers, whose duties range from makeup and costumes to painting and sculpting sets. According to Higuchi, about 500 are on board this year to help run the pageant.

Monday night, several members of the team, including those in charge of makeup and wardrobe, opened their work spaces to visitors. Shun, who joined the pageant for the first time this year after watching his sister enter it in the past, sat in a row of other boys while having his scotch-tape mustache and 17th century garb applied.

"The Night Watch" features a militia of men beginning to march out, but the casting of Shun and his peers wasn't because of a lack of adult male models. Rather, the pageant cast him because he was the right size for the painting's perspective, according to costume volunteer Ericka Waidley.

With the models onstage occupying a nearly two-dimensional space, a subject in the background of a painting must stand almost side by side with one in the foreground. Under those limitations, a short model will give the impression of being a larger person situated further back.

As a result, Shun and the other boys took their places Monday alongside a pair of grown men who played the figures in the front of Rembrandt's procession. With the boys made up and given faux facial hair, it was impossible to detect the difference from the Irvine Bowl seats.

The pageant opens July 9, and the Festival of Arts begins July 6. Both events run through Aug. 30.

Shun said he expected some of his friends to attend the show — although he wasn't sure if they could all identify him in "The Night Watch."

"I don't know if they're going to see me or know who I am," he admitted.

In the pageant, that amounts to mission accomplished.

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