In July, I was visiting with a Navajo Mormon neighbor on another matter when she asked if I thought my eleven-year-old daughter might like to perform in the local Mormon pageant, The Voices of San Juan. I had never seen the pageant but said I thought that she would like very much to take part. Then my neighbor told me that my fair-skinned, blond-highlighted girl would be playing a Navajo toiling among other Navajos in a segment portraying “The Long Walk.” The idea of my very white daughter playing a Navajo in this reenactment of one of the most tragic events in Navajo history startled me, and I laughed out loud. My neighbor laughed, too. But she was serious.
I live in San Juan County, Utah, which contains a portion of the Navajo reservation and has a significant Navajo population scattered throughout. I hear the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo mentioned frequently, especially in wintertime when local schools stage a reenactment.
In 1863, James H. Carleton ( the same James H. Carleton, I think, who buried the victims of the Mountain Meadow Massacre in May of 1859 and erected the original marker on the site) ordered Kit Carson to convince the Navajos to surrender to the U. S. Army. When the Navajos proved resistant, Carson burned their crops and killed their flocks, starving many Navajos out of their traditional homelands. The Army then forced an estimated nine thousand Navajos to make a three-hundred mile march to Fort Sumner in the Pecos River valley. The trip took almost three weeks. Many Navajo men, women, and children died along the way.
Conditions during the internment at Bosque Redondo proved less than advantageous for everyone involved, and in June of 1868, after the signing of a treaty granting the Navajo people 3.5 millions acres of their original homeland, the Dineh — “The People” — walked back to their four sacred mountains. The story goes on from there, but that’s enough to provide some background.
I found the idea of my daughter playing a Navajo making The Long Walk difficult to wrap my mind around, but I let her do it. She practiced with the cast for a few days and then performed for three nights, including on Pioneer Day. As instructed, I braided her long hair every night. Out of curiosity to see how this was going to work, I attended the pageant on the third and final night.
Being a convert to the church and a new arrival to this area, I lacked the ingrained pioneer narrative to understand all of what I witnessed at the pageant. At one point, during the opening, international-flavored talent show, my daughter appeared next to me in costume, a dress made of fabric meant to simulate buckskin. Bright ribbons of Native American-themed trim decorated the dress’s neck and hem. White polyester or rayon yarn dangled from the arms forming “fringe.” Still, the overall effect was striking — and a little disturbing, since I really didn’t know what to make of the sight.
If my daughter’s Indian get-up proved difficult to take in, the pageant itself posed greater mysteries. Years ago, when I lived in the East, I made the obligatory pilgrimage with my Mormon youth group to the Hill Cumorah Pageant. I was able to comprehend the storyline, which followed the church’s overarching narrative in general. By contrast, the storyline of The Voices of San Juan Pageant meandered along a local narrative and through regional identities with which I’m unfamiliar. While the pageant was well-acted and visually engaging, and the setting — a high desert meadow bordered with a stooped canyon wall and thunderstorms flashing dramatically in the background — was quite pretty, I spent much of the evening feeling bemused.
The pageant opened with a slide show of local sights, mostly photographs of scenic grandeur, flashed across a large screen. A voice-over announced in Navajo and then English, “God himself will help tell the story if your heart is pure.” Hm, maybe that was my problem.
The body for the pageant’s narrative is built upon an unusual chasis: an elderly Navajo man on his deathbed telling his life’s story to his two sons and a long-time white friend kneeling at his bedside. The old man explains that he’s not afraid to die, but that he wasn’t always at peace with death. He tells how a white man who had been drinking and driving struck and killed his beloved wife. He says, “Pain choked out other feelings …. Black anger grew inside.” For a long time after his loss he loathed white men, even sending his kids to the reservation where white influence would not touch them.
He needed a job, he tells his sons and his friend, but everything he found involved working with white men. Finally, he took a job at a trading post. While working there, he fell ill, and only the white trader he worked for came to look in on him. At this point in the pageant, the light on the old man dims and audience members watch a younger version of the man act out elements of the the story.
The trader brought the missionaries to give him a blessing. While he was recovering, he had a dream. His great-grandfather came to him and told him to let his anger go. There are two ways to treat a rattlesnake bite, his great-grandfather said. You can pursue the creature until you kill it, which leaves your life still in peril, or you can get the venom out of your system with all haste.
