‘Pageant’ Brings Monsters to Laguna Beach

Pageant of the Monsters returns to Laguna Beach every five years. / Photo by Jessica Peralta

Every five years, Pageant of the Masters replaces the summer paintbrushes with fall monster makeup for the Halloween season. 

The family-friendly Pageant of the Monsters runs Oct. 27, 28, 29 and 31 at the Festival of Arts of 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 reutilize 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 PsychoExorcistJack 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.”

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 gore-y 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, DJ and more.

David Talbot, construction foreman for 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,” said Talbot. “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 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,” said Babcock. “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 very interesting and lots of fun. Something you’ll talk about for the next five years until it comes back around again.”

The Gory Details
Pageant of the Monsters runs Oct. 27, 28, 29 and 31
Hours are 6 pm to 9:30 pm and tours begin at 6:45 pm
Tickets: foapom.com/monsters