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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Church Historic Sites and Pageants This Summer

This story appears here courtesy of TheChurchNews.com. It is not for use by other media.

By Christine Rappleye, Church News

When people find out President Alan Gudmundson and Sister Elizabeth Gudmundson are the leaders of the Church’s pageants in Nauvoo, Illinois, they nearly always get the same reaction, whether from people in their neighborhood in Cedar City, Utah, or from people they interact with in other assignments: “I thought those were canceled.” 

They are happy to clarify. “Not all pageants have been canceled,” President Gudmundson said. “Come and see. … Come and feel. Come and experience.” 

Tourists take a tour through historic Nauvoo, Illinois, in 2013. Photo by Kenneth Mays, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

With pandemic-related restrictions at the Church’s historical sites lifted this summer and the planned performances of the two pageants set in motion, the leaders at the sites are preparing for what they expect will be a busy summer. 

They expect large crowds at all of the Church’s historic sites, said Gary Boatright, manager of historic site operations. The COVID-19 pandemic paused vacations, including bus tours, family vacations and Church activities to the sites for the past two years. “Everybody is anxious to get out,” Boatright said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, the historic sites were closed to visitors, and many missionaries were sent home. In 2021, the sites began to reopen, but with requirements for reservations and other precautions. 

“Nothing about last year was normal,” Boatwright said. 

So far this year, they’ve seen a bump in attendance during spring breaks, he said. While reservations aren’t required this year, those at the sites have been communicating with tour operators. Many others have reached out as well, looking for places where a large group can meet. 

“We’re doing our best to accommodate everybody,” Boatright said. 

He and his team have been working with the leaders at each site to prepare and train the missionaries for the busy summer. “Everybody is anxious and eager,” he said. 

Illinois Historic Sites President Craig Dalton said they are working to make sure everyone has experiences where they realize that they are walking where the early Church leaders walked, recognize the significance of what happened there and feel the Spirit. 

“Hopefully what they take away is having a connection to the Lord,” President Dalton said. “The point of historic sites is to strengthen a person’s conversion experience.”

A man plays the drums in the Bagpipe Band in the Nauvoo Pageant. Photo by Jami Niles, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.


Patience and Planning

Patience and planning are two things Boatright advises for visitors to the historic sites this summer. 

Have patience and understanding for those at the sites, whether they are missionaries or fellow visitors, he said. Some of the sites are a little understaffed, and many new missionaries have been working hard and training to fill their new roles, he said.

Places that are entirely indoors, such as the Mormon Battalion Historic Site in San Diego and the Grandin Building in Palmyra, New York, have capacity limits on the number of people who can be in the buildings. 

Boatright suggests planning ahead, being flexible and being mindful of the places “where people can get out and explore the site and have their own sacred experiences.”

In places like the Sacred Grove and Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York, and the Priesthood Restoration Site in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, there are places outdoors to walk and contemplate once the tours are finished.

On each of the historic sites’ pages at churchofjesuschrist.org, there is a “What to expect” section for each site, including an overview of what is available at each location and a recommended amount of time to spend at each site. Also included are driving distances between each location for the New York sites and links to interactive maps of several sites. 

Nauvoo offers a number of places visitors can visit, including historic homes, a variety of performances, shops and summer pageants. President Dalton recommends using the Church’s website or nauvoohistoricsites.org to plan ahead. Missionaries at the visitors’ center or the information center can also help maximize visitors’ time there. 

Timing and Nauvoo App

Illinois historic sites have implemented an electronic ticketing system this summer for events that have limited capacity — the indoor performances of “The Promise” and “The Love of Our Savior” and the wagon and carriage tours — to help minimize the time people are waiting in line. 

Free tickets for such events are available each morning at 7 a.m. Central Time; one can reserve up to five tickets. The electronic ticketing system started Friday, May 27.

Visit the Church’s website or www.nauvoohistoricsites.org for information on online reservations and the app. 

President Dalton said they are trying to “make sure that people have an enjoyable visit without feeling like they’re standing in lines or dealing with crowds.” 

In the spring, there was plenty of room on the wagon rides and performances, President Dalton said. But as of Memorial Day weekend, that changed as multiple bus tours started coming. There will also be more people in the area for the pageants in July. 

