Next year will be the last performance of the Mormon Miracle Pageant
By Suzanne Dean
MANTI—The Mormon Miracle Pageant will be performed as usual in June 2019. But that performance “will be the end of the pageant as we know it,” according to President Mark Olson of the Manti Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Olson’s comments followed release of a statement last Saturday, Oct. 27 on http://www.lds.org, the church’s website, saying local celebrations of history and culture may be appropriate but “larger productions, such as pageants, are discouraged.”
The statement said conversations were underway with local leaders about ways to “appropriately end, modify or continue these productions.”
But Olson said Tuesday that after receiving counsel from Elder Ronald Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve, Manti LDS Stake leaders had decided to cease sponsorship of the pageant that has been performed at the base of the Manti Temple for 50 years.
However, he said a “leadership committee” would be formed to examine whether the stake should stage some other cultural celebration on its own.
While the Mormon Miracle Pageant has been funded by the Missionary Department of the church, a local production, if the stake goes ahead with one, would need to be locally funded. Olson said he expected an announcement about post-2019 plans to be made in local wards by Thanksgiving.
Reaction to discontinuation of the historic production, a staple of life in Manti and Sanpete County since the 1960s, has been “across the board,” said Garth Sorensen, a counselor to Olson in the stake presidency.
Some people have expressed disappointment, but “there are undoubtedly those who are feeling relief,” Sorensen said.
Ivo Peterson, who has a master’s degree in theater and who was a performer, director and costume designer for the pageant for more than 20 years, said he was “sad to see it go.”
“Having put so many years into it, I was disappointed. It built a lot of testimonies,” he said. But he said he’d had the thought, “If each person (in the pageant) were to spend the time they spend on the pageant helping others, it would be as big a boon to the community as the pageant.”
Petersen was in college studying theater when Macksene Rux, a Hollywood actress, took the reins of what had been a local program and transformed it into a top-notch production that, in peak years, attracted 100,000 spectators over its eight-night run.
“She was on the cutting edge of what was happening in theater at the time,” he said. “But things go out of style. Over 50 years, things change. It (the pageant) just really needed a doing over.”
Rux’s narration tape, recorded in the late 1960s, is still being used, even though her co-narrator, Francis Urry, died in 1985, and she died in 1998.
Peterson said the church was undoubtedly at a point where it had to decide whether to make a fresh investment of time, energy and money in the Mormon Miracle and other pageants, or to back away from pageants altogether.
One of the side effects of, if not a partial motivation for, the pageant, was economic. The influx of visitors brought cash to small businesses throughout the county, including restaurants, convenience stores and lodging establishments.
Cessation of the pageant “will affect us a lot, because it’s eight days of a full house,” said Melissa Cox of Manti, assistant manager of Willow Creek Inn in Ephraim. “It’s not just us, but hotels in Manti, Gunnison and Mt. Pleasant. It’s going to affect everyone.”
A silver lining is the forthcoming last year. “Next year is going to be huge,” she said. “We’ll probably have a line out the door.”
Kent Barton, Manti City administrator, who has directed the turkey dinners served to pageant visitors, said his operation would do “business as usual” in 2019. What happens after 2019 is up in the air, he said.
The dinners have been orchestrated by a 10-person steering committee and staged by 600 to 700 volunteer cooks, servers and cleanup people. “In a community of 3,500, that’s a pretty good percentage,” Barton said.
The city has raised about $30,000 per year, which has been used as matching funds for the grants that have built the community swimming pool and the softball five-plex now going in north of town.
The money has funded smaller things, too, such as concession stands at the Manti High School football stadium, a sound system for the Ladies Literary Club and a piano for the Manti Arts Council.
President Olson said the church has been mulling where to go with pageants for years. He said the decision to eliminate them wasn’t a matter of finances or the fact the Manti pageant had the word “Mormon” in it, a term the church now officially discourages.
“Ultimately, the church is looking to reduce and simplify programs, and take away heavy responsibilities from individuals and families,” he said. And, he said, “the church had taken a serious look at the sacredness of the temple grounds” and whether the pageant was a fit for the location.