OAKLAND, Calif. Celebrating a new millennium, the Oakland Temple Pageant, a tradition dating back to 1964, continues to captivate one's imagination. Rich in history, the presentation sweeps through time, touching on a slice of the American experience.
Its focus is the mid-1800s, when a young Joseph Smith, doubting his own wisdom, turns to the Bible for direction. The account continues as the boy grows to manhood and becomes the Lord's instrument in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. Eventually, the Prophet Joseph Smith is martyred for his beliefs and work. Brigham Young is called to lead the saints westward.
With an ensemble cast, dancers, a 300-voice balcony choir plus stage, technical and electrical crews, total participants number nearly 800 dedicated youth and adults coming into Oakland from all directions of the nine Bay Area counties for months of practice and a two-week performance schedule.
The pageant opened July 15 at the Interstake Center on the grounds of the Oakland Temple and will run through July 29. The production staff estimates that approximately 30,000 people will have seen the completely live presentation, which includes songs, dance and dialogue.
The pageant theme for the year 2000 is "Love One Another." Pageant director Liz Neipp of San Jose believes this year's script changes have zeroed in on that theme, particularly when considering those in the audience not of the LDS faith.
"We needed to remember our non-member audience," she said. "In the past, we expected too much from them: to understand the apostasy, Constantine, Martin Luther and the entire Reformation. More often than not, they didn't. We heard comments like, 'What was that all about?' There just wasn't enough time to explain it thoroughly, so the production staff and writers cut that first section. After a few rehearsals and noting the changes, one cast member commented, 'It feels so fresh.' "
Sister Neipp added: "We wanted it to be a clear and understandable message to everyone in the audience."
Sister Neipp also wished to emphasize the relationship between Hyrum and Joseph, the elder brother Hyrum being a solid anchor to the Prophet.
"The actors have done a remarkable job in portraying their characters," she said. "Perhaps it's because of the sense of harmony that we all feel one with another."
Actor David Neil is no stranger to pageants. While this is his first at Oakland, his last pageant was the Hill Cumorah before his family moved to Utah and he went on a mission. Now he is settled in nearby Castro Valley.
"My character is Mr. Webster, a journalist from New York City sent to Nauvoo to write about the Mormons and interview Joseph Smith," he said. "Webster is a self-important guy but humble and willing to listen."
Mattney Beck of Pleasanton, who portrays Joseph Smith as an adult, is new in the area and has never seen the Oakland pageant. He attended college in Price, Utah, on a theater scholarship but graduated from Utah Valley State College in Orem, Utah, with a degree in business.
The pageant concludes with a spectacular finale, highlighted by a colorful series of international dances dedicated to this year's theme, "Love One Another," followed by an equally spectacular parade of nations.