Just how do you get 8,000 chairs up in less than two hours? A whole lot of teamwork.
Beautiful weather accompanied another full day of rehearsal leading into the show's first run through on stage Monday evening. If casting night is something of a miracle, getting the show on stage after just two full days of rehearsal must be a bigger one. It was the stage's famous special effects that kept the cast soaked versus last weekend's rain.
The first full days of rehearsals started at the Hill Cumorah Pageant on Saturday. With just six days to pull the production together, directors pull their cast members to every available portion of stage and lawn. However, check out today’s video for how afternoon thunderstorms affected practices for two hours Saturday. Miraculously, directors reported that even with the lost practice time, their scenes are still on schedule to hit the stage Monday evening.
Pageant Production Manager Mike McCurdy told the Hill Cumorah Cast on Friday they were about to do something that just “doesn’t happen anywhere in theater.” In a matter of hours, directors cast 770 people into 1,200 different roles for the 2019 production. Enjoy this glimpse into the three-hour casting process that kicked off this year’s production.
Summers in Western New York often mean thunderstorms. And while the show and rehearsals go on rain or shine, lightening means seeking shelter. See how the 2019 cast reacted to their first summer New York thunderstorm.
The cast of the Hill Cumorah Pageant arrived today. At 760 members, it is the pageant’s biggest cast ever. Cast members registered, had their fist meal at the hill and met with their cast teams for the first time. And this year, more than 70% of the cast is new to the pageant. New or not, the connection to fellow members is obvious.
“The community here is already really obvious to me,” said Hannah Jacobson, of Provo, Utah. “You can really feel it.”
Manchester, NY June 17, 2019 – Pageant organizers are expecting such large crowds for this year’s Hill Cumorah Pageant, they added an extra performance night and 3,000 spare chairs.
That’s not the only difference for the 82nd show, which opens Thurs., July 11. The show will feature the largest cast ever assembled with dramatic scene changes thanks to a new director.
“We have a great team of people who are going to make magic happen in just a few days,” said Shawnda Moss, the pageant’s first female artistic director. “Because of its scale, I can’t come in and make massive changes without changing everything. My goal is to come in and be a new set of eyes.”
Moss will be working with a cast who is largely new. Typically, the pageant is split evenly between experienced cast members and people new to its choreography, timing and intense rehearsals. This year, however, more than 70% of the cast has never participated in the annual production.
“I am excited to work with so many new cast members who are going to bring such spirit,” Moss said. “I think there’s going to be heart and passion, and the audience will be touched by that.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has hosted the pageant in Western New York annually since 1937, announced in October 2018 that it would end its flagship pageant in 2020 with several others around the country. Immediately, pageant organizers received a flood of applications to both participate in the pageant and from those planning to come see it.
Which leaves pageant organizers and the surrounding communities bracing for July. Ontario and Wayne counties are almost maxed out in available accommodations during the pageant.
“We always realize that this is a big deal,” said Christine Worth, Wayne County director of tourism. “It’s not just Wayne County, but the whole region that benefits. We’re rolling out the red carpet, and we’re ready to welcome the pageant goers. We’re ready to support the pageant for the next couple years and to show off our area. Our communities are always excited to prepare for this.”
The Thursday before opening night has long been a soft opening for the cast and even the community service groups who provide concessions. But this year, that former Thursday dress rehearsal night is opening night. giving the community and visitors to the region nine opportunities, July 11-13 and 16-20, to see the show. While seating has always been provided for about 5,000 with room for more, the seating area will be equipped with 8,000 chairs this year to accommodate crowds.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant evolved from a small production using car headlights to light the stage to a Western New York tradition. With water features, explosions, earthquakes and balls of fire, the Hill Cumorah Pageant is not your average summer event. It’s a must-see, free event that appeals to all ages.
“I hear from so many people who’ve said they’ve always wanted to go but never have,” said Neil Pitts, pageant president. “There is no other experience like this in the Rochester region. We only have two years left, so you will want to come see it.”
The pageant is a theatrical miracle. More than 760 volunteers – many from the Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse regions — are cast into 1,200 roles within hours of arriving. The cast is supported by a volunteer staff of 150. After just six days of rigorous rehearsals, the show opens. Volunteers in the performance and on staff come to Western New York at their own expense from around the world. They do not come to Manchester just to practice their sword fighting skills and to learn dances, or to wear costumes and wigs in the humid New York summer. For these people, this is a time of spiritual renewal in the cradle of their faith. In addition to rehearsals, the cast also squeezes in more than 1,800 hours of volunteer service in Wayne, Ontario and Monroe counties.
Presented annually by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1937, the pageant is a theatrical representation of scenes from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Performances by the all-volunteer cast are July 11-13 and 16-20 and begin nightly at 9 p.m. There is seating provided for 8,000 guests. Visitors will be able to don retired pageant costumes for photo booth pictures. Food is provided on-site by local service groups. Food tents open at 5 p.m. The Hill Cumorah is located on Highway 21, two miles north of Interstate 90, Exit 43. Parking and admission are free. Headsets are provided for Spanish translation, and American Sign Language interpretation is provided.
For more information about the Hill Cumorah Pageant, call 315-597-5851, go to www.hillcumorah.org or find us on Facebook under “Hill Cumorah Pageant.”
Palmyra, NY (October
27, 2018) –The
famed Hill Cumorah Pageant will cease production after its 2020 season.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced on Oct. 27, 2018 the end or modification of several pageants produced by the Church, including its flagship pageant in Palmyra. Mindful of a growing, world-wide church, Church leadership made the decision after an extensive review of all pageants. Leaders said they took under consideration how to reduce the burden of church member time commitments, cost, security, impact to church sites and more in their decision.
According to the Church’s official
release, “The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints is growing across the earth. As this occurs, local Church
leaders and members are encouraged to focus on gospel learning in their homes
and to participate in Sabbath worship and the Church’s supporting programs for
children, youth, individuals and families. The goal of every activity in the
Church should be to increase faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to share His
gospel message throughout the world. Local celebrations of culture and history
may be appropriate. Larger productions, such as pageants, are discouraged. As
it relates to existing pageants, conversations with local Church and community
leaders are underway to appropriately end, modify or continue these
Pageant President Neil Pitts said
the staff of the Hill Cumorah Pageant is supportive of the decision.
“We had a wonderful run,” Pitts
said. “Our church has asked us to focus more on the family, and this is
certainly in line with that desire. We
have had a wonderful 81 years and will focus on making the next two years an
amazing experience for our cast, crew and audience.”
Pitts said right now, the focus of
pageant officials is to communicate with regional and community partners and
the pageant staff most affected by the announcement.
“We are sensitive to the fact that
this will affect our wonderful community partners,” Pitts said.
“We have been blessed by exceptional relationships with our friends in
Manchester and Palmyra. We thank those communities for their years of generous
support, and we will continue to work with them on future endeavors.”
The Hill Cumorah Pageant is staged annually in Manchester, NY by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its 81st season wrapped in July 2018 with around 25,000 people attending the pageant. The 2019 season opens Thurs., July 11.
The production started as a humble reenactment of the Book of Mormon and Bible by local missionaries on makeshift stages lit by car headlamps. It has grown to be the largest outdoor theatrical event in North America and is a Western New York tradition attended by more than visitors from around the world. An all-volunteer cast of about 750 and 150 staff and technical crew work to stage the production annually. Local service groups in the Palmyra and Manchester areas provide concessions during the pageant, and it serves as those groups’ largest fund-raiser.