SALT LAKE CITY – Every summer in locations across the United States, thousands of volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perform in pageants open to the public. These large outdoor productions highlight stories from the history of the Church and from the scriptures through music, theatrical dance and dramatic spoken word. All actors are volunteers, and the admission is always free.
“It’s a delightful experience because of the commitment and sacrifice of the pageant leaders, the work crew and the cast. I’m impressed with the dedication and the commitment of hundreds of people,” said A. Bryan Weston, director of the historical sites at Palmyra, New York, where the first Church pageant was performed in 1937.
This summer there are four pageants that span from Utah to the east coast, attracting people and families who want both an uplifting and affordable evening.
The Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, finished performances in late June, drawing thousands to the production that takes place on the hillside of the majestic Manti temple. This year’s production had the largest cast yet, with 930 volunteers performing. The cast includes people of all ages and has spanned generations throughout the 43 years of production. The 14,000 chairs that are set up along the hillside for the audience are an impressive sight. The storyline intertwines the beginnings of the Church with the history of the pioneers who settled in the Sanpete Valley in Utah.
“I think the most rewarding part is when it’s over and you stand at the gates and watch people leave and they have a smile on their face and maybe a tear in their eye and you can see that it’s had an impact – that they’ve felt something. That’s why we do it. We see the same thing in our cast members. It’s life-changing,” said Douglas L. Barton, Manti temple pageant president.
The second Utah pageant is held in Clarkston, Utah, and highlights the life of Martin Harris, a man who was important in the early days of the Church. The pageant, now in its 26th year, honors Harris for his financial contributions toward the publication of the Book of Mormon and the inspiration he was to the early Saints.
Telling a similar historical story, the pageants in Palmyra, New York, and Nauvoo, Illinois, take place at some of the Church’s most significant historical sites. These sites are located in smaller cities, so the pageant season is a boost to their local economies.
Palmyra, located in upstate New York, is where Latter-day Saints believe that Joseph Smith Jr. received divine visitations to restore the same religious doctrines that Jesus Christ had established when He lived on the earth. The pageant is performed on the Hill Cumorah, the place where Joseph Smith received the sacred record that later became known as the Book of Mormon. The pageant attracts anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 people each night.
The storyline of the Hill Cumorah pageant focuses on the history and message of the Book of Mormon. It emphasizes the belief that Christ is the focus of the religion, sent to bring peace and happiness to families and increase love among men and women.
“It reaches out to members and nonmembers of the Church in a great association and brotherhood, allowing members and missionaries to fellowship and share the message of the Restoration. It also builds bridges of friendship across cultures and religions here in the area,” said Weston.
There are several historical sites that have been reconstructed throughout Palmyra that attract thousands of tourists from all over the world to both view and participate in the pageant. Because of the large number of tourists, there is a positive economic impact on the city.
Martha Wolf, a resident of Fort Madison, Illinois, said that she has a strong relationship with the Mormons in Nauvoo. She is the co-owner of the Ivy Bakeshop, which is located 12 miles up the river road from Nauvoo. After opening this restaurant in 1995, Wolf has enjoyed serving large families at her restaurant, whether they are performers or visitors.
“Our business has profits from it, and the whole community profits from the relationships that are forged during those few short weeks,” she said. “We’re in a small town, so it’s always nice to have bodies walking the sidewalks along the beautiful Mississippi River.”
The pageant in Nauvoo is titled A Tribute to the Prophet Joseph Smith and was first performed in 2005 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth. In addition to the pageant, the Nauvoo historical sites feature daytime vignettes where cast members share the history of the site through smaller intimate performances.
“Anyone that comes and watches the pageant will understand and know much more about the Church as it relates to its beliefs, doctrines and its history,” said Jack Renouf, Nauvoo pageant president. “This goes for anyone who would be not a member of the Church who would know basically nothing, and it would hold true for people who have been members all of their lives: that they would walk away, understand and have better feelings about the Church.”
Two other pageants, the Castle Valley pageant (held every other year) and the Mesa pageant (held during the Easter season), are also produced by the Church.
Manti, Utah: Mormon Miracle Pageant
Performances 18-20 and 23-27 June 2009
The pageant begins at dusk, around 9:30 p.m.
More information at mormonmiracle.org
Nauvoo, Illinois: A Tribute to the Prophet Joseph Smith
Performances Tuesday through Saturday from 7 July 2009 to 1 August 2009
Pre-show activities begin at 7 pm.
The pageant begins at 8:30 p.m.
More information at historicnauvoo.net
Palmyra, New York: Hill Cumorah Pageant: America’s Witness for Christ
Performances 10-11 and 14-18 July 2009
The pageant begins at dusk, around 9:15 p.m.
More information at http://www.hillcumorah.org/pageant/
Clarkston, Utah: Martin Harris, the Man Who Knew
Performances 7-8, 11-15, and 18-21 August 2009
The pageant begins at dusk, around 8:15 p.m.
More information at http://www.martinharrispageant.org
This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom.