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Department Of Theatre And Media Arts

Saints Past and Present: Theatre and Media Arts Students Volunteer in UK British Pageant

Students Charlotte Westover and Judy Schnebly Serve as Production Assistants in UK British Pageant

The British Pageant came to the United Kingdom this summer with BYU professor Alexandra Mackenzie Johns as Artistic Director. The performance lasted for two weeks with an audience of about 1,100 per night, along with a live broadcast watched globally by about 50,000 people.

The pageant showcased many miracles early saints from the British Isles experienced, but for Mackenzie Johns the existence of the British Pageant is a miracle in itself. While getting her masters at BYU, Mackenzie Johns participated in the Nauvoo Pageant as an actress and director. One particular moment during the Pageant, Johns remembered thinking, “We need something like this at home for the British saints.” Eventually, the British Pageant became a reality and this summer celebrated the Pageant’s 10th year since it debuted in the UK.

Johns brought two BYU students, Charlotte Westover and Judy Schnebly, to serve as production assistants. Westover worked as a sound board operator, running sound effects and music cues for the entire show. Schnebly supervised props backstage and also took on a small role on stage as the protagonist’s deceased wife.

Charlotte Westover and Judy Schnebly with Mpho Molapo (Center), Another Production Assistant from the UK. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Mackenzie Johns.

The British Pageant tells the story of early Latter-day Saints in England, Scotland, Ireland and the British Isles. It follows Heber C. Kimball and his mission to teach the gospel, as well as the saints who made the decision to emigrate West. While the story occurred nearly 200 years ago, it still rings true with saints today.

“Not only does the British Pageant tell the story of the past, it very much tells a story of today, of the future and of the continuing restoration,” said Schnebly. “I saw families and neighbors rejoicing in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as real as the British saints of the 1800s.”

Westover agreed that the Pageant strengthens modern saints and felt that it connected her to her heritage. “I experienced a deep connection to my biological ancestors during this experience,” she said. “I was watching my ancestors become converted to the same faith I hold dear today. We walked in the footsteps of our forebears and I felt the celestial power of eternal families daily from beyond the veil.”

Schnebly and Westover visited nearby historic sites that were represented in the pageant. They attended an Anglican church where President Kimball preached and baptized hundreds of saints, visited the River Ribble where the first English converts were baptized and saw the main port where the saints left England for America. “Doing these site visits made the stories we performed feel even more real. It was clear we were on holy ground. Those were some spiritually defining moments for me,” said Schnebly.

The Pageant tells the story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it is meant to help everyone feel the power of God. Mackenzie Johns recalled an Anglican woman in the audience who found her after a performance.

The British Pageant Onstage in the UK (Judy Schnebly in Center). Photo Courtesy Alexandra Mackenzie Johns.

“In a northern accent, a woman said, ‘I have felt so much love from this performance. I emailed all my friends in my Anglican congregation and they told me to be careful getting involved with those Latter-day Saints. I said they're not trying to convert me. They're just loving me.’”

Mackenzie Johns went on to say, “I rejoiced in my heart at how clearly she articulated our desires as creators, directors, cast and choir: to love the audience and trust that they will feel God's love through us.”

“It is my prayer that audiences saw themselves reflected in the characters portrayed through the pageant,” Westover said. “The stage becomes a mirror that reveals our true identities as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. Their stories are our stories, whether we are descendants of theirs or not. I suspect those saints knew that future generations were deserving of rescue just as they were. Because of their efforts, we have knowledge of a Savior who willingly offers his hand to prevent us from drowning. He was their rescue then and he is our rescue now.”