First things first: the Hill Cumorah Pageant is adding an extra day.
Instead of rolling out the first show on Friday, July 12th, the organizers decided to accommodate what’s expected to be larger-than-normal crowds by making Thursday, which is traditionally dress rehearsal day, a performance day.
That means the pageant will run July 11-13 and July 16-20.
For more details, click here.
Bigger crowds are expected this year because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leadership decided to make 2020 the pageant’s last run.
The pageant started in 1937 and plays out the story of Joseph Smith finding Golden Plates in Palmyra.
Generations of Western and Central New Yorkers have been connected to the massive show, which makes its conclusion all the more significant.
Pageant President Neil Pitts talked with Adam about the pageant’s history, message and end date.
Adam: So the last two years your hearing a lot of talk about people coming, are you ready for this giant turnout that could be coming?
Pitts: We are. We normally get about 35,000 people attending the pageant … so we’re ready for big crowds. We expect between 40,000-50,000 people. We keep hearing that, so you may want to come before our last performance in 2020.
Adam: What goes into this performance? Everyone knows it’s big, but just what goes into it?
Pitts: Well, there is a lot that goes into this. It’s not just a July event. We work all year long putting together the cast, the staff. There’s about 750 in the cast, 150 on staff, and then many volunteers in the area who come and help support the pageant. Last year there were about 200,000 volunteer hours in order to produce this pageant at Hill Cumorah.
Adam: You talked about the volunteer hours, we were talking earlier, those volunteer hours are part of the reason why the LDS leadership decided to end this.
Pitts: Well partially yes, that’s true. We see that there is a breakdown in the family going on in society in general. And the president of our church, The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, has indicated that we really want people to focus on the Savior in their homes, read scriptures daily, and build a strong bond in families. Pageants pull people away, at least for three or four weeks in July, during the heavy crunch time of the pageant, and so part of it was let’s keep people in their homes working on things. There’s other reasons too. There are seven pageants in the church, and most are going away. It’s just not the vehicle that we use anymore to run pageants and reach people.
Adam: While there can be some understanding of that, there has to be some mixed emotions for those who have been so intricately connected through this.
Pitts: Yeah, for sure. There are a lot of sad people, people who have been involved for 20-30 years, it’s just become a part of life, and many people that come to the pageant enjoy the spectacle, the huge production, that it is out under the stars during the pageant times that we have in July.
Adam: This started in 1937. What has this meant to local congregates and the community in the Palmyra area?
Pitts: Well, in the local congregations there are a lot of volunteers, so a lot of that time is spent helping support, put tents up, prepare the grounds, bring chairs out there. All kinds of things going on to prepare. Build stages on Hill Cumorah. So they are used to this July, this period of time. I’m sure they will find other things to do, and there are many who haven’t been to the pageant that are now saying that I need to get there these last two years, and the local congregations will have other things to do, there are many youth groups and others who would come and visit Hill Cumorah, which is in Palmyra during this time and it won’t be this intense three-week period of time of the pageant.
Adam: For those who haven’t gone and who are going to go, what can they expect to see?
Pitts: Wow, it’s a great outdoor spectacle under the stars. It starts at 9 o’clock and runs until about at about 10:30. There are ten scenes, scenes that are both from the Bible, and The Book of Mormon. We call it America’s witness for Christ, because the scenes from the Book of Mormon show the interactions that the Savior had with those people in the Americas, and as well as there are scenes from the bible around Jerusalem where the Savior was. They can expect to see fire bombs, water cannons, huge productions, special effects. We have a team of people who work on the work crew giving special effects and it’s just an awesome experience with huge speakers and sounds. Seven stages built on Hill Cumorah, where all these actors, 750 or so, come out on stage and will present.
Adam: There’s gotta be some kind of sentimentality then over the next two years to see its, not its decline, but its perhaps its climax in a way if you think about it
Pitts: We’re hoping we go out with a bang. There are large crowds who are coming so we really want to present the stories in The Book of Mormon which again are the interactions of Christ with the ancestors of the Native Americans, and so we would really like large crowds, and we’re prepared for them to come, but there is sentimentality, and for those people to see it end in 2020.