Every July, the small community of Nauvoo, Illinois, comes alive with visitors arriving to see the “Nauvoo Pageant—A Tribute to Joseph Smith.”As the sun goes down, the stage lights go on, and the audience becomes engrossed in the live outdoor musical drama depictingthe Prophet Joseph Smith and the early Saints who built a city and temple to their God. Authentic hymns, lively dances, and words and stories procured from journals and historic records invite the audience to feel the spirit of the early Saints as they built Nauvoo in the1840s. But what takes place behind the scenes before the lights officially go on in July and the Nauvoo Pageant begins?
For one thing, many staff members work year-round planning and organizing for the next year’s pageant. They receive applications and select participants for the five family casts and send them music and information packets. They select and prepare the Work Crew, Family Support, Costuming, Food Services, Security, and other volunteers. Staff members make costumes, repair and refurbish stage props, create items for the Frontier Country Fair, arrange for necessary services during pageant time, and coordinate with city officials. These staff members often work from their homes in many areas of the country.
Pageant Core Cast
The Nauvoo Pageant Core Cast consists of 20 lead actors who make a six-week commitment to Nauvoo, and they begin practicing several months before they arrive in Illinois. The Nauvoo Pageant is the only LDS pageant with live speaking actors, and during each performance the actors deliver their lines through small wireless microphones as they portray historical figures, such as Parley P. Pratt and Joseph and Emma Smith, or representational characters, such as Robert and Becky Laird.
The Core Cast is chosen through an arduous audition process that goes from January to April. According to Peggy Ricks, wife of the Nauvoo Pageant President, “the selection process is prayerful and deliberate. The most talented actors aren’t always selected. We look for those who are open to the Spirit’s direction and who put talents aside.” After the Core Cast is selected, the actors begin memorizing lines and becoming the characters they portray. During the month of May, Core Cast members rehearse in Utah for “Our Story Goes On,” a musical production celebrating life’s journey, which they will present in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. In June, the Core Cast spends an intense week and a half practicing the pageant script in Utah before coming to Nauvoo.
This year’s 2012 Pageant Core Cast arrived in Nauvoo on June 27, the day of the memorial service in Carthage, Illinois, for the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith and the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple. The Core Cast polished pageant, vignette, and “Our Story Goes On” scripts during days of record-breaking temperatures with no rain. On the evening of July 7, the Core Cast rehearsed on the outdoor stage, and the local bank thermometer registered 104º.
This year Jeff and Aurora Dickamore, who were married last year, portray Joseph and Emma Smith in the Pageant. Jeff has portrayed Joseph Smith since 2008 when he and his brother Matt played the roles of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Aurora was Becky Laird in the 2010 Pageant.
Darren Hill from West Yorkshire, England, auditioned via Skype for the part of Robert Laird in 2009 and was offered the part. In this year’s production, Meredith Rodgers is Becky Laird, the Scottish convert whose non-member husband accompanies her to Nauvoo and embarks on a spiritual journey to come unto Christ.
The Pageant Core Cast performs with Young Performing Missionaries and hundreds of supporting family cast members who practice the songs, dances, and scenes with a Zion attitude. They recognize the small Zion society they are building as they unite together through love, service, sacrifice, and hard work.
Young Performing Missionaries and Bagpipers/Drummers
After a rigorous audition process, 20 young stage and 18 band performers are selected and called to serve as Young Performing Missionaries in Nauvoo between May and August. Three technical support missionaries are also called to assist with sound, lighting, and stage and prop management. Young Performing Missionaries practice for five daily musical shows, the Nauvoo Pageant, and other events.
Bagpipers and drummers arrive the last week in June to prepare to perform in Nauvoo and surrounding communities. They practice Scottish pieces such as “Scotland the Brave,” also known as “Praise to the Man,” and the Highland Fling. Before the pageant’s opening night, band members march along Mulholland Street playing their pipes and drums. They also perform at the memorial program for the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum on June 27th.
The Nauvoo Pageant is divided into five family casts, with four casts performing on stage.