When he fully recovered, the young man converted to the church. Then came the part of the pageant that I later understood to be one of the important themes of the pageant: Mormons and Native Americans share a common narrative — white authority abandoned and attacked them, driving both groups from their sacred homelands. The old man narrator relates how his grandfather appeared to his younger self during that same dream and told him how his great-grandfather had been forced to take The Long Walk of the Navajos to Fort Sumner. As this narrative within a narrative unfolds, spotlights light up the ground stage right and audience members witness Navajo men, women, and children walking along slowly, accompanied by a soldier escort. Some drop to the ground and die. My daughter said that angels came and escorted away those who died, but I was concentrating on finding her in the crowd and missed the angels. Finally, I saw her walking among the Navajos, her head bent down, her stride slow and laboured. On her back she wore a cradleboard. She looked quite forlorn.
The next segment portrayed Mormons making their own Long Walk. Jens Nielsen, one of the original settlers of the Bluff Mission in the southern end of the county, in company with one of his plural wives Elsie, faced trouble on the trek to Utah when his feet froze. Jens exhorted Elsie to leave him and save her own life, but she commanded him to get in the handcart and pulled him to the next camp.
During this scene, as Elsie pulls Jens along in the handcart, they cross metaphorical paths with the Navajos who reenter the stage once more toiling their way on the Long Walk. Neither group acknowledges the other. The Navajos walk in the opposite direction from the one they took earlier in the pageant, which suggests that, like the Mormons on the overland treks, they were journeying to their homeland. Elsie turns the handcart and takes up position at the end of the Long Walk procession, dovetailing the two narratives into a single shared storyline.
Other elements of the pageant’s storyline reinforce this intertwining of narrative roots. For instance, the pageant depicts the scene from the Book of Mormon where Ammon enters the land of the Lamanites intending to convert them. Ammon, played by a young white man, walks down a path and up over a footbridge. When he crosses the footbridge, several Lamanites, played by Navajos, jump out and seize him. They take Ammon before King Lamoni (who appears in the Hill Cumorah Pageant, too). In the VSJ Pageant, Lamoni is played by the tall, handsome, part-Navajo-part-white son of the neighbor who invited my daughter into the pageant. The voice over during this segment follows the Book of Mormon account. Lamoni asks Ammon if he desires to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, and Ammon replies that indeed he does, “perhaps until the day I die.” Lamoni grips Ammon’s shoulder in a gesture of welcome. I’m familiar, of course, with Ammon’s encounter with King Lamoni, but the distinct San Juan County historical context — the one I’m not very familiar with — puts a different spin on the story, one I can sense even if I can’t quite fathom it.
Like I said, I don’t know enough about the local history to grasp all the under- and overtones at work in this pageant. What does strike me, however, is the generosity with which the Navajos who have converted to Mormonism share their original and identity-defining stories with the white culture surrounding them. Regarding Native American arts in general, folklorist Barre Toelken, in his book The Anguish of Snails (Utah State University Press: 2003), says that:
… much of the traditional art is already addressed to us [whites], aimed at us, and performed in front of us (in many cases because of us). It reflects our presence as well as tribal consciousness. So our considerations are not just another charitable exercise in understanding “the other” but an attempt to recognize our own presence in the picture, a picture that, despite this ironic inclusiveness, is nonetheless constructed and understood from a different set of assumptions than our own (38-39).
My job as a neighbor to many Native Americans and as an occasional teacher of English composition at a local college with a high Native American enrollment is to try not to assume too much. My belief that I often do assume too much probably played a minor role in my disquiet with my daughter’s “playing Indian” in the pageant. That, and I’m unsure how to recognize my presence in the picture.
