Martin Harris Pageant Cast Members Are Performers, Missionaries
Contributed By Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff writer
- Clarkston has been the home of the Martin Harris pageant since 1983.
- It depicts the life of Martin Harris, who became one of the Three Witnesses to testify of the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.
- Close to 36,000 visitors traveled to Clarkston to watch the pageant.
“Every time I step out on stage I get chills. I feel the Spirit every time. I know Martin saw what he saw because I feel it every time.” —Brad Noble, actor playing Martin Harris
Clarkston—population of about 670 at the last census—is nestled in the northwest part of Utah’s Cache Valley. Its patchwork of gold and green fields are fringed by views of the mountains on each side. Directions to Clarkston often include the warning that the nearest gas station is 15 to 20 miles away. There is no grocery store. Yet from July 31 to August 15, this remote farming town received close to 36,000 visitors.
That’s because since 1983, Clarkston has been the home of Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew, a pageant that depicts the life of Martin Harris, who became one of the Three Witnesses to testify of the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. The events leading up to the first publication of the Book of Mormon and Martin’s role in those events are presented in an outdoor amphitheater adjacent to where Martin is buried in the Clarkston cemetery.
Included in those events is the incident involving the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon where, in June of 1828, after Martin’s repeated entreaties, Joseph Smith allowed him to take the pages to show his family. Unfortunately, through Martin’s negligence, the pages were lost. Both Martin and Joseph were reprimanded.
Brad Noble, who played the role of Martin Harris in the last two productions, said one of the big themes of the pageant is that of forgiveness and repentance. “There’s a line that I love at the end of the play where Joseph explains to Martin that we all need forgiveness and it’s Christ’s Atonement that does that for each and every one of us,” said Brother Noble.
Not only is Martin forgiven, but he also becomes one of three men allowed to see the angel Moroni display the gold plates. After the witnesses saw and handled the plates, a voice from heaven declared that the record was true and had been translated correctly.
Each performance begins with the testimony of the Three Witnesses that is now included in the foreword of the Book of Mormon. Brother Noble said, “Every time [I speak those words]—from the first time we did it in rehearsal and every time I step out on stage—I get chills. I feel the Spirit every time. I know Martin saw what he saw because I feel it every time.”
The hour-and-fifteen-minute production is staged every odd year with a cast of about 80, with 150 volunteers. Cast members put in long hours of rehearsals and performances. However, many cast members are quick to note the blessings.
“This pageant is a smorgasbord, and, if you allow yourself, it is an absolute feast,” said Jeff Richins, who played Joseph Smith Sr. in this year’s production but has also played the part of Martin Harris and other roles. “You can’t have an experience like this every night and not want to put yourself back in that environment.”
Prior to each performance, cast members spent time talking with visitors, often answering questions about their character or about Joseph Smith and the Restoration. Brother Richins took the opportunity during every show to give away a copy of the Book of Mormon, in which he had written his testimony. Many other cast members reported similar experiences throughout the three-week performance schedule.
“We’re here to perform, but we’re also here to be missionaries,” explained Maggie Porter, who was part of this year’s ensemble cast. “This is my own little mission.”
Terra Smith, who played Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, has participated in various ways in the pageant for more than a decade. The pageant has provided an opportunity for her to strengthen not only her own testimony but also the testimonies of her children, now ages 14, 13, and 12.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for [my children] to not only learn the story of Martin Harris and the story of how the Book of Mormon was first published and how it really came to be, but it also gives them an opportunity to really understand what missionary work is and to have that personal testimony built for themselves as well.”
Travis and Angela Parry and their five children, ranging from age 11 to 2, all participated in the pageant together and made it a goal for each member of the family to share a copy of the Book of Mormon during the week.
“And we did it. Our four-year-old even gave out two copies,” said Brother Parry. “Not only has [participating in the pageant] given my children a greater knowledge of Joseph Smith and the Restoration, but also a personal experience with missionary work.”
In addition to the efforts of the cast, missionaries from the Utah Logan Mission came to each performance to greet people, pass out programs, and talk to people about the Church. “It’s been a huge missionary tool,” said Brother Noble.
Ultimately, Sister Smith said, the story of Martin Harris teaches that everyone needs to have a personal witness of the truth by asking God. “We need to have a personal testimony, and … the only way we can do that is by reading the Book of Mormon and asking God to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is true,” she said.
Missionaries from the Utah Logan Mission talk with visitors to the Martin Harris pageant in Clarkston, Utah. Photo by Rachel Sterzer.
Missionaries from the Utah Logan Mission talk with visitors to the Martin Harris pageant near the monument of Martin Harris’s grave in the Clarkston, Utah, cemetery. Photo by Rachel Sterzer.
Missionaries from the Utah Logan Mission pass out programs and greet visitors to the Martin Harris pageant in Clarkston, Utah, on Thursday, August 13. Photo by Rachel Sterzer.
Members of the cast speak with Denzel Clark, one of the founders of the Martin Harris pageant, on Thursday, August 13, in Clarkston, Utah. Photo by Rachel Sterzer.