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The 2017 pageant season is July 11 through August 5. Families can experience pageants that rhyme and the spirit of Nauvoo by attending or participating in the Nauvoo and British pageants. Family cast applications for the 2017 pageants are due by October 31, 2016. For more information, click here.
Since 2005, tens of thousands have flocked to Nauvoo, Illinois, during the month of July to hear Parley P. Pratt greet them with a vivacious “hello” and welcome them to the Nauvoo Pageant with the words “when you’re here, we’re here.”
The Nauvoo Pageant “A Tribute to Joseph Smith” was first performed in 2005 in conjunction with the Prophet Joseph Smith’s 200th birthday. It was produced and directed by the cultural arts and priesthood and missionary departments of the LDS Church. This pageant emphasizes the mission of Joseph Smith and the sacrifice and faith of early Church members who came to Nauvoo to build a city and a temple.
From 2005 to 2013 on Tuesday through Saturday, audiences watched the Nauvoo Pageant on an outdoor stage below the temple grounds. In 2014, the British Pageant “Truth Will Prevail” came to Nauvoo to commemorate the Nauvoo Pageant’s 10th anniversary. This musical production of early reformers and British Saints replaced the Nauvoo Pageant on Wednesday and Friday evenings. The story of Nauvoo continued to be told on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. In 2015, the British Pageant became a permanent part of the Nauvoo Pageant experience.
The British Pageant in England
The British Pageant was first performed in 2013 on the Preston England Temple grounds in Chorley, England. According to assistant stage manager Martha Solomon, Alex McKenzie Johns envisioned the pageant as she watched the vignette “Go Ye unto All the World” in the Seventies Hall in Nauvoo in 2006. Fast forward to when Martha Solomon became assistant stage manager for the British Pageant. “I remember very early feeling—especially in the audition process—that this was a breath of fresh air to the English saints,” she said.” It felt very much like there was a revival starting—of the gospel, of our Church history, of the heritage of the saints in the British Isles.”
Martha recalled how the British Pageant was received. “We welcomed several members of the Quorum of the Twelve and General Authorities who came to watch the pageant in Chorley. They said it was very significant and something to be remembered and should happen again. It is a lot bigger, not just a British story but a story of the Church worldwide that saved the Church.” In 1837, the Prophet Joseph knew the Church needed more members, and British Saints stepped forward. By 1850, twice as many members hailed from the British Isles than from America.
Preface to the Restoration
Paul Cartwright, who played Parley P. Pratt and George Cannon Sr. in the 2016 Nauvoo and British Pageants, said, “Sometimes we forget that the stories of our ancestors who came through Nauvoo began with ancestors converted in England and all the way back to the reformers William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, and Ann Askew and very early reformers in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. All of us are affected by that history.”
Martha Solomon agreed. “William Tyndale and John Wycliffe were absolutely key and crucial in British history. If it were not for their work and sacrifice, we would not have the Bible in English. And had we not had the Bible in English, Joseph Smith could not have read the Bible to ask his question in the grove of trees. There wouldn’t have been a restoration, and the Nauvoo Pageant would not have been. John Wycliffe and William Tyndale had to be in the British Pageant to preface the work that led to the restoration.” Martha also noted that John Lathrop was exiled to America, and Joseph Smith became one of his descendants.
Martha Solomon served as assistant stage manager for the 2015 and 2016 pageants in Nauvoo. She remembered a young cast member saying; “The British and Nauvoo Pageants go together like the Bible and the Book of Mormon.” Martha concurred. “We now have another witness of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. We’re stronger with both pageants. They testify of each other.”
Rachel Bayles, a core cast member who played Emma Smith, Jane Benbow, and Ann Askew in the 2016 pageants, was impressed by a comment made by a Baptist minister who recently joined the Church. “The Nauvoo and British pageants rhyme,” he told her. “They are similar in beautiful ways,” Rachel said. The pageants parallel each other and teach the same truths. For example, Sarah Ashton in the British Pageant and Becky Laird in the Nauvoo Pageant “had a feeling” and requested baptism. Each was instrumental in bringing her family to Nauvoo because, as Sarah Ashton said, “This call to gather is of God.”
Nauvoo’s Two Pageants
When the British Pageant came to Nauvoo in 2014, the scripts needed to be revised to connect the stories. Robert and Becky Laird, lead characters in the Nauvoo Pageant, found themselves in the British Pageant. Charles and Martha Makepeace from the Nauvoo Pageant became Twizzleton and Margaret Turley, amusing characters in the British Pageant patterned after the Makepeaces. “They add a sense of humor that sometimes occurs when couples who get to the autumn stage of life have a way of communicating,” Martha Solomon said. “They bring warmth and humor to the pageant.”
