The Pageant of the Masters’ annual casting call drew an impressive crowd, but more volunteers are still needed

By MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Four years ago, Blair Liggatt got the role he’d been waiting for – a coveted seat at the table in the Pageant of the Masters’ iconic finale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. It’s not uncommon for those seats to be held for decades. Edward Silhacek sat in Liggatt’s chair as Doubting Thomas for well over 30 years. Richard Cassiere has occupied the role of St. Thomas for 39 years. And Peter Brown played James the Great for more than 25.

But Liggatt arrived at just the right time. “Before me, the newest member had been serving for something like 15 years,” Liggatt said. “The rumor was that someone had to die to get into that piece. I was so fortunate.”

It all occurred by happenstance. Liggatt and his family (wife Michelle and daughter London) moved to Laguna in 2016. Shortly thereafter they met Frank Daniel, who played the role of Jesus for 29 years. Daniel served from 1987 through 2016, putting him in second place behind Charles Thomas, who retired in 1996 after 30 years.

Daniel invited the Liggatts to the Pageant, gave them a backstage tour and got them hooked. Michelle and London were soon given roles on the green cast. But Blair wanted that Last Supper role. He knew it was a longshot. “The next year, the casting director said, ‘There actually is an opening, but it’s on the blue cast.’”

So, that summer, the Liggatt family showed up every single night with Michelle and London on one cast, and Blair on the other. Now the Liggatts are on the same blue cast and returned once again last weekend to get fitted for their parts. This will be Liggatt’s fourth year as Doubting Thomas.

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Blair Liggatt gets measured for his role as Doubting Thomas at last weekend’s annual Pageant of the Masters’ casting call

“Becoming part of the Pageant of the Masters can create one of the best summers of your life,” said Casting Director Nancy Martin, who celebrates her 40th anniversary with the Pageant this year. “You have the opportunity to meet so many new and interesting people who often turn into lifelong friends. We have many three-generation families that started out being in the show, then having their children and grandchildren follow in their footsteps.”

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Casting Director Nancy Martin has been with the Pageant for 40 years

Some families, like the Greggs, may even skip generations before they return. Cindy Gregg and her daughter, Heather, have been Pageant volunteers for 25 years. Cindy works in women’s sculpt (the makeup department for nudes) and Heather has worked in a variety of roles from headdress to ticket booth. But, according to the Greggs, back before all that – all the way back to that first Pageant in 1933, when it was staged on Forest Avenue – the Gregg’s great-aunt participated. “My father-in-law watched her from the bleachers on Forest,” Cindy said.

It would take roughly 65 years for the Gregg family to return to the Pageant stage, this time with high school community service hours on their minds. “All my kids have been in the cast,” Cindy said. “Some have done cast and makeup; some have done headdress and box office. We’ve been a Pageant family for years.”

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(L-R) Heather and Cindy Gregg at the 91st Annual Pageant of the Masters’ casting call last weekend

Stories like these are what bring seasoned volunteers back to the annual casting call and inspire newcomers to try out. Last weekend, more than 720 people responded.

But it’s not simply their longevity that has this year’s hopeful cast excited. It’s the theme. À La Mode: The Art of Fashion promises to be a feast for the eyes, even for non-fashionistas.

“I’m a big fan of the Met Gala and I love watching their celebrity red carpet,” said Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy, who studied costume design in college. “The Met’s exhibits and costume collections are to die for. Especially the 2023 tribute to Karl Lagerfeld. Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police TV show was a guilty pleasure.”

There’s no end to the artists who excite Challis Davy this year.

Designers Erté, Edith Head and Alexander McQueen; photographer Richard Avedon and painters John Singer Sargent, Edouard Manet, Elisabeth Vigee-LaBrun represent a few. “Eight-time Oscar winner Head and Alfred Hitchcock had a very interesting artistic collaboration. We hope to have some fun with that,” she said. “[And] we are recreating Alexander McQueen’s 2010 Angel Shoe. That’s a first!”

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Challis Davy is also trying her hand at recreating Dovima with the Elephants by Avedon, as suggested by Matthew Rolston (photographer, art director and friend of the Pageant).

“I predict we will have some unexpected surprises and opulent costumery. There will be a runway fashion show within the show, an extravagant red carpet and a visit to the Huntington Library,” Challis Davy said.

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Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy at work last weekend

Surprisingly, The Art of Fashion still features plenty of nudes. Cindy Gregg, working in women’s sculpt, is especially excited for Henri Vever’s art deco jeweled pendent Perfume, and Gaston Lafitte’s jeweled brooch Butterfly (both from 1900), along with McQueen’s Angel Shoe.

But the theme presents a mighty test for Costume Director Reagan Foy and her team. “Our director has really set out to challenge the costume shop by recreating live versions of several of the outfits people are wearing in the vignettes, plus some other very fun fashion pieces from the recent past,” Foy said.

One of Foy’s favorite pieces this year is Les Sapeurs by Bisa Butler. “I find the textures and colors so fun,” she said. “The challenge for this piece will mostly go to our costume painter, Kim Knowlton, to capture the various fabrics used in this quilt we are recreating. Whether you are a fan of fashion or not I think this show is going to be a vision to feast your eyes upon.”

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Costume Designer Reagan Foy loves the thrill of a challenge. She’s created dragon wings, sculpted monkey headpieces, a walking Champagne bottle and an astronaut costume for a volunteer who floated on stage as the set pulled away.

Despite the good turnout last weekend, the Pageant is still seeking applicants of all ages and ethnicities to ensure a robust pool to draw upon. No theater experience is necessary. The Pageant’s only requirement is that participants can hold still for 90 seconds.

In addition to needing volunteers to pose in the Pageant, volunteers are needed for positions in the wardrobe, makeup and headdress departments, as well as cast area coordinators and refreshment servers, among other positions.

“We are looking for people of all ages and sizes, but given this year’s theme, there are many roles for slender women who are between 5’7” and 6’ tall,” said Martin.

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Headdress designer Rome Fiore measures returning cast member Adam Case

To schedule an appointment to be measured or for more information on volunteering, contact the Pageant’s casting office by calling 949.494.3663. The office is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

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