This 'Supper' is a family dinner

Anthony Loesch's firstborn, Maggie, was in preschool when her teacher called him in for a meeting.

There might be a slight problem, she said worriedly. "I asked Maggie what you do, and she said you're Jesus Christ."

Loesch replied, "Well, I am — kinda."

Neither joking nor delusional, the Los Alamitos resident clarified that he portrays the central figure of Christianity at the Pageant of the Masters every summer — an activity that he shared with the smart-as-a-whip daughter, who is now 16.

For the upcoming season, Loesch, 56, will don Christ's attire and freeze for 90 seconds during the show's conclusion: Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper." The part has been his for 14 years and will be his again, pending casting calls, of course.

The 2014 program of tableaux vivantes has been deemed "The Art Detective." Pageant organizers are holding auditions Saturday, Sunday and Jan. 9 at the Irvine Bowl Park as they search for men, women and children of all ages and sizes.

The cast members' dedication and support — on stage and behind the scenes — have breathed life into the 80-year-old Laguna Beach tradition, reflected Sharbie Higuchi, the show's marketing and public relations director.

"Quite simply, there would be no pageant without our volunteers," she said.

And what keeps them coming back? It's fun.

"It seems more like one big family reunion every summer," Higuchi said about the more than 500 volunteers. "Lifelong friendships have been formed through volunteering at the pageant. It is also a great bonding activity for families."

Loesch agrees.

His wife, Mary, played John the Beloved for the couple's two initial years in the event but dropped out after becoming pregnant with their second child, Lily. Loesch continued to drive to Orange County toting then 18-month-old Maggie. When it was time for his makeup to be applied and headpiece fitted, plethora of arms would reach out to cradle and watch her.

"When I was little, I remember a lot of people would hold me, and sometimes I would go to sleep in the headdress room," Maggie said. "In the makeup room, they would paint little lady bugs on my face. I've known them growing up, and we are all like one big family."

When she turned 5 — the minimum age for a pageant volunteer — Maggie began trying out for pieces. She was chosen to pose as an astronaut and was also in Diego Velázquez's "Las Meninas," among other works.

In retrospect, the father-daughter duo, who enjoy reconnecting with old friends and making new ones each year, said the pageant helped them bond as well.

"I still remember we had a 1969 Volkswagen Squareback, and we'd get in it and play music and sing all the way down," Anthony Loesch recounted. "On the way home, we'd play quiet music so she could calm down before bedtime. I was able to get really close to my daughter."

About seven years ago, another Loesch — Lily, 11 — joined the ranks. When not picked for an artwork, the sisters help out in the headdress department and wherever else they are needed. They say the pageant has provided an artistic education while helping them become social.

While the older Loesches have not felt the urge to sneeze, cough or itch while under the spotlight — even though the breeze has made Anthony's eyes water — Lily can't quite say the same.

"It was her first year, and she was onstage in 'Mother's Little Helper,'" the dad said, unable to hold back his laughter. "And there was a boy who was just about her age. He would move and the audience would laugh. She would see him getting a reaction and she began to move too. Finally, the pageant [team] said, 'You got to tell Lily not to move.'"

When he conveyed this message, after pointing to her equally guilty counterpart, Lily responded with an "Aww, OK."

Watching Anthony Loesch enjoying the pageant and the experiences that came with it, his nephew, Nathan, 34, also decided to give it a try in 2007. Right away, he was picked as Bartholomew for the show's finale.

The Long Beach resident — who, like other volunteers, is onstage for one week and off for the next throughout the summer — says the friendships and fun make it a worthwhile cause. In order to avoid freaking out or moving, Nathan zones out as soon as the curtain rises. It's like meditation, he said.

Just over a year ago, the Loesch family tree once again extended into the pageant — this time in the form of Nathan's energetic toddler, Charlie.

The boy, who loves spending time with his cousins, is not fazed by his father's makeup. Last year, he spent his few stolen moments running among all the children backstage and giving them high-fives.

"They gave us a photo of 'The Last Supper' with all of us in it," Nathan said. "He goes up to it, points to Bartholomew and says, 'Daddy!'"

If You Go

What: Pageant of the Masters' casting call

Where: Irvine Bowl Park, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday and 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 9

Information: (949) 494-3663 or http://www.foapom.com

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