Tableau vivant, which means “living picture” in French, is the once popular but nowadays rather rare art in which actors strike a steady pose amid the re-created setting of a famous painting or photograph, thereby turning a two-dimensional work into a static form of theater. Its most prominent modern expression is during Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters, a nightly affair that runs through July and August each year. But since 2000, tableau vivant can also be seen on the last night of Old Spanish Days, as part of the Fiesta Finale hosted by the Profant Foundation at El Paseo. That’s where a small troupe of actors will pose for a few minutes on Sunday night before coming to life to dance and sing as Californio music plays.
“It narrates the visual art with the performing arts,” said Marie Profant, whose grandparents came to Santa Barbara as part of the early Sansum Clinic in 1922 and were integral in the creation of Old Spanish Days as well as CAMA and the Music Academy of the West. “It’s a good way of teaching people more about art because they start to understand why these figures were in that pose to begin with. It’s not just some painting or photograph. It’s actually part of Santa Barbara history.” In addition to the history lesson, the evening raises money for the Profant Foundation, which supports developing artists, musicians, writers, actors, and now dancers, as well, of all ages through scholarships, exhibits, and performance.
Inspired by their summer trips to Laguna Beach’s pageant, the family started the tradition on the Courthouse stage in 2000. “We always wondered, why is Fiesta over so early?” said Profant. “Why not do something on Sunday?” About five years ago, they moved their event to El Paseo, which has a smaller performance space but the ability to enjoy fine wine and food as the performance ensues. This year’s tableau includes a staircase, which matches the restaurant perfectly. “It’s actually quite a chore,” said Profant of the actors’ posing, but she’s glad they integrate the movement after the scene. “You can hear everyone go, ‘Ohhh,’ when it comes to life.”
The Profant Foundation for the Arts’ Fiesta Finale Gala is on Sunday, August 7, 5:30-10 p.m., at El Paseo (813 Anacapa St., Ste. 10). The $200 ticket includes the dancing and musical performances, dinner, and wines from Au Bon Climat, Babcock, and Windrun. Call (805) 682-8184 or see profantfoundation.org .