What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Hint: It’s Real

When she's not onstage, Whistler's Mother heads her own marketing company. Blue Boy is a real estate appraiser. Jesus and his disciples work a variety of jobs. James the Greater is a consultant. Judas is a financial planner. And Jesus, a former carpenter, is now a general contractor. But each evening in July and August, when cool ocean breezes blow over Laguna Beach, California, these diverse characters put aside their day jobs, strike familiar poses, hold them, and become living, breathing masterpieces.

Dusk descends and a few stars wink through the light-washed Southern California sky. Million-dollar homes gaze down from cliffs above an outdoor amphitheater where another sellout crowd is applauding the most unusual art pageant in America. As the applause dies down, binoculars are lifted throughout the audience. Music swells, and all attention focuses stage center. The curtain opens to reveal...a painting.

Elsewhere, art imitates life, but in Laguna Beach, the Pageant of the Masters inverts the cliché. Since 1933, this arty beach town has hosted a festival of living art. The pageant features tableaus vivants — paintings, statues, murals and other artworks posed by live actors. Raphael's Sistine Madonna, Washington Crossing the Delaware, works by Monet, Millet, Van Eyck — all are painstakingly posed onstage with such exactitude that audiences cannot distinguish them from actual paintings.

Such utterances as "amazing" and "fantastic" can be heard throughout the Irvine Bowl as 40 works of art are presented two minutes at a time. Each summer, from early July to Labor Day, audiences flock to the pageant in numbers a museum might envy. And at the close of each show, great works of art step off the stage and call it a night.

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