Pageant of the Monsters, which occurs every five years, returns this month to the Festival of Arts grounds in Laguna Beach.
Every five years, the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters put away the summer paintbrushes and bring out the fall monster makeup, just in time for the Halloween season.
Called Pageant of the Monsters, the family-friendly Halloween event this year runs Oct. 27, 28, 29 and 31 at the Festival of Arts grounds in Laguna Beach with a Greek mythic theme, “Maze of the Minotaur.”
The initial inspiration for the event came from Pageant of the Masters Director Diane Challis Davy, who is a Halloween fan, as a way to reuse the sets.
“Halloween has always been my favorite annual celebration. I'm obsessed with it,” she said. “After my inaugural year as pageant director in 1996 — seeing all the pageant sculptural sets sitting dormant in storage — I thought, ‘These wonderful sets are wasted here and they should be seen. They would be perfect to decorate a haunted house.’”
After the board of directors OK’d the event, it began in 1996.
“We gave guided tours through the maze with each spirit guide providing a custom narration for the scenes,” she said. “We had so many people showing up. The second year it got much bigger and more complex. The theme was scary movies. There were scenes from ‘Psycho,’ ‘Exorcist,’ ‘Jack the Ripper’ and ‘Aliens.’ It was over the top. But we realized we could not keep doing the maze every year without affecting our main event.”
While most of the scenic elements are from the pageant's summer show and from storage, costumes are custom-made according to the theme of the haunted maze.
“We have about 100 volunteers clamoring to be in the Halloween event,” said Challis Davy. “There will be special lighting, sound and dramatic effects created by our tech team. The exterior and interior maze winds its way through the Irvine Bowl, orchestra pit, workshops and scenic studios and finally backstage.”
A Pageant of the Monsters volunteer actors pose as spooky "living statues" in the haunted house located within the Pageant's backstage, ready to scare attendees. Photos courtesy of Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach
Challis Davy’s inspiration for each event’s theme comes from the sets.
“I always look at what sets we have in stock and find a theme where we can utilize the most sets to the best advantage,” she said.
This year’s Greek mythology theme will reference Zeus, Medusa, Pandora, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Theseus and the minotaur along with other gods, monsters and creatures.
She said they like to focus on the family-friendly aspect of Halloween.
“I am put off by some of the other commercial mazes where masked people get in your face and scream at you. I don't like that or very gory gross stuff either,” she said. “Our monster pageant is more creative, surprising, funny, satirical and spooky. There are a few good ‘scares’ in the maze and very creepy scenes, so this would probably be too much for those under 5 years.”
Besides the maze, there are sideshows in the exhibit area, including "Alien Autopsy" and "Demented Chef,” face painting and airbrush tattoos, Up-Close Encounters with the Reptile Zoo, photo opportunities, crafts, a DJ and more.
PHOTO 1: Scarecrows from the 2018 Scarecrow contest. PHOTO 2: A scarecrow created by LCAD Sculpture Department titled “Joan Crowford” from the 2018 Pageant of the Monsters. PHOTO 3: The Demented Chef SideShow, a fan favorite, will return for the 2023 Pageant of the Monsters. Photos courtesy of Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach
David Talbot, construction foreman for the Pageant of the Masters, said when this year’s summer program ended, the production team immediately began determining the existing sets, costumes and props that they could use for the upcoming Pageant of the Monsters.
“Building a maze like this in the limited time we have to do it requires a lot of ingenuity, improvisation and motivation to create a spectacle of the caliber that our patrons expect,” Talbot said. “Luckily we have a facility that can accommodate quick fabrication of scenic elements and an artistic team with unique skill sets to pull it all together.”
Diane Babcock, makeup artist volunteer and Laguna Beach resident, has done makeup for the Pageant of the Masters for more than 30 years, which is how she found out about Pageant of the Monsters.
“I think this will be my fifth Pageant of the Monsters,” Babcock said. “Makeup fascinates me. It can completely transform a person into something or someone else unrecognizable.”
She described Pageant of the Monsters as free-form, whimsical makeup with a theme.
“One year, I did makeup that was gory; one year was more zombie-like,” she said. “For ‘Raiders of the Lost Art,’ I helped with the witch doctors. My favorite was the Queen Mary theme. I painted people to look as if they had been frozen. They were painted blue and I glued on salt crystals. Up close it looked like ice had formed on them.”
Babcock said Pageant of the Monsters balances entertainment with spookiness.
“You never know what's around the corner,” she said. “You might laugh, or be startled. The Pageant of the Masters is a very unique show, and when you have the same talented people, with their creativity, doing a Halloween maze, it can be very interesting and lots of fun. Something you'll talk about for the next five years until it comes back around again.”
Pageant of the Monsters
When: 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 27-29 and 31. Tours begin at 6:45 p.m.
Where: Festival of Arts, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA
Cost: Adult tickets are $20 in advance; $25 day of. Child tickets (12 and under) are $10. (Children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.) Service charges apply to all orders.