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For pageant, people supply the bond

Cast, crew become an extended family, one model says, while crew member likes the creativity.

January 10, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Frank Daniel, left, and Jean Cavanaugh can't contain themselves as they share a laugh during the Pageant of the Masters casting call Sunday. Daniel is a 27-year cast member who plays Jesus in the annual show closer "The Last Supper."
Frank Daniel, left, and Jean Cavanaugh can't contain… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Frank Daniel is one of a lucky few who have never been struck by the urge to sneeze, twitch or swat an unassuming bug, at least while on stage.

This matters — why?

Daniel, 69, a Laguna Beach native, has, for the past quarter-century, donned the garb, makeup and hairpiece of Jesus Christ before freezing for 90 seconds amid apostles as depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper." This piece marks the yearly finale of the Pageant of the Masters, which honors iconic art in the form of living pictures, or tableaux vivantes.

Currently in its 80th year, the pageant will be hosted nightly July 7 through Aug. 31.

"Every once in a while, I feel like I'm going to sneeze before we're about to go up," Daniel said, laughing. "We're getting loaded and here, I'm thinking, 'Oh no.' I then make the mistake of trying to hold my breath, and you don't want to do that!"

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Before watching the show firsthand, Daniel recalled wondering why anyone would want to "sit and watch pictures."

His initial reaction changed, however, when he was introduced to the production in 1969.

"I thought to myself, 'Wow, that's just something else,'" he said.

Since coming across a "Casting Call" sign in 1984, Daniel has been a familiar face at the Southern California tradition.

"We've had so many people in it for long periods of time — it's like an extended family," said Daniel, who, during the holidays visited a former 20-year volunteer who is in ill health. "This experience means a lot. It's where we establish friendships."

For 18-year artistic director Diane Challis Davy, the pageant is akin to "playtime."

Challis Davy, whose first memories of the pageant include volunteering as a high school student in the late 1970s, is presently in the throes of casting the upcoming season. Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, the casting call unearthed hopefuls from Los Angeles, San Diego and all corners of Orange County; the final session was scheduled for Thursday evening.

Themed "The Big Picture," this year's pageant showcases 40 works, ranging from "To Rome with Love" and "The Agony and the Ecstasy" to "Snow White" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," among others. Its two acts have also provided opportunities to celebrate cinematic powerhouses including Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Busby Berkeley and Buster Keaton.

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