Church School Performers—Reaching Millions with Entertainment

    “Church School Performers—Reaching Millions with Entertainment,” Ensign, Dec. 1978, 54–55

    Church School Performers—Reaching Millions with Entertainment

    When the house lights dimmed and the stage lights went on, every performer was a missionary.

    Through music and motion, hundreds of young performers from Church schools declared goodwill this year to audiences totaling hundreds of thousands in live performances, and hundreds of millions on television and radio. Brigham Young University at Provo, Utah, BYU—Hawaii at Laie, Hawaii, and Ricks College at Rexburg, Idaho sponsored touring groups.

    A total of 584 BYU students, in 423 performances, appeared before more than 486,000 persons throughout the world. Three groups giving televised performances had a potential audience of more than 203 million. BYU—Hawaii’s Showcase Hawaii performed for 30,000 persons and traveled nearly 3,000 miles without ever leaving the Hawaiian Islands. Ricks College’s off-campus touring included 131 performances to a total live audience of 47,000.

    But the real story isn’t in the statistics; it’s in the reception.

    The group with the largest total audience and the most performances during the 1977–78 school year was BYU’s Folk Dancers. Between July 6 and August 20 they gave fifty-five shows in Europe and Israel. The thirty-four dancers and musicians and their directors made many friends and gained many fans, says tour manager Gary K. Palmer. Sometimes, their performances drew entire villages. “They were so well received—I’d love to be a missionary and just follow after them,” he says. Artistic director Don Allen, who has traveled to Europe numerous times with the Folk Dancers, credits the students’ success to their cheerfulness, willingness to perform, and openness about their love of the gospel.

    Other touring groups from BYU were able to introduce Europeans to American culture. The Lamanite Generation, which toured Scandinavia in June and July, gave many people their first exposure to American Indian culture, dispelling myths about Indians. Their performances included one before the queen of Denmark.

    The Young Ambassadors became the first Church-school performers to tour in Russia and Poland. Their television performances in those countries had a potential audience of more than 172 million. (See Ensign, Sept. 1978, pp. 78–79.)

    A Young Ambassadors tour of the midwestern and eastern United States from April through June included performances before a total audience of 29,700.

    The BYU A Cappella Choir tour of Israel and Italy in June took them before live audiences totaling 4,600 and a potential radio audience of two million.

    The Ricks College Festival Frolics groups, including folk, modern, and ballroom dancing and variety acts, toured Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada in the spring. The 13,000 total viewers of their forty-two performances included a delighted newspaper reviewer who called theirs “the greatest show in Nova Scotia.” He added in his review in the Halifax, Nova Scotia, Chronicle Herald, “I have never witnessed a more enjoyable show.” Frolics also made a shorter tour, playing to a total audience of 4,000.

    Ricks’ New Freedom Singers made four tours—three shorter trips and a 6,500-mile tour to Florida, reaching a total of 12,800. The Sound Alliance–Vikadettes variety show toured Washington, Oregon, and Montana, performing before 7,500. The Vikaliers, on three shorter tours, reached audiences totaling 7,000. The Ricks College A Cappella Choir toured Canada, giving nine performances before 3,000 persons.

    For the students who go on these tours, the hard work begins months before the tour starts. Not only do they learn routines and polish techniques, but many have to raise the money to make the trip. Dr. John H. Thompson, director of Ricks Program Bureau and Performance Scheduling, says that a tour to Europe could cost each student $1,000. An upcoming Ricks tour to Alaska will cost an estimated $600 per student—money provided by the student, not the school. Some tours, however, are funded by admittance fees, a school fund, or scholarships from donors.

    Unlike many tourists, the young performers go to give, not to receive. Dr. Thompson tells of a Ricks group that had been on a bus for two days and a night when they reached Nauvoo, Illinois, on their way home from the East Coast. As they arrived late at night, they were told that hundreds of people had been waiting for hours, hoping to watch them perform even though no show was scheduled. The students donned their costumes and put on a show—“and loved doing it.”

    Lamanite Generation dancers Terry Goedel and LeRoy Chavez perform before the queen of Denmark at the Rebild Festival. (Photography by Mark Philbrick.)