The Euro-American Mormon narrative strain in the pageant — the one where the Mormon pioneer storyline blends so smoothly with the Native American one — is completely foreign to me, not only because I’m a convert to the church and my pioneer narrative operates more on a metaphorical level but also because the assumptions behind the Mormon take on their relationship to Native Americans are varied and complex. The only material about the Mormon stance toward Native Americans I’ve read recently comes from Shannon Novak’s House of Mourning: A Biocultural History of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (U of U Press: 2008). To my ear, the material she presents on the subject of Mormons’ attitudes toward Native Americans sounds notes of former doctrine that has passed into the cultural half-life of folk belief, so I don’t know how much of what she says is relevant to contemporary Mormon culture as displayed in the pageant. Nor do I know how representative of churchwide attitudes and beliefs are the local Euro-American Mormon attitudes toward Native Americans. Also, I’m no expert on how doctrine shifts nor am I myself a representative Mormon where the older beliefs are concerned. But Novak says:
Young’s warning [that if Uncle Sam invaded Utah he would rouse up the Indians in alliance against the army] reflected a fundamental doctrine of Mormon theology: the belief in a close genealogical link between Latter-day Saints and Native Americans, a link that destined the two races to unite against their “Gentile” adversaries…. Based on … scriptural premises, American Indians could be construed as “both a cursed and a chosen people”…. And indeed, from the earliest Mormon missions to the Ohio frontier, Indians were seen as benighted “children of the forest” who were nonetheless junior partners in the epic struggle to restore Zion (174).
On top of all my other layers of unknowingness, I don’t know anything of the origins of the Voices of San Juan Pageant. How or if such attitudes as both Toelken and Novak describe co-mingle in its script, I can’t be sure. Generally speaking, such narrative confluences display ironic tensions and harmonies that can be likened to those expressed in geological confluences, such as where two rivers come together, each with its own energy and origins. Mystery, surface and depth tensions, and grand spectacle are to be expected.
What I do think is that I will trust the invitation of my Navajo neighbor and allow my daughter to play a Navajo taking The Long Walk in the local Mormon pageant, should the opportunity arise again. Hopefully, my daughter walking, by invitation, a Navajo narrative path, won’t be assuming too much. Furthermore, she will get to walk a few hundred feet in somebody else’s moccasins, the meaning of which will dawn on her, and perhaps me, little by little each time.
A quick search on the Internet showed that, currently, seven Mormon pageants run during the year, most of them during high summer. They are the Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York (“Come feel the Savior’s Love”); the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah; the Nauvoo Pageant in Nauvoo, Illinois; the Mormon Handcart Pageant in Nephi, Utah; the Oakland Temple Pageant in Oakland, California, which lds.org says has been suspended indefinitely; the Castle Valley Pageant in Castledale, Utah, which my son attended one year; the Clarkston Pageant, also called the “Martin Harris Pageant,” which starting this year will be performed only on odd-numbered years, and the Voices of San Juan Pageant, which appears to maintain a web presence only through comments visitors make on personal blogs, etc. Mesa puts on a Easter Pageant every year. Wikipedia describes some of the Mormon pageants as missionary tools and “faith-promoting family events.”
If anybody else knows of a Mormon pageant I haven’t mentioned, please add it in the comments. Also, I’d like to hear other people describe their pageant experiences in the comments. I’m very interested in knowing what you think of Mormon pageants and in hearing what role they’ve played in your lives. Or if you can supply greater insight into the origins or backstory of the Voices of San Juan Pageant, by all means, lay it on me; I need a crash course!
39 thoughts on “Playing Indian: The Voices of San Juan Pageant”
For me, the most fascinating part of your post was the idea that a Mormon pageant exists that isn’t mentioned on LDS.org! Do you know who sponsors or pays for this pageant? I’m sure its not the Church, since its not on LDS.org.
Pageants are so large and involve so much effort that I can’t see one being produced without a sponsor of some kind.
The narrative of the pageant also sounds fascinating — I agree that the backstory would be very interesting. I’d love to know more!
[And somehow I didn’t realize you live in that area. I was just there this past weekend!]
The only pageant I’ve seen is the Mormon Miracle Pageant. I saw it once as a child (no memories) and once as an adult, shortly after I had (unwittingly) read the book it was based on. So I was in a constant state of shock that this melodramatic pamphlet was coming to life right before my eyes.
I think pageants (based on my limited experience) function more as cultural and religious experiences, rather than aesthetic or spiritual experiences (if I’m allowed to make such distinctions).
For what it’s worth.
My mother actually wrote a Parley P. Pratt pageant when we used to live in Arkansas five minutes from his grave. However, the Church decided not to use it, because apparently some theories of the MMM hold that it was in retaliation for his death, so they’d rather not talk about that.
