The Pageant of the Masters opened the curtain on the Festival of Arts 2010 season Monday night with a sneak preview of "Eat, Drink and Be Merry," the theme of the 77th show, which opens July 7.
Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy had the theme of the new production picked even before the economy tanked. But the economy made the theme of human resiliency more timely.
"In tough times, most of us could use some art entertainment that's just for the fun of it," Challis Davy said.
More than 80 volunteers and script writer Dan Duling participated in the research for the tableaux vivants, which are life imitating art with live models posing as the subjects of paintings and sculpture.
The original painting for one of this year's tableaux was found on the Festival Grounds: "Coffee and Donuts," by Scott Moore, a past president of the festival and an exhibitor for 31 years.
"Dan and Sharbie [Public Relations Director Higuchi] and I were walking the grounds looking for pieces and I saw Scott's and said 'That's a pageant painting and it ties into the theme,'" Challis Davy said.
The painting, done in 2009, features a man in a business suit reading his morning paper, minimized by giant doughnuts and a paper cup of coffee. It was all the more impressive to those who saw the slender young man being fitted by volunteers into his painted muslin costume back stage with a clothespin in the back of the jacket to take up the slack.
"I have been a volunteer for five years," said Erica Waidley, who showed off pieces of other costumes being prepared for the show.
Moore's painting was one of the four tableaux staged Monday. "Prince's Day" by Jan Steen, one of Challis Davy's favorite artists, "BON-TON Burlesque Poster " and "Etruscan Dancers from the Tomb of the Leopards" were also featured.
James Chambless of Tustin was one of the dancers.
"This is the fourth show I have been in," Chambless said. "My mother wanted to audition and I came with her. I got in and she didn't.
"The first one I did was 'The Chess Game,' with me and six girls. My mom said it suited me perfectly."
Chambless is one of 357 cast members, 178 in the Green Cast and 179 in the Blue Cast that alternate.
The 535 volunteers that make the show possible will work straight though the 2010 season — and many of them have been at it in the shops where scenes, makeup, costumes and props are designed and constructed almost since the 2009 show ended.
Four costumed characters introduced this year's theme: a bunch of asparagus, a pineapple, a bottle of champagne and a perambulating pearl of a girl in an oyster shell.
"Joan Goodspeed has been working on the fabrication of those costumes for months," said Challis Davy, who designed them.
The preview event also included a mini art workshop conducted by Stephanie Cunningham, Kathy Jones and Betty Haight, who handed out food containers with art supplies for "A Taste of Art."
Art was displayed of works by Moore and two other artists who will be exhibiting in the 68th festival: newcomer Stephen Lazarus and David Milton, a festival veteran, who loves what he does and where he does it.
"Art is one of the last things made in America," Milton said. "And Laguna is a town custom made for artists. No where else in America allows an artist to exhibit for months — that is equal to four or five one-person shows — and Laguna honors the past."
Milton said his twin passions of art and history are expressed in his scenes of small town icons — especially when those places are just ahead of the wrecking ball.
This year's show will feature more than 140 artists, the marvelous Junior Art Exhibit sponsored by the PIMCO Foundation, free art tours, musical entertainment on Saturdays and Sundays, numerous workshops for children and adults. Coffee and Conversations with Artists, Art, Jazz, Wine & Chocolate, the Festival Runway Fashion show of eco-friendly designs by festival artists July 31 and the popular "Art of Cooking" will return Sundays, with demonstrations by Orange County chefs, including Casey Overton, from Montage Resort and Spa, who offered a tasty tidbit of octopus Monday.
The 78th Festival of Arts will formally open July 5 and run through Aug. 31 with the exception of Aug. 28 when it will be closed for the annual Festival Gala fundraiser.
Proceeds from the fundraiser are used to improve the festival infrastructure.
Improvements to the grounds in recent years have included expanding the greensward, which is now artificial turf, moving the stage from the center of the lawn and improving the facilities for ceramics and art education classes, festival President Wayne Baglin said.
The Irvine Bowl Park, official name of the festival grounds, was a gift from the Irvine Co. to the city, which leases it to the festival.
"It is a great partnership," Baglin said.
The first festival was a street fair, which spawned the Pageant of the Masters to help attract attention to the art. Now both combine to give Laguna bragging rights as a long-standing art colony and provide funding for the arts and art education, including scholarships.
For more information about scheduled festival events, ticket prices to the exhibits and the pageant, or reservations, visit www.LagunaFestivalofArts.org or call (949) 494 1145.