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Wednesday, August 6, 2008
I'll Be Wearing a Badge. He'll Be Wearing a Dress.

American Fork's annual History and Heritage Pageant starts Friday evening, continues Saturday evening, and ends Monday evening. It's at the American Fork Cemetery, and I'm not sure I know how to make it sound as enjoyable as it really is.

I'm a bit of a curmudgeon. When I first heard of American Fork's annual History and Heritage Pageant -- more familiar to some as the "cemetery pageant" -- I thought the idea was a little strange, and I assumed that the event would be dull and amateurish (in the lame and cheesy sense of the latter word). That was about nine years ago. I have long since changed my mind. I now believe it to be an excellent thing, a lot of fun, and an important way of remembering and celebrating our collective heritage.

This year's Pageant will run for three evenings, as usual: Friday and Saturday of this week (August 8 and 9), and Monday of next week (August 11). I searched in vain at the City Web site for official details, but found none. (I suspect that this neglect has something to do with a new Web site being nearly complete and ready for release.) But I'll tell you what I know.

It begins each evening at 6:00 p.m. Some activities end before dark, but others continue until as late as 10:00 p.m. Buy your relatively inexpensive individual ($3.00) or family ($10.00) ticket one evening, and it's good for all three evenings. It's also comes with a free horse-drawn carriage ride. You can snack on free watermelon, 25-cent ice cream cones, and other snacks, and enjoy good music (often of professional quality) at certain places and times around the cemetery. For that matter, the view of Utah Lake and the valley from the American Fork Cemetery is excellent, especially in the evening. But none of this is the focal point of the Pageant.

Each year there are several short historical vignettes playing at different locations in the cemetery. These are brief dramatic productions, ranging from about eight to 20 minutes in length, about the lives of people who have lived in American Fork, some of whom are actually buried at the cemetery. Generally, you can watch one, then walk comfortably to next one before its next performance starts. These little productions are not professionally written, produced, or acted, though you will often see a burst of excellence. In any case, the productions tend to be enjoyable, and there is some risk that you may learn some history from them, too. Some of the vignettes are new each year, and some have been done before.

A great deal of work goes on behind the scenes, as scripts are researched and written, cast members recruited, costumes prepared, and so forth. This leads me to something that's not exactly a secret, which you yourself might observe when you're at the Pageant: being in it is even more fun that attending it.

A few years ago, I played one of my pioneer heroes, Levi Savage, in a dramatization of the Willie and Martin Handcart companies. Last year, I wrote the script for a new vignette about pioneer Thomas Featherstone, based mostly on his journals. It was a research and writing project I thoroughly enjoyed.

I wasn't planning to be in the cast this year, but they came to me a week and a half ago with a late offer I could not refuse. I and an even larger man have this very week taken a script from a past Pageant, rewritten it, and cast ourselves as a deputy US Marshal and a polygamist on the lam. I'll be wearing a badge. He'll be wearing a dress. If the audience has half as much fun as we're having in our little, eight-minute production, it will be worth the effort.

If you go, and it looks like fun, tell one of the organizers that you'd like to be involved next year. (There are a few dozen jobs to do which aren't acting, if that's not your cup of herbal tea.) Or send me an e-mail, and I'll pass it on. There's always room for more cast members.

David Rodeback comments (8/7/08):

The American Fork Citizen has a front-page article about the Pageant today.

David Rodeback comments (9/1/08):

A few disturbing photos are posted here, along with a link to more of Bret Dalton's photos.

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