The 23rd Mormon Miracle Pageant, with performances scheduled for July 7-9 and July 12-16, will have an innovative feature this year.

Firesides addressed by LDS Church authorities and accompanying choral music will precede each pageant performance on Temple Hill.The firesides will begin each night at 8 p.m. on the pageant site and be 45 minutes in length. There will be a 30 minute recess, and then the curtain will rise on the pageant at 9:15 p.m.

Each night a chorus from one of the eight regions in the Manti Temple area will sing. Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Utah South Area, will be the July 7 speaker.

The 600-member cast has been in rehearsal throughout June under the direction of Macksene Rux and her assistants, Jane Braithwaite, Helen Dyreng and Don Ray Olsen.

A few of the performers, as well as some of the production people, have been with the pageant since its first performance at the Sanpete County fairgrounds in 1967. The following year it was moved to the Temple Hill site and has been there ever since.

"Because many members of the cast are young people, we have a constant turnover," Rux said. "That requires numerous rehearsals if we are going to have a polished production."

Most of the principal parts are double cast to ease the load of rehearsals and performances on people who have other obligations.

Another 600 people are members of the production staff, R. Morgan Dyreng, general manager said. They are involved in a multitude of activities: costumes, makeup, ushering and seating, sound, lighting, stage management, scenery.

"The pageant is a major cooperative effort," Dyreng said. That effort, he explained, includes much more than the production itself.

"There's traffic and parking variety of other services involved in hosting literally thousand of visitors," he pointed out.

The Ephraim Stake, for example, operates several booths near the Temple grounds that sell items like hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, cup cakes and beverages.

The Manti Stake serves home-cooked dinners each pageant day from 5 to 9 p.m. in the First-Second ward and Third-Fourth ward cultural halls.

The dinners feature roast beef, barbecued turkey (he favorite), several salads and ice cream. The dinners are sometimes attended by more than 3,000 people in a single night.

Boy Scout troops serve breakfast the mornings following performances, except on Sunday, in the cultural halls.

Last year a record 134,000 people attended the eight performances. Every state and 34 foreign countries were represented in the audiences.

They saw a production that blended dance, music and narration into a variety of scenes that tell the Mormon story: its origin, the westward movement, the settlement of Utah, the theology that is its foundation.

The script is based on a dramatic reading written and presented by the late Grace Johnson. Since its first performance in 1967, adaptations have greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the production.

The pageant is financed partly with a church contribution and the profits from the sale of souvenir programs at the gates by a Relief Society group. Admission is free.

The profits from the booths and the dinners are used to support ward and stake activities.

"One of the interesting developments in connection with the pageant is that it has become a focal point for youth groups who come here to camp and attend the pageant as a part of a major summer activity," Dyreng said, noting that family reunions now use the pageant as the high point in their annual get-togethers.