Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant tradition turns 75

By Cecily Markland

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, March 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Performers portray a scene during the Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant, which is now in its 75th year. The pageant shares the message of Easter, portraying the life and mission of the Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection.

Provided by Cecily Markland

MESA, Ariz. — During the Easter season, on a five-story stage graced with magnificent pageantry, dance and music, the Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant shares the message of Easter, portraying the life and mission of the Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection.

The forerunner to the pageant was a sunrise service atop a cotton trailer in Tempe. In 1938, the service was moved to Mesa, where it was performed on the steps of the Mesa Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Today, the 75-year tradition continues, and the Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant attracts tens of thousands of people each year. The 65-minute presentation features live animals, authentic-looking costumes and magnificent staging, lighting and sound.

Still, much of the richness of the pageant and what draws thousands to attend each year is in the “rest of the story,” or what goes on behind the scenes of the spectacular production. This year, the pageant features the largest cast ever — with a total of 475 cast members and 400 additional volunteers who will work behind the scenes. It represents a mammoth effort of hundreds of thousands of hours from participants and volunteer staff — everyone from costumers and animal handlers, to people who manage the props, to those who set up the sea of chairs on the grass in front to the temple Visitors Center.

“It’s a big production and nothing works without every piece — everyone’s involvement is just as important as anyone else’s to make this the wonderful community Easter tradition it has become,” said Jenee Wright Prince, the pageant director.

“We are there to present the story of the Savior, of the only perfect man," she added, "Even though we are imperfect and often fall short, the Lord always fills in the gap, always makes up the difference.”

Even as they work to bring the story of the Savior to life on the stage, cast and crew say they feel Christ’s love and their testimonies are strengthened.

“So many little miracles happen every year. It’s always amazing to see it come together,” Prince said.

Cristy Rosas and her daughter, Diana, 6, are part of the cast for the performances that will be presented in Spanish.

“We wanted to participate at first because we wanted to have a spiritual experience as a family,” Cristy Rosas said. “It was such a great experience that first year that we wanted to continue to feel that every year.”

“Life is different while we are in the pageant. Everything is perfect, happier,” she said. “We have answers to our prayers and we see miracles every day. It’s neat to feel that for one month each year.”

Diana, who is in first grade, said she loved “dancing with Jesus” in the scene with Jesus and the children last year.

Twins Hayden and Harrison Jones, 18, are participating in the pageant for the third time. They have been cast as angels for the second time.

“It’s so worth it,” Hayden Jones said.

He said he has learned “it doesn’t matter what situation the Savior was in, he had a great willingness to serve. It has made me think about how I could be more like that.”

Practicing and performing in the pageant is “an uplifting experience,” Harrison Jones said, and added, “especially right now,” referring to the fact that he and his brother Hayden have recently received their calls to serve Mormons missions and will be leaving shortly after the pageant is over. Both have been called to serve in Argentina: Harrison in the Buenos Aires North mission and Hayden in the Resistencia mission.

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