MANTI — Tens of thousands of people will head to a small town in Central Utah over the next week to take part in a summer tradition, and they will be welcomed by hundreds of local volunteers.
At the foot of the Manti temple Saturday, thousands of people waited for the sun to set so the Mormon Miracle Pageant could begin. Each year, the pageant about the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes place on the Manti temple's hillside and under the stars.
From a handcart company of Mormon pioneers making the westward trek, to scenes from the Book of Mormon, there is one moment in the Mormon Miracle Pageant that instantly gets the audience's attention: Angel Moroni's appearance.
"There are a lot of eyes and photographers and a lot of pictures being taken at that moment," said actor Jason Maylett. He is playing Angel Moroni — a Book of Mormon prophet who LDS Church members believe appeared to the teenaged Joseph Smith Jr. "It's pretty exciting to be up on the top. It's something I have looked at my whole life wondering what that would be like."
Pageant Director John Keeler said the cast swelled to about 990 members this year. He makes sure each of them is in the right place at the right time. But it is not just the cast that makes the pageant a reality every summer. Each year, community members give their time to accommodate the growth from 3,500 people to 20,000 at times.
"It's a big pressure on the town and they do it very graciously, and we appreciate what they do," Keeler said.
Community members are among those setting up and taking down 14,000 folding chairs in the seating area and grilling 1,000 pounds of the local favorite BBQ turkey. Everyone involved in the production is a volunteer.
Doug Barton is one of the few volunteers who has been volunteering since the pageant's 1967 beginning who remains involved.
"I've been involved with the pageant for 47 years," said Barton, who is the technical director this year. "I was a graduating senior in high school and did the lights for the first performance."
For him and others, the big effort every summer to put on the pageant is rewarded with the thousands of people attending each of the eight nights of performances.
"To see all the people who come from all over the country and even the world, and to think that they come to this little community," Keeler said.
The pageant, which begun Thursday, will resume Tuesday evening and run each night through Saturday, June 29. Performances start about 9:15 p.m.