With unique performing stages in Nauvoo and Chorley, the British Pageant needed to fit the stage in Nauvoo. A giant tent enclosed the stage in Chorley. The cast sang, danced, and performed downstage, and a choir stood upstage on a stone bridge. Arthur Ashton’s deceased wife Lizzie, whom he referenced as he narrated the story, also stood on the bridge. Later in the story, when Ann Cannon died, she joined Lizzie on the bridge.
Now in Nauvoo, the same performers participate in both pageants. In the British Pageant, cast members sing, dance, and speak on the outdoor stage with no choir standing in the background. When Arthur Ashton asks for his deceased wife’s advice, Lizzie appears alone upstage. The scene where Ann Cannon dies onboard ship has also been adapted for the Nauvoo stage.
From July 5 to 30, 2016, approximately 1,100 volunteers, including 23 core cast members and five family casts, brought to life the early history of the Church in Nauvoo and the British Isles. When asked how so many participants learn two pageants in such a short time, Dallyn Bayles replied, “That’s one of the great miracles of the Lord out here.” Rachel Bayles added that the process has been streamlined with diagrams of the stage and district assignments. For example, their district is the water district, and they have the same blocking with the same props, booklets that explain, and casts mentoring each other. More importantly, “the Spirit helps a lot.”
Insights into Joseph and Emma
Dallyn and Rachel Bayles played Joseph and Emma Smith in the Nauvoo Pageant from 2005 to 2007. They returned in 2016 as Joseph and Emma in the Nauvoo Pageant and John and Jane Benbow and Joseph Smith and Ann Askew in the British Pageant. When they performed a decade earlier, Dallyn and Rachel’s young children did not appear on stage. In 2016, their five children, ages three to 14, joined them in one of the pageants.
During the 2016 pageant season, Dallyn and Rachel recognized that their family and Joseph and Emma’s family were about the same age. “It’s kind of sobering when we came to that realization,” Rachel said. “When we were doing the letters vignette” between Joseph and Emma, “one of the lines Lucy [Mack Smith] says is ‘they celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary with a splendid party.’” Rachel suddenly realized “it’s going to be our 16th anniversary in October.” She added, “Sixteen years is not a long time to be together.” She could not imagine her husband being shot–or restoring the Church and publishing the Book of Mormon. Dallyn and Rachel had not been chased by mobs, but they had experienced hard times, been away from each other, and learned to solve problems together and stay strong. Rachel said, “I always think about Emma” during challenging times.
Dallyn and Rachel’s perspectives on Joseph and Emma deepened and expanded over the years. “Joseph was a family man,” Dallyn said as he considered his own growing family. “He was not just a prophet, and it wasn’t just Joseph and Emma. But they had children and real concerns about them,”
Dallyn and Rachel appreciated the pageant directors wanting to see real people and real children on stage. “It is tender seeing the children being children,” as this would be unacceptable on a professional stage. One night during the Nauvoo Pageant, Dallyn was playing Joseph Smith in exile writing a letter to the Saints. His six-year-old son rushed toward him on stage saying, “Dad! Dad! I’ve got to tell you what Sister Ricks brought me!” Dallyn held his son next to him and continued his portrayal as Joseph Smith: “Thus saith the Lord, Keep the work on the temple going.”
Another time a constable knocked on the Smith door to take the Prophet away, and their six-year-old son clung to his mother who depicted Emma. “The children were as involved during those difficult times here in Nauvoo as Joseph and Emma were,” Dallyn said.
“It’s always amazing to represent the Prophet and his wife and feel close to them,” Dallyn said. He and Rachel also felt honored to portray the early Saints in the British Isles who became the lifeblood of the Church and to represent their own ancestors who sacrificed to come to Nauvoo. “There’s more to this story than Joseph and Emma or Brigham Young or those people we know and love already. It’s not just an American pageant or a British pageant.” It is about all of God’s children. “This story is a continuous round of faith that I hope will never die,” Dallyn said.
Martha Solomon from England noted that during pageant time, “the spirit of Nauvoo is thick in the air. The spirit of Nauvoo is pure love–Christ’s love– and it reaches into your heart, takes a grip, and doesn’t let go if you allow it. Even if you’re a little hard-hearted, if you have a willingness to believe, a desire to hope, the Lord will get your heart and reach into it through all the people involved here” who help the pageants rhyme and let audiences know that “when you’re here, we’re here.”
The 2017 pageant season is July 11 through August 5. Families can experience pageants that rhyme and the spirit of Nauvoo by attending or participating in the Nauvoo and British pageants. Family cast applications for the 2017 pageants are due by October 31, 2016. Applications for Volunteer Support, Bagpipers, and Work Crew will be accepted after the October 31 deadline. To submit applications, go to www.nauvoopageant.org and click on “Participate” at the top of the web site.
Rosemary G. Palmer is Nauvoo, Illinois, correspondent for Meridian Magazine.