Got the opportunity to interview some people about their community pageant. If I had the time, it would have been fun to go and enjoy the show. One of the individual's I spoke to said that Tuesday night, when Pres. Uchtdorf was there, the donkey which carries Mary, decided to wander around the set. The cow also was having issues because no one had milked her, so they had to do the deed while the play was going on!
In a natural amphitheater located near the San Rafael Swell of south-central Utah, you will find the Castle Dale community of saints reenacting the history of their early pioneer settlers.
The Castle Valley Pageant story line is based on Brigham Young’s last call to have saints settle in Castle Dale. The play contains romance, birth, death, conflict and joy.
Community members said they are pleased with the awareness the pageant has brought to their valley. The narrative teaches the gospel, which includes the story of the area’s early Latter-day Saint’s historical sacrifices intertwined with the story of Christ’s life.
The Castle Valley Pageant is one of the few LDS productions that use live animals, which according to visitors makes it real and sometimes humorous. The play has experienced several incidences where the animals didn’t follow the script, including horses running off without the actor. Many pageant visitors have never seen an actual horse-drawn wagon or how a team of horses work, which adds to the historical significance of the play.
The original script, written for a ward project in 1978 by Montell Seely and members of the ward activity committee, was meant to be a one-time event. However, according to his daughter, LeAnne Seely, a member of the pageant’s marketing committee, the thought of unifying the ward and community became the driving force for Seely in making this production a yearly event.
With the approval of stake leadership, the invitation to participate extended first to other wards and then to other stakes. Now the pageant is held every two years as a countywide production sponsored by the LDS Church.
“It was a heartbreak when we changed it to every other year,” said Ken Christiansen, member of the pageant committee. “It has been a good way to teach your family the gospel.”
During the last weeks of July and first week of August, many community members in Emery County work together to produce a spectacular program the community can be proud of.
For many, being a part of the pageant has become a family affair. This year, a few families are represented by four generations in the cast. Christiansen said his father-in-law, Earl Farley, was one of the original cast members 32 years ago. Additionally, most of Christiansen’s children have participated in the play, and now his grandchildren are playing those same parts today.
There is a great camaraderie among the cast members and wonderful traditions have been created as families return to perform as cast members year after year.
“There are a whole lot of people that don’t get in costume because they are doing behind the scene work which is valuable to the pageant,” LeAnne Shelly said. “We have volunteers [who] clean the site, others provide security in guarding the set pieces and the sheriff’s department has provided parking control for 30 years.”
Other volunteers demonstrate various pioneer crafts and activities in the interactive pioneer village prior to the night’s performance. Guests are welcome to try their hand at churning butter, spinning wool and blacksmithing, as well as tasting food cooked in Dutch ovens.
School buses have been arranged to transport people to the amphitheater by another set of volunteers, said Roger Swenson, supervisor of transportation for Emery County School District. He said it has been great to hear the positive responses people make about their experiences at the pageant.
This is an outdoor pageant, where audience members sit on bleachers, overlooking the cedar and ponderosa pines of Utah’s mini-Grand Canyon, Swenson said. This backdrop helps to create an appreciation for the rugged conditions the early pioneers faced.
The pageant averages 2,500 to 4,000 visitors each night. Those who attend are not only entertained by the diverse set of cast members and animals, their hearts are stirred in remembrance of country and the legacy of pioneer faithfulness.
“My dad always used to say, ‘If we don’t make you laugh, we’ll pay your gas to get here, and if we don’t make you cry, we’ll pay your gas to go home,’ ” LeAnne Seely said. “The pageant touches all the human emotions and interacts with all the senses.”