Review: Enjoy Celebrating the Arts at Several Festivals and THE PAGEANT OF THE MASTERS in Laguna Beach This Summer
I have visited Laguna Beach for several consecutive summers, enjoying the vibrant arts scene by spending a full day wandering through THE SAWDUST FESTIVAL, THE LAGUNA ART A-FAIR, FESTIVAL OF ARTS and PAGEANT OF THE MASTERS, with all sites, including the Laguna Playhouse, within walking distance of each on the main street into the city. The beautiful coastal city has so much to offer in the way of fine dining, art galleries, shopping, theatre, beach activities, all accessible via a free shuttle service, it would easily make for a wonderful week-long family vacation site or a jam-packed day of celebrating the arts.
But just how did the Laguna Beach Arts Scene come into existence? The United States and the world were suffering from the tight finances, scarce resources, and emotional turmoil of the Great Depression during 1932. Even so, artists arriving in Laguna Beach were inspired by the coastline, the rambling hills, the vibrant and ever-changing ocean, and the freedom to follow their dreams. That summer, a group of around two dozen artists hung their paintings on fences, trees, and buildings along Laguna's main street, hoping to lure tourists to the first Festival of Arts where some of their art work would be sold.
Soon other artists opened their home-studios to the public, while music, colorful signs and banners, parades and entertainment added to the celebratory ambiance of the event, which turned Laguna Beach into one enormous art gallery. Many artists happily arranged their easels and chairs and painted in the open for the public throughout the festival. It was an auspicious start to the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts, which opened on August 13, 1932. Today, the Festival of Arts Permanent Collection, expanded annually through purchases made from the exhibiting artists' work, contains more than 1,000 pieces of fine art: paintings, sculpture, ceramics, glass, even furniture and jewelry - a collection as eclectic as the festival itself.
If you are not too familiar with the Laguna Beach area and want to avoid driving and parking hassles in the area, park your car for FREE in the lot at the junction near the I-405 and SR-133 and take the FREE Summer Breeze trolley from there, which has stops around town on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-midnight. If you choose to drive into Laguna Beach, arrive early to find a central parking spot and pay close attention to posted time restrictions. More information at www.LagunaBeachCity.net/Trolley
This year I visited Laguna Beach over the long July 4 holiday weekend, arriving at noon to begin with my first stop at THE SAWDUST FESTIVAL. This casual and family-friendly location contains several booths featuring not only fine art but many forms of affordable arts and crafts items which make perfect personal souvenirs or great original gifts for friends and family members at reasonable prices. You will also meet many artists who have been exhibiting there for decades, along with new and emerging artists, as well as guest artists who exemplify this year's theme "Expect the Unexpected."
There are several walk up cafés on the Sawdust site, offering various times of snacks and food items, with seating areas available throughout the site, giving you unique vistas of the surrounding booths to visit. A central, enclosed glass blowing studio offers visitors a new appreciation of the skills needed to create such artistic masterpieces. Year-round art classes are held, with Annual Winter Fantasy weekends taking places from November 23 through December 22 this year, bringing the spirit of the holidays to Laguna Beach. More information at www.SawdustArtFestival.org
Next stop was the smaller LAGUNA ART A-FAIR, which includes over 100 higher-end art displays and the Seven 7 Seven Restaurant on site, which is open through September 1 this year. Geared more toward adults than young children, artists are usually on-hand to answer questions about their creation process, often while working on their latest projects. In operation for more than 50 years featuring artists from around the world, you can also enjoy live entertainment performed by favorite local musicians on Thursday through Sundays in the entertainment courtyard. A limited number of classes are offered for all ages in four-hour sessions. For more information, call (949) 494-4514 or visit www.art-a-fair.com
Arriving late afternoon at the FESTIVAL OF ARTS, time was spent strolling through the central art galleries where displays of paintings, photographs, sculpture, woodworking, ceramics, fabric designs, art glass and jewelry pieces are stunningly eye-catching. There are classic and well as modern pieces on display, all available for purchase or special order, with many of the artists creating their art before your eyes. Most of the items are priced as fine art, but even if out of your price range, you will certainly be able to appreciate the artistry needed to create such extraordinary pieces.
Be sure to stop and enjoy all the booths, just as I did, after picking up a free directory when you enter the site. While I hate to play favorites, ceramic artists Scott and Naomi Schoenherr add in their own unique brand of humor with their Commuter series of hand-sculpted art works which included a wonderfully playful outlook on people's characters and their cars. Their Full Moon Clay Co. can be found in booth 73. See more ceramics at https://www.fullmoonclayco.com/portfolio
And be sure to stop by booth 137 where Lisa Kijak will share her textile work involving layers of fabric which are stitched together to mimic the peeling paint and chipped surfaces of neon signs left in disrepair.
