Brittany and Tishna Campbell of Gowanda, New York


Brittany and Tishna Campbell of Gowanda, New York

Each July nearly a thousand volunteers gather at Hill Cumorah, New York, where the Prophet Joseph Smith received the gold plates. After only a week of rehearsals, they put on the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which tells the story of the Book of Mormon and of the Restoration of the gospel. Tens of thousands of people see the pageant each year. There is nothing else Brittany (11) and Tishna (10) Campbell would rather do for their family’s vacation than be in the pageant. The girls bake and sell chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies and brownies year round to raise money for the trip.

The Campbells didn’t have as far to travel as many volunteers. Their home is in Gowanda, New York, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. They arrived on a Friday. The next morning began with breakfast and a devotional. Then casting (choosing people for parts in the pageant) started.

There are ten major scenes in the pageant. Each scene has a director. Each director chose the people for their scene and what part each person would play. Brittany and Tishna’s little brother Montgomery (5) was given the part of Jesus Christ as a young child. Their mother and other brother, Christian (2), were assigned to the scene where Christ visits the Americas. Their father didn’t have an acting part. He’s served as a pageant choreographer (someone who plans out everyone’s movements on stage) for ten years.

The girls’ favorite scene to be in is the “Voyage to Ancient America.” When Tishna and Brittany went to the tryout, there were more children than parts. Three years earlier, Brittany had played a child on Nephi’s ship in the voyage scene. She’d had fun being tossed into the air on a blanket by other actors. She decided that it was someone else’s turn this year and tried out for another scene.

When the tryouts were over and the parts had all been assigned, the directors started blocking the scenes. Brittany and Tishna learned where to stand, what to do during the scene, and how to get on and off the stage. The speaking parts, music, and sound effects for the pageant were all prerecorded, but the actors had to learn to move and react in time with the tape. The first practices were held on the big lawn in front of the stage. Later, rehearsals were held on stage.

Tishna was cast as one of Lemuel’s daughters in the voyage scene. Wondering if and when she’ll get splashed by the water during the scene added excitement. Usually she did get wet. After the scene was over, she had to be especially careful to hang up her costume neatly so that it would dry before the next performance.

“The boat scene is the most fun,” Tishna said, “because you get to run and play during the scene.” The tricky part of her scene was opening the floor hatches so that Nephi’s ship could be raised onto the stage. “It can be hard to do it quickly enough,” she added.

Rehearsing wasn’t always easy. Brittany was cast in the “Burning of the Prophet Abinadi” scene. She played a page in King Noah’s court. It was an important part because she was responsible for handing fans to all of King Noah’s courtiers as they came onstage. But once she herself was onstage, she didn’t have much to do but stand beside King Noah’s throne. Rehearsals lasted up to three hours and sometimes were hot and boring, but she still wouldn’t trade being in the pageant for any other vacation.

Although they weren’t in it, Tishna and Brittany’s favorite part of the pageant was the harvest dance. “That’s when the Book of Mormon people were righteous and they prospered,” Tishna said. “It’s a happy scene—very colorful, and everyone is dancing.”

When Tishna and Brittany weren’t practicing their scenes, they met in small groups they were assigned to. They had leaders who prepared lessons, stories, and activities for them.

“I like working on our journals,” Brittany said. “We write things down, and the leaders give us stickers and stamps we can use to decorate the pages.”

One year each child drew a picture on a quilt block. The group leader sewed the blocks into a quilt. The child who picked up the most garbage from the grounds during the pageant would win the quilt. Brittany won it.

Tishna’s favorite group activity was stamping designs on fabric.

Montgomery liked making a little garden, and one day his group went out and looked at the trees and leaves through magnifying glasses.

Everyone involved with the pageant attended three 35-to-45-minute devotionals each day. Sitting quietly through the devotionals was the hardest part of the pageant for Montgomery and Christian, but Tishna and Brittany enjoyed them. On performance days, the actors didn’t have to arrive at the grounds until noon. The Campbells used this time to sleep a little longer, get pizza or ice cream together, or visit some of the Church historical sites in the area.

With all the work and practices, why do the Campbells keep coming? “I have been to the Hill Comorah Pageant every year since I was three years old,” Brother Campbell said. “It’s a family tradition.”

“At the pageant, people are so nice to you,” Brittany said. “You make a lot of friends here. When we get home, we run to the mailbox each day, looking for letters from our new friends.”

“Everyone plays with my little brothers, and there’s no fighting here,” Tishna added. “It’s exciting because it’s for the Church, and it helps you understand the Book of Mormon. It’s our favorite vacation in the whole world.”

[photos] Photographed by Corliss Clayton

[photo] 1 Monument commemorating the Prophet Joseph Smith’s receiving the gold plates from the Angel Moroni

[photo] 2 Sister Campbell did beadwork on the family’s T-shirts to help her children celebrate their Iroquois heritage.

[photo] 3 The empty stage and chairs will soon be filled.

[photo] 4 Brittany beside the fans she hands out in the Abinadi scene

[photo] 5 Brittany and Tishna in costume

[photo] 6 A sample of Sister Campbell’s beautiful Iroquoian beadwork

[photo] 7 Final staging of the “Burning of the Prophet Abinadi” before the dress rehearsal

[photo] 8 Sister Campbell makes last minute adjustments to Montgomery’s costume.

[photo] 9 Tishna in the scene of building Nephi’s ship