As we began rehearsal for the 2011 Nauvoo Pageant, we heard the familiar bars of the pageant’s opening tune, and the actor portraying Parley P. Pratt stepped onto the stage to welcome us to Nauvoo. Instantly, we felt like we had come home. After being members of the Nauvoo Pageant family cast in 2006 and 2007, we and our four children were now returning, four years later, to again be a part of this great production. We keep coming back.
With a script written under the direction of the First Presidency, the Nauvoo Pageant incorporates music, dancing, humor, testimony and doctrine in a dramatic representation of the historic and faith-inspiring events that occurred among the early Saints from 1839 to 1846 while they resided in Nauvoo. The pageant’s purpose is to invite individuals and families to come to Jesus Christ, follow the prophet and seek the eternal blessings of the temple.
This inspired message is delivered by a cast of Latter-day Saints who are striving to live the gospel and raise a righteous posterity unto the Lord. Because families are paramount to the pageant’s theme, families of all sizes are needed to present the message. Children are especially welcome as cast members. Those who have served full-time missions discover that the pageant presents a singular opportunity to share an authentic missionary experience as a family. Despite being a dramatic representation, family cast members are instructed not to act — they are encouraged instead to be themselves in a demonstration of their own faith and testimony while seeking the Spirit to touch the hearts of the audience.
This approach allows cast members to worry less about singing and dancing perfectly (many of us have two left feet) and focus more on becoming a community of Zion — both within our own families and as a collective cast. The pageant directors recognize the importance of building Zion and willingly heed the counsel of the Spirit during rehearsals.
For instance, while we were rehearsing a scene depicting King Follett’s funeral, the pageant’s artistic director unexpectedly stopped and invited a cast member who recently lost her husband to share her thoughts about death, the Resurrection and what it meant for her and her children to be a part of this particular scene. After she shared her heart and brought the Spirit to our rehearsal, our cast returned to our work on the scene. Now, we felt the Spirit as we heard the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words about eternal families. Recognizing the presence of the Spirit, the artistic director spontaneously allowed the lines of the pageant to continue to be recited well beyond that scene (even though we had not yet learned our parts), through depictions of the martyrdom, the completion of the Nauvoo Temple and the sealing of families in the House of the Lord. That night, every cast member had the opportunity to feel the outpouring of the Spirit of God confirming eternal truths.
Adults and children alike recognized the sacred nature of the moment we shared on the stage during our rehearsal that night. Nearly a week later, our youngest child, 10-year-old Anna, suggested we mention it as an illustration of what participation in the Nauvoo Pageant means.
Other examples offer glimpses of what it’s like to be a part of the Nauvoo Pageant. When we hear a crew of teenage boys vigorously singing “Scripture Power” as they disassemble the stage’s temple set late after a performance, or we see a small child dance the “Highland Fling” with joyful exuberance, or we share an intimate missionary moment with a member of the audience, we know we are involved in something special. When we form lasting bonds of friendship with fellow cast members who we met just days ago, or we break from rehearsals to perform temple ordinances in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple for our ancestors, or the Holy Ghost strikes us unexpectedly as another line from the pageant is uttered during a rehearsal or performance, we perceive that this is the Lord’s work. When we listen to our own child humbly express how the pageant has brought her closer to Jesus Christ, we know that participation in the Nauvoo Pageant is an abundant spiritual feast that has permanently blessed our family.
Perhaps our three older children explained it best. We asked them why they liked being cast members of the Nauvoo Pageant, and each one separately responded with a statement about how the pageant makes them feel. To quote our oldest teenage daughter, Leah, “It’s feeling the Spirit, meeting great people and sharing the gospel!” Is there anything better than that?
Aaron Blight, his wife Jessica and four children drive more than 1,000 miles from their home in the Berryville Ward, Berryville Virginia Stake, to be part of the family cast in the Nauvoo Pageant.