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New costumes, staging bolster pageant quality

The Mormon Miracle Pageant, unique among Church pageants for its dramatic setting on the steep hillsides of the Manti Temple, dimmed the lights June 27 on its 32nd year of consecutive performances. It was a year highlighted with many improvements in staging and costumes, attendance figures and cast size.

"This year was especially exciting for a number of reasons," said Jay Cluff, president of the pageant.Perhaps the most obvious improvements came in the visual and audio presentation of the pageant. New sets, designed to appear like rock outcroppings, created dramatic settings on the hillsides and smoothed the disruption between scenes. With less blackout time between scenes, directors choreographed additional movements to go along with the extra time under lights.

"The new sets took us to a level of professionalism we've never had before," Pres. Cluff said.

Many new costumes, including costumes for the Lamanite battle scene, were created by seamstresses in a new sewing facility located in the commissary building behind the temple. Linda Wheeler and Susan Memmott-Allred are directing a renovation of the costumes as part of a five-year program.

"It's not easy," Pres. Cluff said. "The costume committee must design and sew enough costumes for 500 to 600 people."

With improved staging and new costumes, the size of the cast was enlarged from the average 450-500 members to 797.

One of the challenges for the audience in recent years stemmed from a recording of the narrative that was worn and blurred. To improve the clarity, sound engineers pieced together original recordings and then digitally enhanced the sound to create a new master.

Another improvement of the year came as the result of the new pageant director, Ivo Peterson, who delegated responsibilities among three new assistant directors.

The reorganization streamlined the commitment of cast and staff members. Now, instead of two months of rehearsals and performances as in past years, the pageant is produced during one month.

But while the visual presentation bolstered the pageant, the success and popularity of the pageant is a result of the charitable service rendered by members of the nine stakes in the area. About half the members of each stake sacrifice their time, talents and energy, Pres. Cluff said.

Beyond the drama of the pageant the cast is conscious of the spiritual experience, Pres. Cluff said. To prepare spiritually, cast members attend devotionals with special speakers prior to each performance. They also have scripture readings and prayers to remind them of their responsibility to "teach of Christ."

One performance on June 20 was presented in honor of Macksene Rux who played a vital role in the pageant through the years. She passed away June 8.

Sister Rux became involved with the pageant after returning to Salt Lake City from Hollywood. She fell in love with the script and made the first recording of the narration in 1969. Since then, her voice has been heard by more than 3 million people who attended the pageant during the past 28 years.

She was then asked to lend her professional experience as director. With the permission of Grace Johnson, original author of the script, Sister Rux modified the narration to allow for greater flexibility in staging and created the emotion audiences experience today, said Pres. Cluff.

"Macksene Rux inspired cast after cast of the Mormon Miracle Pageant to high performance," said Jane Braithwaite, assistant director. "Her dedication, deep knowledge of gospel principles and ever-present optimistic spirit lives on as a beacon light for this year's and future productions."

This year, inclement weather hampered the final week of rehearsals before the June 18 opening. "We've never canceled rehearsals before, even with rainy weather," said Pres. Cluff. "But rains were heavy and it was cold. Snow was falling in the nearby hillsides. The miracle happened on opening night when the weather turned absolutely perfect, and the weather remained ideal during the entire the two weeks.

"We had larger crowds the second week of performances than we've ever had," Pres. Cluff continued. With the use of bleachers rented from BYU, the pageant accommodated an estimated 25,000 spectators on June 26 and 26,000 on closing night, June 27. During the two weeks, an estimated 128,000 attended the pageant.

"We counted every chair and stretched out blankets across the field to get a count as accurate as possible," Pres. Cluff said. "We didn't want to pad any numbers."

Of the 81 outdoor pageants held across the United States, said Pres. Cluff, the Mormon Miracle Pageant is recognized for having the largest, single night attendance.

But the real measure of success, said Pres. Cluff, is in missionary referrals.

"Each night we have 90 missionaries on the field," he said, including full-time, stake and cast missionaries. "Last year we received 501 referrals. This year we received 716."

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