“Do you know who sponsors or pays for this pageant? I’m sure its not the Church, since its not on LDS.org.”
Kent, I know next to nothing about this pageant. I don’t even know how well attended it is. Maybe 50-60 people attended the night I did. I think it’s fair to describe it as fairly low-budget, compared to some of the major productions the church either sponsors or that orbit the culture somehow.
The pageant’s narrative was indeed fascinating. And, at times, difficult to follow, with its narratives within narratives. Kind of like having a lot of windows open on your computer screen.
I should add that the old Navajo narrator dies, and the man who played his younger self appears, dressed in white, and joins his wife who had been killed by the drunk driver. The light comes up on the cliff, and one sees groups of people standing together, all dressed in white. People who have just died are welcomed into their family groups with smiles and hugs. My daughter played one of those “angels” too.
If you’re in the area again, drop me an e-mail and maybe we can say howdy.
Th. said: “So I was in a constant state of shock that this melodramatic pamphlet was coming to life right before my eyes.”
Do tell what you mean, if you feel inclined. I’ve never seen the Mormon Miracle Pageant — not that I make a habit of touring Mormon pageants. I wouldn’t have seen the Voices of San Juan Pageant if my daughter hadn’t been in it. Are you saying you experienced some degree of culture shock?
“I think pageants (based on my limited experience) function more as cultural and religious experiences, rather than aesthetic or spiritual experiences (if I’m allowed to make such distinctions).”
Of course you are allowed to make such distinctions, though I find your spiritual/religious dichotomy fascinating and would like to hear more of why you make that particular distinction, especially where Mormon pageants are concerned.
Neal wrote: “My mother actually wrote a Parley P. Pratt pageant when we used to live in Arkansas five minutes from his grave. However, the Church decided not to use it, because apparently some theories of the MMM hold that it was in retaliation for his death, so they’d rather not talk about that.”
Interesting! Do you have a copy?
It’s probably best that the church exercise extreme prudence when addressing the MMM because it’s unstable terrain. Not to threadjack my own post, but the MMM discussion is something of a pub brawl.
I’ve only seen the Oakland Temple Pageant*. I don’t remember much about the narrative (although as I recall, it seemed a little too all over the place), but some of the music for it is very interesting.
I think that I can even quote some lyrics from it:
Who am I this being that I am?
Who walks the earth with other like myself.
Born was I of parents who are they?
Why do I exist to walk this earth and then depart?
By happen chance am I [something something talking about evolution]
By happen chance am I [something something] so dross that when I pass my passing is not [something something].
This is who I am!
I am a child of my Father.
My Father in Heaven.
*Not true. Now that I think about it, I have seen the Manti Pageant, but I don’t remember anything about it.
Not culture shock, no, it was more simple than this. I had simply read what I had thought was an ephemeral bit of jingoistic Mormon propaganda from many decades earlier. I naturally assumed that the worn copy on my grandmother’s shelves was one of the few extant copies. So to see a presumably forgotten short work done up big (HUGE!) was startling. Not that different to randomly reading an article from an 1887 New York Times article then finally seeing a hot Broadway show only to realize it is almost word-for-word that article.
To get to your second question, let me start by saying that I’m surprised by pageants’ use as proselyting tools. If I weren’t LDS, I think I would find them offputting. They seem to represent well what we think of ourselves (speaking as a whole and not individually), but perhaps not what we would like to present to others. Or, rather, not what I would like to present to others. But then, I’m a languid modern too hip to get exciting about anything. It’s a big character failing.
This is what I mean when I split religious and spiritual. “Religious” get us in the fervor of our religious culture, and “spiritual” is a genuine connection with deity.
By splitting them, I’m obviously making a judgment on pageant which is not entirely fair, but that’s my perspective. I’m glad other people enjoy them on other levels than I do. I probably even envy them.
We used to have one in Independence, but I don’t know if we still do.
Th., we were posting at the same time.
I only have a hard copy; it’s about a hundred pages, as I recall. I should see if she’ll let me scan it and post it online sometime; if I do, I’ll drop a comment for you.
I think they all are, MoJo. Cumorah is. Oakland was. Et cetera.
