By Paul Harris
TO all intents and purposes, the picture above looks like an Old Master. And there’s little to suggest that it is not.
Closer inspection might reveal otherwise for anyone not in on the secret.
This is actually a part-human representation of Music in the Tuileries, a Manet canvas from 1862.
It is one of the quite outstanding stage sets that appear annually at Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Arts — an event that has taken place since 1933 with just a few interruptions caused by bad weather.
Laguna Beach, in Orange County, California, known for its spectacular views and topography, and where high buildings are banned, is just under an hour’s drive from Anaheim, half way between Los Angeles and Santiago.
For the 1932 Summer Olympics in LA, the residents of Laguna Beach wanted to cash in and attract tourists. They decided to dress as famous paintings within a frame. It was a success.
The following year it became a sideshow to the annual arts festival, which involved most of the local population.
From small beginnings, it acquired a resident director and eventually its permanent canyon site.
A spokesman said: “Back then [in 1933], it was just a few people performing on a cliff over Laguna with costumes made from tablecloths and whatever else they could find. Now, there is nothing quite like it.”
The amphitheatre today accommodates 2,600 and the seats are snapped up virtually as soon as they are available for the 90-minute performance.
The theme changes annually. This year it was The Time Machine. In 2018, it was Under the Sun, that expressed the beauty of nature and included the re-creation of The Garden Wall, by John Singer Sargent. Next year, Made in America, will reflect those who made Aemrica their home and the freedoms upon which the country was founded.
The tableaux vivants (living pictures) are faithful re-creations of classical and contemporary works of art, with real people posing to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces.
Five hundred volunteer actors, all of whom have to be residents of Orange County, and a 27-piece orchestra, are behind the spectacle which runs for two months every summer.
So many Jewish visitors now flock to the area that a Chabad Centre has opened to meet their needs.
Meanwhile, in Laguna Beach itself, you won’t find chain hotels. All 26 establishments are privately owned. It’s that type of place.
And living there doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay an average $1.6m per 100 square feet of property. Surrounded by hills and canyons and 27,000 acres of wilderness, it boasts a Mediterranean-type environment.
But also expect to find rattlesnakes, deer, possums, rabbits and cayotes in the forests.
It was that beauty that made Laguna Beach a magnet for artists.
There are 30 different beaches and coves covering seven glorious miles and 100 restaurants, again all privately owned.
The beaches hold a multitude of natural secrets, many beneath the surface of the crashing waves.
Such is their ferocity that some hotels offer free earplugs to residents to ensure a good night’s sleep
Rocks that extend well out into the sea allow marine life to flourish there.
It’s not unusual these days, with global warming, to find blue fin tuna up to 400lbs, dolphins and a booming whale population.
Local guide Jaeson Plon said: “If you dive off the rocks, it’s like being on safari beneath the water, swimming with dolphins, sea lions, grey whales, sealions and black seabass.”
Sharks have been spotted, too, as have elephant seals that can dive up to a mile depth.
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