Open casting call for Pageant of the Masters Made in America draws a crowd of hopefuls


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

As a kid, if you ever played the game “freeze,” you remember what it’s like to stay completely still – no twitching, no blinking, no scratching – it’s challenging to say the least. As most everyone knows, because the Pageant of the Masters’ cast re-creates famous artworks and sculptures known as “tableaux vivants,” or living pictures, the cast members must remain perfectly still for 90 seconds. 

No theater experience is necessary to attend the casting call. The only requirement is the ability to stand still and have fun, and the cast must have a lot of fun, since many return year after year.

According to Marketing Coordinator for Festival of the Arts Meghan Perez, over the past weekend, there were about 900 people who attended the three-day casting call for this year’s Pageant, Made in America. “We are expecting more sign-ups over the next couple weeks with people coming in for appointments. We’re encouraging anyone who was interested and couldn’t make it over the weekend to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to schedule a time to get measured.”

Open casting Bainbridge

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First time at casting call – (L-R) Katy Bainbridge, age 9, Gaby Bainbridge, age 11, and mom Michelle Bainbridge

Granted, it’s not a small commitment – seven days on and seven days off (Monday - Sunday) from July 8 - September 3 for at least two and a half to three hours a night. (Those not chosen go onto a summer substitute list of around 200.) Plus there are rehearsals every other Thursday beginning earlier in the year.

Of the approximately 1,000+ men, women, and children who sign up during a three-day casting call, 150 will be picked for the A team and 150 for the B team. Two cast members of similar (if not identical) height and body type are chosen for each part, a necessity since the cast has alternating weeks off. Ages range from 5 years to 85 years of age. As the sets are developed (two to three at a time), selection of cast members continues throughout the months of January to June. 

Construction Foreman David Talbot, who has been with the Pageant for 10 years, says, “We have eight sets built already. We’re ahead of the game.”

Standing still is only a part of what each potential cast member goes through during Pageant of the Masters. Quite a bit happens well before that first step on the set in July. 

Open casting Butch

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Technical Director Richard “Butch” Hall

Once the prospective cast members climb the stairs and enter the backstage area, paperwork is handed over to The Pageant’s Technical Director Richard “Butch” Hall, who directs them to the next step. Throughout the process, each will be measured 35 times (at different stations all manned by volunteers). They will also be photographed and meet the behind-the-scenes Pageant staff.

Pageant volunteers are also needed for the wardrobe, make-up, and headdress departments, as well as cast area coordinators and refreshment servers, among other positions. About 300 people are expected to be included in the pageant cast (two groups split into 150 volunteers each) and an additional 200 will help behind the scenes.

Brittany Clark Charnley, who started as a youngster in the Pageant, and was on the program cover in 1996, continued to be a cast member for quite a few years. She says, “I love the show, every art form is indescribable.” Her niece tried out this year.

Brittany’s mother Michelle Clark, who has been in the Pageant since 1995, said, “I am the only one who can say that I went to a bar with Jesus.” (Referring to the volunteer who played Jesus in The Last Supper.)

Open casting Michelle

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Michelle Clark, a longtime volunteer in the Pageant 

“It takes over 500 volunteers, both onstage and behind-the-scenes, to put on the Pageant. We wouldn’t have a show without our volunteers! They have so much fun backstage and many volunteers return year after year to participate,” says Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy.

Trying out for the makeup department for the second year in a row, Monica Thompson and Chris Lins agreed, “It’s just great to be part of it, we had so much fun last year.” This year, they’re also hoping to be substitutes for the cast.

As she was recording measurements, Bettye Murphy shared that she has been a volunteer for 46 years. That’s got to be some kind of a record!

Judy Flanders, who has been with the costume department for 28 years, met her husband Bob while he was volunteering at the Pageant in 2010, and now they volunteer together. 

Judy says of the casting call, “As always, we have a wonderful time saying hello to old friends and meeting potential ‘teammates.’ The atmosphere is always so upbeat and fun…to me, it’s one of my favorite places on earth! Also, as always with the Pageant of the Masters, everything ran like a well-oiled clock.”

Open casting measuring

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Chris Simich, in his fourth year, measures Benjamin Webster. Simich creates all the headpieces.

In this summer’s production of Made in America, audiences will meet the artists – revolutionaries, innovators, dreamers – who not only made this country their home, but let their creativity be inspired by the freedoms upon which this nation was founded.

The show will include acknowledged masters of American art: N.C. Wyeth, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Norman Rockwell, Daniel Chester French, Luis Jimenez, and John Nieto.

Anita Mangels, FOA board member and pageant volunteer for 30 years, says, “Bizarre Bazaar is ‘our side show.’ The proceeds of sales from pieces from the Pageant are sold and go to the Student Volunteer Recognition Fund. The money goes to help kids who have volunteered in the Pageant and are now moving on to higher education. The funds are used for books and such.” 

Open casting bazaar

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Bizarre Bazaar sells donated items from past Pageants to aid the Student Volunteer Recognition Fund

“This is a fun thing, something outside of normal, and gives the kids a head start. The donated props and materials are very eclectic and in keeping with the Pageant vibe. As part of the casting call, volunteers really look forward to seeing something from a scene they might have been in last year. It’s an opportunity for pieces from the Pageant to go on and have a new life. They have sentimental value to a lot of people.” 

The ultimate goal for those attending the casting call is a phone message stating, “We think you’re perfect for Pageant of the Masters, do you have the desire to make a commitment?” 

The Pageant’s extended family of volunteers continues to grow, as does the excitement and enthusiasm for each new production. 

It’s going to be a spectacular show, so don’t miss it.

The Pageant of the Masters production Made in America will be presented nightly from July 8 - September 3. Advance tickets are now on sale starting at $20 per person. 

To stay up to date on all things Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts, visit