“I naturally assumed that the worn copy on my grandmother’s shelves was one of the few extant copies. So to see a presumably forgotten short work done up big (HUGE!) was startling.”
This says something. I don’t know what — maybe that at least some pageants mine obscure narrative veins to fashion their lavish narrative productions. What might this mean? For one thing, it might mean what you insinuate with your comment that pageants seem to “represent well what we think of ourselves (speaking as a whole and not individually), but perhaps not what we would like to present to others” — that is, that pageanteers’ ear for audience is tone deaf. I sensed some of this with the VSJ Pageant but don’t know enough about it yet to say for sure.
“This is what I mean when I split religious and spiritual. ‘Religious’ get us in the fervor of our religious culture, and ‘spiritual’ is a genuine connection with deity.”
Or with other people, as in those moments when we feel genuine connection with them and those miracles of heightened love and creativity and productivity occur? I don’t know what people in graduate school do nowadays, but I spent a great amount of time in orange carrels with my peers, writing frenetically on blackboards, laying out ideas, discussing the mysteries of the gospel and God. It wasn’t unusual for us to break it off saying, “It felt like the Spirit was there.” Such experiences facilitated repentance, and I don’t mean of particular heinous sins, but of failures in thought and feeling and crimes of arrogance and pride.
I, too, regard pageants with something more like academic curiosity than anticipation for experiencing a change of heart.
But I should add … I keep hoping.
Neal, yes, please leave a note here if and when. Also, I wonder if you could ask her what it was like for her to write something like that — why she did it, what she felt, etc. Whether or not she felt that writing a pageant script was a flourishing of testimony.
Mojo; Th.: At the end of the VSJ Pageant, an announcer focused the audience’s attention on a table at the back of the crowd where the elders were set up. The audience was invited to go back there and talk with them.
I think the church has much — and maybe, for some, everything — to offer on many fronts. But I suspect that, in general, pageants lack the narrative umph! to balance out the language-storms that erupt when the church sets up its reasoning for other matters where narrative counts, such as its impetus for opposing SSM.
Audience, audience, audience! You’ve got to give them something. And I mean really give them something and invest the faith to let them make something of it.
The Santa Fe Stake, which encompasses all of North Central New Mexico, has produced a small non-musical Easter Pageant for the last ten years. It surrounds the crucifixion and resurrection story of Jesus Christ. It is made up of six small vignettes acted in various rooms in the Church building. The pageant is nondenominational but you are greet with punch and cookie and a Book of Mormon as you leave the building. It travels to four different wards in the stake to be performed. It is strictly a low tech amateur production but has a lot of heart.
I’ve been thinking a bit about audience lately, maybe since reading your “Sing, O Maysie” post, and really like your last thought in #16:
It seems that the more audience focused a work becomes, the less interesting or nourishing it is to the audience. In essence, it becomes cheap and easy and is in turn received too cheaply and too easily. Not having to pay a price for their understanding, the audience doesn’t really get a thing out of the investment save a sense, perhaps, of instant gratification that drops off as quickly as it came.
In Irreantum 8.2(2006), the issue devoted to the theater, Shelley T. Graham walks us through some dramaturgical perspectives on the Mormon state. At the end of her essay she quotes Orson Scott Card who said, in reference to Mormondom’s prophesied Miltons and Shakespeares, that
But how does the audience get prepared? How do we prepare ourselves for a greater Mormon drama or, more generally, a greater literature? I don’t have an answer, but I sense it may reside in developing Mormon artists to the point that they’re willing, as you say, to exercise faith that their audience doesn’t always need things spelled out for them.
“The Mormon state”? I’m pretty sure I meant “the Mormon stage.”
Tyler, your questions are so good that I’ve spent decades (well, at least two) thinking about how to answer them, and I’m still thinking. One thing I’m pretty sure of — where sustaining human life is concerned, language is right up there with the other life-sustaining processes and relationships we form that keep us going. I imagine — and by “imagine” here I mean much more than wishful thinking — that dimensions to the nature of and prospects for language exist that we haven’t caught on to yet, similar to how we haven’t fully fathomed light yet or, say, the human brain. I have plenty of ideas about this; some of them are in older posts and some I’ll play with in posts I hope to put up in the near future.
