“Stars under the Sky,” New Era, July 1999, 20
Summer is usually a time to kick back from school, go swimming, and get a job. But it can also be a time to build closer relationships with your family and reinforce your testimony. For many young people, participating in a Church pageant while in their teen years is a great experience. Most live at home while participating in the pageants. Others go with their families as they learn and perform together.
Though the youth who perform in pageants spend many hours preparing for and performing in the pageants, they say it’s worth every minute of work to feel the joy of service, missionary work, and family unity.
Abe and Neva were in love and engaged to be married. Neva was all set to be married in the temple, but Abe didn’t understand the big deal about being married in the temple. So he and Neva argued, and he went off to find land in Castle Valley, leaving her alone. That’s how the story goes.
Abe and Neva are two of the main characters in the Castle Valley pageant, which tells of Brigham Young’s call for the Saints to settle Emery County, Utah. Fortunately for Abe and Neva, everything turns out all right. Abe decided to put off getting the land and to come back and marry Neva. The youth who perform in the Castle Valley pageant are hoping everything will turn out all right for them too.
They’re off to a good start by giving their service in the pageant. Kyle Beagley, who plays Abe, says the pageant takes up a lot of his time, but, he says, “It’s just the way you feel when you’re up there. It blesses you more than it’s a burden.” When he’s not romancing Neva and dancing in the mud, Kyle is preparing to serve a mission.
Aimee Giles, who played Neva last year, square danced most of her nights away this summer while playing a pioneer. She says she loves doing missionary work, and the pageant has given her an opportunity to do that. “It’s helped me not be so afraid to share the gospel, and it’s helped me realize what my ancestors went through,” Aimee says.
The actors are important, but they aren’t the only ones who make the pageant work. Nathan Thomas has operated the pageant lights for years. He humbly admits, though, “I just help support the pageant, because it takes a lot more than me to do it. I’m just a little piece in the puzzle.” He spends just as much time as the actors, and maybe more, perfecting the pageant’s light cues, and, just like Kyle and Aimee, he feels that it’s worth it because he’s in the Lord’s service.
And It Came to Pass, the Oakland pageant, is the only Church pageant in which the actors speak their own parts, so the auditions are pretty competitive. Bryan Podwys and Autumn Lindsay made it though. Bryan, who plays a young Joseph Smith, says his testimony has grown so much because he’s come to know Joseph Smith as he’s played his part. “It’s hard not to cry when I’m up there, because I didn’t always know what Joseph had to go through,” he says.
Autumn plays Elizabeth Young, one of Brigham Young’s daughters, and she loves the way the pageant helps her to feel the Spirit and to develop her talents. “We are reconverted every year we come,” she says.
God lives. Jesus is His son. We are His children, and someday, with our families, He wants us to come home—that’s what Aaron and Sarah Paget think is the most important message of the City of Joseph pageant in Nauvoo. “It’s the best thing you could ever think of,” Aaron says. Aaron and Sarah have performed in the pageant with their family since 1992, and they have loved every summer they’ve spent there.
Nauvoo has many historic Church sites, and the pageant portrays much of the history of the area. In addition to the pageant, two shows—the Nauvoo Adventure and Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo—give a musical look at Church history.
Mary Thurgood and Morgan Garrett, service missionaries in Nauvoo, are using their talents to share their testimonies for the summer. They sing and dance their way into the hearts of hundreds of tourists each night. “It’s kind of interesting missionary work because you don’t see the results, but you hope people feel the Spirit,” says Morgan.
“I know all of us feel the Spirit every time we perform,” adds Mary.
Have you ever stood on a high wall while people threw sharp objects at you? Well, Casey Allen, 18, had that experience every night for about a week. He played Samuel the Lamanite in the Hill Cumorah pageant in New York. “I wanted to get the experience of a mission itself,” Casey says. Hopefully Casey won’t have spears thrown at him while he’s on a mission, but he feels he’s better prepared to serve a mission after being in the pageant and feeling the Spirit there.
After Rachel Griffin, 18, got through her first night of rehearsing for her part as a Lamanite dancer, she could hardly walk she was so tired. The work is hard, but she says, “I have a much stronger testimony of the Book of Mormon. When you hear it and see it, the stories come to life. It’s so neat to relate to the people in the scriptures.”
In most of the Church’s pageants, participants study the scriptures as part of training for their roles. Melanie Reynolds and David Larsen found great peace and increased spirituality in reading their scriptures before performances. Melanie played the part of Mary Magdalene in Mesa’s pageant, Jesus the Christ. By getting to know Mary Magdalene through reading the scriptures, Melanie says, “The entire life of Christ became a lot more real to me.”
David played the parts of an angel at Christ’s sepulchre and a shepherd. He read the book of Mark and attended a pageant fireside before every performance. “For three weeks it’s just a spiritual high. It was great,” he says. He was most impressed by the scene in the pageant which portrays Christ’s sacrifice for us, and he says he has learned much more about Christ’s life.
One aspect of performances most people never think much about is the people who direct the many cast members. Sharie Stewart and Ken Hansen were the two associate directors of Manti’s pageant, The Mormon Miracle. Set on a hillside with hundreds of cast members, the pageant was a challenge to direct for these two. But both Sharie and Ken put an enormous amount of time and effort into the show and it paid off. “Our testimonies grew and I know many people’s lives have been changed,” says Sharie.
Ken agrees. He says he feels more prepared to serve a mission now, and he’s learned to love service.
The youth in the pageants use their talents to do missionary work and bless the lives of others. What better way to spend a few summer evenings than trying their best to serve and to be worthy to have the Spirit of the Holy Ghost with them. For all the youth, testimony was a lot more important than talent. And they found a way to bless their own lives and the lives of others during what could be a summer to remember.