Rebecca Johnson, blonde and 17, checked off a long list. Everything was nearly ready for the seminary pageant in Cardston, Alberta, Canada: the sets, the props, the music, the costumes, the actors—well, almost all of the actors. Rebecca winced when she looked down at the cast list. Tracy Watson, who played the lead female role of Lucy Mack Smith, was sick. The pageant was scheduled to open the following night, and there wasn’t time for a replacement to learn Tracy’s part.
“When I walked in that night,” Tracy later explained, “Brother Wilcox took one look at me and asked what was wrong.
“I was really sick. I told him I felt weak, that I was drained. He asked if I was going to make it through the pageant. I just didn’t know.
“‘You might just have to find a new Lucy Mack,’ I said.”
Tracy paused in telling the story, her eyes moist.
“Then Brother Wilcox and another Melchizedek Priesthood holder gave me a blessing.
“During the blessing I had a good feeling come over me. It’s hard to explain. I didn’t feel weak anymore. I felt strong.”
The following night the pageant opened its first performance that year in the Cardston Second and Third wards’ cultural hall. After months of work, preparation, and study, the cast and crew of over 100 seminary students were ready, including Tracy.
An opening prayer was said. The house lights dimmed. From high up on scaffolds light crews flooded a corner of the hall with bright spots. A piano started playing softly in the background. Two narrators, playing checkers, introduced the audience to the story.
“Why that’s an old revival song! Those camp meetings, remember those days?”
“Yes, that’s how it was when the Church got started, wasn’t it?”
One of the narrators rose, picked up a coat and an old Bible, moved toward a camp scene on the stage, and sat in the congregation.
“As I recall,” the narrator said, “it was in about 1820 in upper New York State when it all began.”
The preacher in front of the congregation came suddenly to life, bringing his fist down hard on the pulpit, and began to preach a fiery sermon. The Smith family was in the congregation.
It was the prelude to Joseph Smith’s first vision and the beginning of the Restoration. The pageant dramatized early Church history, moving from the First Vision, to the publishing of the Book of Mormon, to the Kirtland period, and finally to Carthage Jail, and was centered around the life of Joseph Smith.
Don Schiedler, who played the role of Brigham Young, later explained the purpose of the pageant and its dramatization of Church history. “We take what we learn in seminary and put it into action in the pageant,” he said. “When you put history or the scriptures into a play, it brings it to life. Portraying just a small part of what Brigham Young did is something I’ll remember all of my life.”
Besides studying the historical background for the pageant in seminary classes, the members of the cast were asked to do outside research on the characters they played. This extra involvement in the characterization of great men in Church history had a strong effect on several of the students.
After a performance Marlin Hogg talked of his role as Hyrum Smith. “It’s a good feeling,” he said, “to put yourself in the place of such a great man.”
Marlin stopped and loosened his tie that had been styled after one popular during the 1800s.
“I never realized until the pageant that the things Hyrum and Joseph endured together were incredible. While playing Hyrum’s part I tried to feel some of the courage and faith he had to have to endure the jails and persecution—what he must have gone through. I had to build myself up to reach his stature, even just a part of it. You can’t try to feel what he felt and be what he was and not be changed by it.”
Jack Stone, who was in charge of the first seminary pageant several years ago in Cardston, told of another student who had been changed by the annual event.
“One student,” Brother Stone said, “who had become inactive and dropped out of seminary, asked to be in the pageant at the last minute. We had a few extra costumes and there were several crowd scenes, so we put him in those. That year the pageant was on the Book of Mormon. As we sang the finale, the entire cast came down on the stage. It was the part in the Book of Mormon where Christ visits the people in America after his resurrection. We sang ‘I Know That My Redeemer Lives.’ It was a touching scene. I remember looking over at the boy and seeing tears stream down his cheeks. He’d been changed because of his involvement.”
Members of the cast and crew are not the only ones affected by the pageant. The students involved this year created enough interest in Church history for a special adult class to be held in the seminary, and the pageant played to a full house at all three of its performances.
Rod Brandham, Porter Rockwell in the pageant, told of this year’s pageant’s effect on him and on the audiences it played to.
“The pageant is centered around the Prophet Joseph Smith and the sacrifices he made for the gospel. When you’re on the stage during the scenes where he is persecuted and jailed, and especially after his death at Carthage, you can hear some of the audience crying and it almost makes you cry. You have to fight hard to hold it inside until the performance is over, until the final song.”
Rod hesitated, clearing his throat.
“I love that man for what he did.”
At the end of every performance, the entire cast came on stage and sang “Praise to the Man” as a tribute to the man whose greatness and courage some of the students had discovered or rediscovered in the pageant. After the second verse, the audience joined in the singing, and there were few dry eyes.