In this particular matter of audience, however, some of the insights I’m experimenting with involve clues my disabled daughter has given me over the years. She used to suffer horrible panic attacks. Anything could set them off: the sound of a lawnmower, clattering silverware, someone she didn’t know touching her. The impulse was to try to “make” her get over her irrational responses. Who’s afraid of clattering silverware, for crying out loud?
Well, someone whose brain is struggling to form new neural pathways around widespread physical and psychical devastation, that’s who. It dawned on me that while I might not consider the reasons for her panic legitimate or real, her terror was absolutely real. When I began treating her terror as real and working to provide her an environment where she felt comfortable building neural pathways without the trouble of overstimulating distractions, then she began making her own choices to progress. That is, she began exercising her human agency rather than simply being driven about by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Language and human agency are intimately related. It’s a long story how this works with my daughter — I’ve written various posts around the bloggernacle about this subject — so I’ll cut to the chase here. Language that enables a person’s human agency rather than tries to limit it is the best, most progressive, most creative language. Language that stimulates the creative drive in its audience — language that people can make something of and that effectively sparks them to create their own risk-choice spectrums and generate possibilities — this is the language of life. It’s sustainable language, language that can both sustain itself (that is, it’s alive and reasonable) and that provides sustanance that others can convert into whatever kind of energy they need at whatever level they’re operating.
I’m still experimenting in my own writing — it’s an ongoing experiment I expect to spend the rest of my life on. Sometimes, the question of who my ideal audience is comes up. For many people, it’s the reader who “gets” what they’re saying. For me, it’s the reader who makes it all the way through my book or essay or poem (or long comment) and then sits back and says, “That gives me something to go on.”
So IMO we don’t really have to “prepare” audiences, we writers just — heh, “just”– have to create in language that triggers others’ agency and creative processes.
The implications of this concept might run into “legion” — I haven’t worked it all out yet. One thing I think I can say is that provoking the creative process in members of an audience is as important for pageant scripts as it is for the development of that “greater literature” you mentioned. (There, I managed to bring the topic back around to the post! I wasn’t sure I could.)
Boy, could I go on with this. But I’ll hold up, for now.
I’ve asked her; still waiting for a response. I know it’s largely textually based on PPP’s autobiography, and I may do some cleanup work on it as well before posting.
Just so you know, Neal. Patricia isn’t the only one interested. I would also love to read it.
Neal, if you do post the script or post on it, you can also call our attention to your post by contacting us directly. See the “About” box, upper right-hand corner, click on “Contact.”
Well, I have permission to use it and a digital copy. I’m going to edit it and clean up the punctuation, etc., then post it, along with her responses to those questions. Hopefully within a couple of weeks, it’ll be posted. I’ll contact you when it’s ready.
Well, Patricia. Consider me a mind in your ideal audience. Your short essay post here (#20) has given me more than enough to contemplate for the rest of my life as well. I always enjoy what you have to say about language because language is something I think more and more about as I try to read and write more effectively, more clearly, more provocatively and with greater innovation. In fact, I’m going to pursue rhetoric as part of my doctoral studies because I sense the power a writer possesses in his or her linguistic/rhetorical environment to persuade others to generate their own life possibilities.
Anyway, thanks for giving me something to chew on and digest. I look forward to the times when you decide to “go on.”
For me, language is an IT (Irrestible Topic)!
Thanks for reading through all that and giving it a fair toss. And because language is my IT, you won’t have to wait long for further discussion 🙂
I know what you mean!
And I can’t wait (for further discussion, that is).
For those who are interested, the pageant is now available at: http://radiobeloved.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/the-parley-p-pratt-pageant/
Thanks, Neal. I’m glad you followed through with this — and let us know.
That’s a great comment(#20), Patricia. One of the most frustrating things (for me) about most LDS art is that it doesn’t entrust the audience (readers) with their own responses. I hope you share more of your thoughts on this–soon!
Oh! I see that this thread was started over a year ago–so maybe I’ve already missed some related posts.
Actually, Jack it wasn’t started over a year ago. It was posted just last month. AMV seems to be having some template issues that I’m looking into. 🙂
Ah, I think I just read the dating incorrectly–that’s all.
