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Behind the scenes of the Brigham City Utah Temple cultural celebration

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 10:11 p.m. MDT

Harvest of Faith, a cultural celebration commemorating the heritage of the Brigham City region, at Box Elder High School in Brigham City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Harvest of Faith, a cultural celebration commemorating the heritage of the Brigham City region, at Box Elder High School in Brigham City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

BRIGHAM CITY — On Oct. 3, 2009, President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that a temple would be built in Brigham City, Utah. The building process began several months later and a small plot of land in the center of the city began to transform. In April 2012, five months before the anticipated opening of the temple, I received a call to be on the committee for the cultural celebration, an event that would be held the night before the temple dedication ceremony.

The title “cultural celebration” defined what the event would be: a celebration of the cultures and elements that contributed to the current temple district, which included northern Utah and southeastern Idaho. The committee was instructed that the primary purpose behind the event was to create an opportunity for the youths to connect with the temple; to see it as their temple. There were several details we needed to be aware of from the start: this would be a First Presidency event, the program could not exceed 80 minutes in length, it would take place on the football field of Box Elder High School, and it needed to include every youth in the area who wanted to participate.

The Cultural Committee was made up of professionals from the temple district: music producers, dance instructors, theater directors, professional artists, videographers, costumer designers and choral teachers — each of them leaders in their field. My specific task was to write the script for the program, and a rough draft needed to be completed in the few days following our first meeting. My fellow committee members started suggesting ideas, and I took four pages of notes. Toward the end of that meeting, Laurie Nielson, the assistant art director, leaned over and gave me a scripture reference she had recently read that she thought might be helpful: Alma 33:23. That scripture became the framework for the script:

“I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen.”

At the next meeting, I read the rough draft aloud and the committee members told me what to take out, what to add and where to go for additional information. We agreed on “Harvest of Faith” for the title, an appropriate reflection on the agriculture of our area as well as the themes that had been implemented in the structure of the temple itself. I went home, prayed some more and began implementing their suggestions. With the help of the committee, I had a final draft ready to submit to the church just before Memorial Day weekend.

With the script complete, the other committee members then used their skills to build a production unlike anything any of us had ever done before. Permission forms were created for every youth, costumes were designed, original music was written, and rights were purchased for existing songs that would be used in the production. Costumes were borrowed from California, thousands of yards of fabric was purchased from the East Coast, stake dance instructors were recruited, and more than 1,800 seamstresses throughout the temple district were put on notice that we would need petticoats, dresses, bow ties, hats, blouses, sashes, shirts, ties, skirts and bonnets just as soon as the fabric arrived. There would also be Native American costumes, Latin dresses requiring 14 yards of fabric apiece, Chinese uniforms, military ensembles and lyrical dresses for a special dance number about The Bird Refuge.

With my main task finished, I was put in charge of the printed programs but spent most of our committee meetings wondering how on earth this would work. None of us had done something this big before— temporally or spiritually — and while we had specific skill sets, we were all reaching beyond our abilities — and we knew it.

The youth practices began at the end of July and continued weekly from that point forward. At one of the committee meetings a few weeks after practices had begun, the dance director, Michelle Jackman, was asked how things were going.

“Honestly, it’s a disaster, but I have faith that it will come together,” she said.

There was much prayer going on at this time, much pleading with the Lord to help each person play their part to the best of their abilities. At this time, Bryce Day, a special education teacher from Bear River Middle School and one of the directors of the program, was working with the special needs youth to ensure their participation. His wife, Melanie, also a director as well as the theater teacher at Box Elder High School, oversaw the production of props while coordinating the sets, stage, flow and overall movements that would need to work just right in order to work at all.

It would be a lie to say everything went smoothly. There were stumbling blocks in the form of rights and fabric, last-minute changes to routines, gathering of volunteers, sewing emergencies and crashed servers. There were concerns in regard to the changes made to the high school football schedule and the damage that would be done to the field during the performance. And yet, it says in the scriptures that when we have done all that we can do, the Lord will make up the rest. And he did.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, more than 3,600 youths gathered at Box Elder High School before the sun came. They spent the entire day practicing dances and costume changes, and getting on and off the field in the time allotted. The missionary number included nearly 1,000 flags from all over the world that had to be handed out and then gathered back together without interfering with the program. Props were designated to specific locations around the field, costumes were repaired as needed, and sprained ankles were iced and wrapped.

At 6:30 that evening, Elders Russell M. Nelson and L. Tom Perry were escorted to their seats on a special platform built into the bleachers. They shared brief remarks with the youths, encouraging them to enjoy this experience to their fullest. Following the opening prayer, the youths were cleared from the field, the lights came on, the cameras rolled, the narration began and every youth became a part of history.

I watched the program unfold while remembering committee discussions that had taken place about where the choir should stand, how the meeting of the rails would be depicted, and what fabric should be used for the dresses in the patriotism number. It was mind-boggling to review the details that had combined together to create such a fantastic show. One number after another was executed flawlessly, better than any of the rehearsals had been. The energy and enthusiasm of the youths created an incredible atmosphere, the likes of which I’d never seen. I’m sure I was not alone in my impressions.

At the end of the program, the youths sang, “I love to see the temple, I’m going there someday.” Those of us in attendance did not doubt it.

Following the program, the sets were taken down, the costumes were put into storage, the football field was restored and the committee members went back to their day-jobs, families and church callings. Each of us knew from the start that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use our talents and abilities, and we are all grateful for having been a part of this moment — a moment that defined a community, a people and a cause.

The Brigham City Cultural Celebration Committee:

Chairman: Beverly Yates; assistant chairman: Debra Hall; director: Melanie Day; director: Bryce Day; assistant director: Scott Nelson; assistant director: Phyllis Nelson; assistant director: Tami Van Dusen; assistant director: LaNan Donovan; technical director: Bob Breitenbeker; stage production and website: Brady Howard; assistant stage production: Shela Merrill; assistant stage production: Kim Merrill; writer: Josi Kilpack; music composer: Tom Shimek; assistant music composer: Claudia Bigler; assistant music composer: Jeff Bigler; assistant music composer: Brian Petersen; dance director: Michelle Jackman; assistant dance director: Becky Reese; costume designer: Gloria Rudd; assistant costume designer: Jill Wallentine; art director: Kelly Donovan; assistant art director: Laurie Nielsen; graphic designer: Shaundra Cragun; videographer: Nathan Rose

Josi S. Kilpack is a novelist, editor and mother of four. For more information, please visit her website www.josiskilpack.com.

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