After Richard Doyle concluded his commentary for last year’s Pageant of the Masters, a woman from the audience walked into his booth and asked, “Are you the narrator?” When he replied that he was, she thanked him, saying, “I felt like you were talking to me.”
“That was the moment when the light came on,” Doyle recalls. “Creating the character of the narrator, the spirit guide if you will, of the evening, is the challenge for me, so that the character can tell the general story of the evening, delve into these various little dramatic episodes, and underscore what’s going on onstage.”
Doyle began narrating the pageant in 2011, talking about the importance of dreams and imagination for the Only Make Believe show. For the 2012 program, The Genius, he told stories about the relationship between art, science and technology. In the 2013 production, The Big Picture, Doyle explained in his confident voice how masterpieces of art have inspired and informed the movies. And for 2014’s Art Detective, he wryly described the unsolved mysteries that fill art history. The 2015 Pursuit of Happiness event was family-friendly, and last year’s Partners, with its theatrical and scientific partnerships, was enhanced by live dance routines, all of which Doyle introduced. For seven successive pageant productions, including this year’s The Grand Tour, Doyle’s theatrical voice has filled the Irvine Bowl, moving the show forward and entertaining the audience during each living picture.
Doyle’s storytelling skills were on display this spring as he prepared for the summer’s production. He recounted tales from his life, suggesting that he was destined to become a pageant narrator. “I was telling stories since I was a little kid,” he explains. As a teenager, he moved with his family to Italy, where he began learning to speak foreign languages—a step that he regards as a good preparation for acting. He also saw great art, an experience that fortuitously helped prepare him for The Grand Tour. The program, he says, “is based on letters from children and explores how they experience art. It’s a device to take us through the art of Europe. By working on this year’s production, I’m learning a lot more about the art I saw as a child.”
Discussing his acting career, Doyle remembers meeting David Emmes, the founding director of South Coast Repertory, at Long Beach City College in 1964. “I joined SCR that year, worked with the theater for a few more years, and then was drafted into the army and went to Viet Nam. In 1969, I returned home, attended Long Beach City College and then transferred to the Cal State Long Beach Theater Arts Department. I also rejoined South Coast Repertory, as Emmes told me that the county was growing and needed the arts.”
Doyle has performed in more than 200 productions at SCR. He has acted as the Ghost of Christmas Past in the holiday production of A Christmas Carol for 32 years, and performed in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak’s Godspell, and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. He has also had parts in such television programs as Cheers and Mash, and has done voice-overs for Hanna-Barbera cartoons (often playing the bad guy) and a variety of video games. Doyle’s skills inspired pageant director Diane Challis Davy to invite him to narrate the 2011 production. “For me,” she points out, “Richard was the obvious choice. I’ve never had a second thought.”
“While preparing for my first year at the pageant,” Doyle recalls, “the production managers walked me through the back stage, introduced me to the script writer, Dan Dulling, and even asked me to help write the script.” Beginning with that year’s production, pageant managers have sent Doyle their demos, written text and story ideas, and encouraged him to help determine the arc of the story. “Narration here is a collaborative effort,” he says. He adds that the pageant composer listens to him read the story lines and then puts music to the narration.
Doyle sums up his experience at the pageant as narrating to 2,700 people for seven evenings a week over a period of eight weeks. And each night is special. Before intermission one evening during The Genius production, NASA’s rover Curiosity landed on Mars. The audience cheered, so Doyle waited for them to calm down before urging them to enjoy the intermission. “There is a kind of quality communication that is still possible between human beings, without electronics,” he remarks. “You can sit as a group together and experience a live performance, an exchange of ideas.”
85 Years of the Pageant of the Masters
As pageant narrator, Richard Doyle continues a tradition dating back to 1933. At that time, artists donned costumes and marched through Laguna Beach to the Festival of Arts grounds. There they posed behind oversized frames, re-creating well-known works of art. Roy and Marie Ropp refined that display two years later and officially renamed it the Pageant of the Masters. Today the event, which plays to more than 210,000 visitors each summer in the Irvine Bowl, transforms models and props into oversized recreations of works of art, from ancient to modern to contemporary, accompanied by original music played by a live orchestra.
For several summers, the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel has mounted exhibitions related to both the festival and the pageant. According to Pat Sparkuhl, artist, former festival exhibitor and curator of the Ritz Carlton exhibition, this year’s show, Celebrating 85 Years of Art, draws from “collection artworks from 1913 to 2015, historic pageant photographs, vintage news articles, and early festival and pageant advertising materials.” One memorable image, from the 1940 pageant, depicts a volunteer posing as a nobleman, re-creating Dutch artist Franz Hals’ 1624 painting The Laughing Cavalier.