There are many other events and performances that don’t require tickets or reservations, he added. 

For the two pageants, which alternate nights during the week, there are 3,000 seats available for each of the performances. Starting at 2 p.m. each day, visitors can “reserve” seats by stringing and labeling the provided twine between chairs, as has been done with past pageant seasons. Prior to the pageants, there is a Country Fair with games, dancing and other activities. 

For those hoping to avoid the crowds, spring and fall are good times to come, he said. 

The Nauvoo Pageant is comprised of a core cast of professional performers and family casts that change each week.Copyright 2022 Deseret News Publishing Company.


Nauvoo and British Pageants

When Latter-day Saints hear the words “pageant” and “Nauvoo,” they think of the city’s namesake production. In fact, there are two pageant productions there each year.

The Nauvoo Pageant explores the history of the Church in the city and how the Saints worked to build a temple. The British Pageant, a version of the pageant performed every four years in Chorley, England, shares the experiences of the early members of the Church in the British Isles. 

The British Pageant, which was scheduled to be performed in England this year, has been postponed another year.

The Gudmundsons, who have been involved with the Nauvoo Pageant since it was first performed in 2005, have seen how sharing the experiences of the early Church members in the pageants has helped people understand more about the Restoration. 

They were in the pageant in its first year and had additional rehearsals to adjust blocking and practice the dances, Sister Gudmundson said. 

After one late rehearsal, one of their young sons commented how it must have been hard to build the temple and then to leave it. 

“‘I knew before because you told me. Now I understand,’” Sister Gudmundson recalled her son saying. She added, “When you’re in Nauvoo, you feel it. Now you understand.”

The Gudmundsons were called to lead the pageant as president and companion in 2019. Planning for the pageants starts right after the other one wraps up, said President Gudmundson.

The pageants have a core cast of two dozen professional actors who perform throughout the month, plus 130 in each of the five family casts, comprised of adults and children who volunteer to come for a week of rehearsals to learn the blocking and choreography and then a week of performances. It takes more than a thousand people, including the casts and volunteers, to put on the pageants, he said.

When the Nauvoo Pageant was postponed in 2020, the family cast members had been selected and organizers had begun the process of auditions for the core cast. They had flown home from Nauvoo, where they had been meeting with local community and Church leaders about plans for the pageants.

During that time, the Gudmundsons were working on plans for when the next pageant could move forward, along with the materials the family casts study while preparing for their time in Nauvoo. Also, with the end of the Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York, some of the inventory went to Illinois.

Their hopes for the pageants are the same as they would have been in 2020: “That people will come, and they will feel the Spirit and their lives will be changed,” President Gudmundson said.

See nauvoopageant.org for information about the pageants. 

Sister Karly Robison and Sister Meg Taylor, missionaries serving at the Nauvoo Historic Sites, give a virtual tour in front of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. Photo courtesy of the Nauvoo Historic Sites, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.


Virtual Tours

When Church historical sites closed because of the pandemic, the Church started developing virtual tours, Boatright said. The virtual tours will be continuing through the summer, though the timing may change depending on the site. 

The number of virtual tours has dropped since being implemented in 2020, part of which is “simply because people have more things to do now,” Boatright said. 

Last year as the Come, Follow Me lessons were focused in the Doctrine and Covenants, there was a wave of requests at the sites based on the sections being studied, he added. The drop after that was expected.

“We recognize that the vast majority of members of the Church will never have the opportunity to visit them in person,” President Dalton said of the sites. “And so we really want to be able to allow them to visit virtually and have a very similar experience virtually, like they would if they were actually standing here.” 

The virtual tours mirror those that the missionaries lead in person, President Dalton said.

Many of the site leaders are looking to promote the tours after the U.S. summer when it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Also, many of the sites have missionaries with various language abilities, including Spanish and Portuguese. In Nauvoo, there are eight companionships where at least one member speaks fluent Spanish and two other companionships that are fluent in Portuguese. 

“We’re really looking forward to being able to offer these special places to people throughout the world, and more and more tourists in their own language,” President Dalton said. 

Virtual tour times can be found on the Church website.

Performing missionaries perform in "The Promise" in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. Photo by Bruce Cornwell, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Copyright 2022 Deseret News Publishing Company.

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