Neal, I just finished reading your mother’s pageant script. Anyone interested in Parley P. Pratt would find it intriguing and inspiring, and I imagine a lot of people would be interested as he seems to have had copious offspring. I remember a RS teacher asking a Payson UT RS class if anybody could claim Parley P. as a forebear and several people raised their hands.
I asked this question over on your blog, but I’ll repeat it here: In your experience with pageants, have you seen any that depended on such complex dialogue and narrative development?
Jack, I will. In the meantime, you might find interesting Part III of “This Question of Audience”. It addresses the matter of trusting audiences and understanding if not meeting their needs.
It’s an older piece and makes for awkward reading in places. But you’ll get the point.
It was so interesting to read your comments related the the Voices of San Juan Pageant. On the blog site listed above earlier posts tell a bit of how the pageant came into being. I was just called on board this past season to help with publicity.
As with most cultural regions in our country, there are significant stories to be told, and San Juan, as the “last outpost of civilization” has many to tell. Voices of San Juan is a grass roots effort to do that.
There are many pageants throughout the world sponsored by local LDS groups. When each new temple is dedicated, there is almost always a pageant of celebration of the people and culture of that area. Others, like this one, have their roots in the heart and soul of a few passionate people who have made it happen for over 10 years.
In order to be listed on the LDS Church’s approved pageant list, there are many hoops to jump through, not the least of which is large audience attendance. Living in one of the most sparsely populated areas of the USA, gives a real challenge to our local pageant. Yet in spite of a small budget, monsoon storms, and isolation, it continues. Brotherhood, understanding, and harmony between races and neighbors are certainly the underlying themes of Voices of San Juan. The more we see connections between stories, events, and solutions to problems, the less isolated our lives are, which I believe is one of the goals of the pageant directors.
I know any of them would love to get more ideas from you, as the script is “a work in progress.” Their names and phone # are listed on the pageant blog.
As far as your daughter playing a Navajo, I see it as one of those “walk in my shoes” experiences, that we all need more of. In school programs that is often a planned “switching of parts” to give students a look at the world through another person’s eyes. How great that she had that opportunity.
P.S. I meant to mention also regarding, Barre Toelken, that he is very good friends with the Yellowman family here in Blanding, having married one of their daughters, in his early years. He has come here several times to do workshops.
Hi Janet! I appreciate your reading this post and commenting. I’m especially grateful that you linked your name to the official Voices of San Juan Pageant blog. I wrote this post four years ago after seeing the pageant for the first time and after searching the web for more information about it then and finding none. I hoped that writing the post might draw commenters who carry keys to the locks I sported during my first experience of this pageant. So thank you very much for providing me and readers of this blog access to a source of information focused on this unique pageant. I appreciate it very deeply!
Since 2008, when I wrote this post, my daughter has participated a second time in the Voices of San Juan Pageant, repeating her Long Walk role and performing as one of the familial angels up on the canyon wall. (She wore her white Shorinji Kempo gi as angel togs.) She would have participated again this year but family concerns prevented it. I know both Debbie Christiansen and Shauna Black. In the last four years, I’ve participated in a few local programs, including writing the script that was used two years in a row at the Blanding Storytelling Festival. Also, in 2007, in partnership with Fila Harris, I organized and ran one of the workshops with Barre Toelken that you mention occurring in Blanding and know something of his history in the area. (If you’re interested, you can read about that here at A Motley Vision.) So I’ve picked up just a little bit more understanding of the local color and stories than I had back in 2008. Not being native to the area, I know that I’m still missing a lot, but I’m learning at my own slow and labored pace.
How many people find and comment on these old posts continues to surprise me, but that’s what they’re there for–for people to provide updated information or look for contacts to answer their questions and otherwise help them find that they need. A Motley Vision is now long-lived enough and still retains enough of its original bloggers that it can provide continued support of these older posts. I’m really happy you found my little essay and linked it to the pageant blog. Thank you thank you thank you for doing that!
I’m glad you clarified the dates when you wrote this, as I assumed it was the most recent pageant, since you had mentioned further down the comments that there was a problem with the dates. I remember meeting you a couple of times, maybe via KC Benedict, or maybe at the college. I’m glad you’re getting involved with some of the Blanding events. I think it’s good to have outsiders’ views to keep things fresh and objective. I was an outsider once myself, about 41 years ago!!