On a breezy summer evening, seated in an amphitheater carved from the cliffs above Laguna Beach, I attended my first Pageant of the Masters. It’s an elaborate production that stages living reproductions of famous works of art accompanied by a live orchestra. Performers in makeup and costume step into carefully constructed scenes, and transform into the subjects of well-known pieces through the wonders of lighting and stage magic. As part of the beach city’s Festival of the Arts, Pageant of the Masters has been performed every year since 1933, with only a brief hiatus for World War II and a cancellation last year due to COVID-19. As patrons of the arts filled the Irvine Bowl for this year’s return to form, there was a buzz in the atmosphere that couldn’t be wholly attributed to the wine I’d had at Terra Laguna Beach – the upscale al fresco restaurant attached to the festival grounds, fine dining in the unique space that used to be known as Tivoli Terrace. Pageant of the Masters is a beloved Orange County tradition. All the OC natives I’ve mentioned it to have stories to share, their parents taking them to their first Pageant often being among their earliest childhood memories. This post-2020 performance felt resurgent and triumphant.
Every year the works chosen to be depicted in the Pageant share a common theme. This year, the theme was “Made in America.” Like a lot of Americans, I have complex feelings about my country at the moment. I love it deeply, but at times it doesn’t feel like we have much to beat the drum and wave the flag about. American patriotism can be like a failing marriage – you ask yourself if you really love what it is, or only what you wish it could be. Even the word “patriotism” has been blighted by nationalists in this “third-world country in a Gucci belt.” I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a night of applauding Washington Crossing the Delaware set to Yankee Doodle; cheering for white Europeans that enslaved people and massacred an indigenous population to get out of paying taxes and give themselves a chance to play liberal democracy in stockings and powdered wigs. In my opinion, at least, there’s already been enough deification of our founding fathers and other prominent historic figures. They were human beings like any of us; flawed, selfish, and sometimes blinded by their own cultural biases. Whatever else they were, we do our future an injustice by denying ourselves the opportunity to examine their mistakes and learn from them. Glossing over their imperfections and pretending our nation’s history isn’t at least equally condemnable as it is praiseworthy is a disservice to all Americans, and we do it far too often. Safe to say, I brought with me to the theater a set of reservations.Continue reading “Californiaversary”