The site also includes a Junior Art Exhibit where the creations of over 300 talented local students may be enjoyed, or where you can express your own creativity at one of the many hands-on art workshops. For those interested in learning how to create your own art, there are a variety of classes offered at the onsite Art Center for ages 5 and up. Adult weekend classes include the opportunity to enjoy adult beverages. You can work on developing your talent in multi-media art, printmaking, painting or ceramics by visiting www.LagunaFestivalofArts.org for a class schedule and reservations.
Taking time to chill before the PAGEANT OF THE MASTERS at 8:30pm (on the same site) gives you the perfect opportunity to enjoy your own picnic dinner (yes you can bring in your own food, snacks and even adult beverages) or purchase refreshments at the Intermission by Terra walk-up café, or sit outside at the open-air Terra Laguna Beach restaurant on the grounds. It's the perfect place to relax, refresh, and listen to live music, which adds a real sense of excitement to your day in Laguna Beach. For a complete list of special events and musicians performing this summer, visit https://www.foapom.com/summer-art-show/events-music/.
Of course, the big event of the day was the PAGEANT OF THE MASTERS, one of the most unique theatrical productions in the world where real-life people are magically transformed into life-sized re-creations of famous works of art. The first Pageant in 1933 ran only 8 days, while this year, there are 56 outdoor performances nightly from July 7 to August 31 in the Laguna Bowl on the Festival of Arts site. Around 1,200 people (volunteers) try out to be in the show each year, with approximately 500 either cast as display characters or work behind the scenes, contributing more than 60,000 hours. This year, the youngest cast member is 4 years old, with the oldest member late 80s.
This year's theme is "The Time Machine" which takes audiences around the globe and into the past, present and future in search of great art and amazing stories. Taking its cues from science fiction and steampunk fantasies, the show offers thrills, laughter, beautiful music and extraordinary living art under the stars. Certainly, Marty McFly from "Back to the Future" and Doctor Who owe a debt to Victorian writer H.G. Wells who published his first novel, The Time Machine, in 1895, in which he tapped into a fascination for time travel that continues to inspire artists in every medium.
A live narrator guides you via voice over through the story of each living picture accompanied by a full orchestra. Each creation is more incredible than the last, making it difficult to believe the perfectly posed people are real and not just part of the painting, sculpture or movie poster on display. As each piece moves into place, often the audience is allowed to see the people taking their places within it or moving out of place afterwards, thus breaking the fourth wall, giving the audience a real insight into the magnificence and dedication necessary for each creation.
The 2019 production is divided into 15 chapters, with as many as 7 different pieces of art appearing in each one. Beginning with a Prologue which takes you inside The Time Traveler's Laboratory and then The Artist's Studio, a woman steps out of a wall painting and joins The Time Traveler, who turns out to be H.G. Wells himself. Acting as the host of this year's event, heard in voice over while moving between scenes with her while riding on The Time Machine re-created as it appeared in the original 1960 film.
At the end of Act One during Chapter 9, "The Art of Science," Wells marvels at how the brilliant minds of inventors Leonardo de Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Sir Issac Newton, Nikola Tesla and Stephen Hawking have been immortalized in marble, oil, engraving, bronze, limestone and fiberglass, each more breathtaking than the last. And even when Tesla's re-created statue appeared just a few feet above where I was sitting, the actor portraying him, completely covered to appear in the appropriate color, never flinched, enhancing the realness of the statue.
This year, a humorous moment took place during the opening of Act Two during the re-creation of Stevan Dohanos'"Working on the Jalopy" which first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1950, when the young man seen only from the waist down in position under the car, started tapping his foot in time to the music while everyone else remained perfectly still. Much laughter ensued throughout the audience!
But be forewarned - binoculars are necessary to grasp the full effect of each piece, and are available on site for a $10 rental fee if you do not bring your own. Also for rent are chair pads (which are left on seats after the performance) with blankets available for purchase (to then take home to add to your Earthquake Preparedness Kit, I was reminded). It does get much cooler outdoors in the evening, so remember to bring warmer clothing with you.
One suggestion to the Pageant organizers - sell those Steam Punk hats worn by the ushers who walk through the audience before the show and during intermission. No doubt each unique piece, which lights up in the dark thanks to its own battery pack, would raise tons of funds for this world-class arts event!
Tickets to PAGEANT OF THE MASTERS start at just $15 and include FREE admission to the FESTIVAL OF ARTS, both located at 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. For tickets and more information, call (949) 497-6582 or (800) 487-3378 or visit www.PageantTickets.com. Passports priced at $29 for unlimited visits to all 3 Arts Festivals mentioned in this review can be ordered by calling (800) 487-3378 or at www.LagunaBeachPassport.com
Photos courtesy of all sites visited