Curtain Up: “The Art Detective” Offers Clues to Pageant of the Masters

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Sarah Crouch of Corona del Mar poses as Cleopatra
Sarah Crouch of Corona del Mar poses as Cleopatra

By Haylee Barber | NB Indy

The young Cleopatra will live and die on stage at this summer’s Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach.

Sarah Crouch, a resident of Corona del Mar, will hold perfectly still for 90 seconds in living portrayal of the 1876 Edmonia Lewis sculpture, “The Death of Cleopatra.

Crouch is one of over 500 volunteers from across Orange County who will work this summer to put on the world-famous celebration of living tableau, The Pageant of the Masters, that opens July 9 and runs nightly through August 30.

A mother and professional, Crouch has attended the pageant as an audience member and is now a tableau centerpiece of the Pageant.

“I actually think it’s still as magical working inside the pageant as it is to see it outside” said Crouch. “It’s incredible to see all the work that goes on behind the scenes.”

Work is perhaps a statement too small to define the amounts of magic, (as Crouch refers to it) and labor that go into the making of the Pageant of the Masters.

Each year, people from around Orange County attend a casting call to be volunteers and performers in the show. This year, there was a record turnout at the

Make up volunteer Flo Vallejo of Newport Beach (right) puts the finishing touches on a cast member
Make up volunteer Flo Vallejo of Newport Beach (right) puts the finishing touches on a cast member

auditions—nearly 1,200 people attended.

In addition to volunteers, the Pageant has a small staff that helps to oversee the massive event.

Before beginning the pageant planning process, the staff collaborates to choose a theme for the annual pageant. And this year’s theme? Well, it’s a bit of a mystery.

This year, the Pageant is titled “The Art Detective,” and features famous works of art that have gone missing or stolen.

“There’s been so much in the news lately about lost and stolen art, it became appropriate to have this theme,” said Diane Challis Davy, who has been the Director of the Pageant for the past 16 years.

“The show opens and closes with the story of the Monuments Men and some of the art that was nearly lost in World War II,” she said.

In addition to the story of the Monuments Men, artwork for this year’s show was inspired by the stories of Sherlock Holmes, a favorite of Challis Davy’s. The process of choosing works of art for the show that match the theme is no simple feat.

Early in the year, Challis Davy assembles a team of researchers who are responsible for choosing the art that will be transformed into living tableau for the pageant.

And thus, it is the timelessness of art and the passion of volunteers that keep the pageant alive.

Cast members are carefully posed in their tableau before going on stage
Cast members are carefully posed in their tableau before going on stage

One such volunteer, Nancy Remley, a resident of Balboa, is celebrating her 33rd year as a Makeup Supervisor for the pageant. Remley began volunteering with her daughter, and has since involved her husband, a 16-year volunteer, in a process she finds rewarding and fun. Before volunteering, Remley had never even seen the show.

Of her 33 years of volunteering, Remley says, “they have all been great years for me.”

Remley also has an inside perspective on the meticulous construction that goes into the pageant’s behind-the-scenes process.

“What we’re doing here is copying what an artist has done in a painting,” said Remley. “We have to be sure that people are able to recreate it and that we keep it as close to the original artwork as we can.”

The pageant includes two complete casts that alternate weeks during show season. The volunteers begin working on the process of creating the show in early February.

For many, like Remley, volunteering for the Pageant is an excellent way to have fun and celebrate community, family, and the magic of art.

One such family, the Paskerians, moved to Orange County from Seattle three years ago. This year, Elizabeth Paskerian is working in the male costume department, while her husband and son are performers in the pageant.

Paskerian thought it would be something fun for the family to do together that would also provide an opportunity to get involved in the OC community.

“We thought we would try it one summer as kind of a bucket list thing,” said Paskerian. “But this is our third summer here; we always come back.”

Behind the scenes, the Pageant is a detailed, organized process that requires nearly 60,000 hours of volunteer work and passion to put on an incredible production.

This year’s Pageant will feature a live orchestra with an original score. Narrator Richard Doyle, a founding artist at South Coast Repertory, will return for a fourth year to help bring the show to life and explain the mysteries behind each work of art.

The Pageant is sure to be an evening of mystery and artistic revel. In terms of clues pointing to possible surprises in store for audiences, Challis Davy smiled and said, “I want to keep them on the edge of their seats.”

Tickets to the Pageant of the Masters are $15 to $220. A Pageant ticket also serves as a season pass to the annual Festival of Arts, which features works from over 140 Orange County artists.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit

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