By Tony Gutiérrez, Special for wranglernews.com
Mark Egan remembers attending Mesa Temple Easter Pageant as a kid.
Egan was excited to share the experience with his wife, Oregon native Aliyah, when the pageant came off hiatus that began in 2018 while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ historic temple underwent renovations.
He was thinking they’d go see it. Neither expected to be in the pageant when it returned this year.
The Egans, members of the church’s Alameda Ward in Tempe, met while they were serving a mission for their faith in Georgia and married in January 2020. In October of last year, they received an e-mail through their stake — a region in the church that includes several congregations, or wards — announcing that the pageant would be returning with the rededication and reopening of the Mesa Temple.
“We were like, ‘How cool would that be to be in it?’” Aliyah said. “I’ve been waiting to go to this for two years.”
After looking at the commitment involved, the couple submitted separate audition videos, without any expectation of being selected.
A month later, they were informed that they’d both be in the pageant, playing members of the “family cast” — or the multitudes filling in as extras throughout the performance.
The Mesa Easter Pageant, also known as “Jesus the Christ,” is the largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world. The 75-minute performances continue on April 9, and then resumes April 12-16. Each show begins at 8 p.m.
IF YOU GO . . .
Mesa Temple Easter Pageant
April 9 and April 12-16, 8 p.m.
North lawn, Mesa Arizona Temple, 101 S. LeSueur in downtown Mesa.
No admission charge.
- Capacity is 9,500. It is recommended that audience members arrive at least one hour early to secure a seat.
- All performances will be in English this year. Approximately 400 translation headsets will be available for Spanish speakers.
- Parking for persons with disabilities is in the South Parking Lot of the Temple.
- General-public parking is in the city’s park-and-ride lot at the northwestern corner of Mesa Drive and Main Street just north of the Visitors Center.
- Travel to the pageant via Valley Metro Light Rail is strongly encouraged. A stop is just west of the Temple grounds near Main Street and Mesa Drive.
- Portable restrooms are on the west side of the temple grounds, near the Visitors’ Center. Only handicapped restrooms will be provided inside the Visitors’ Center.
The Easter Pageant began in 1938 as a sunrise service on the Temple grounds with a choral presentation and brief narration on the life of Jesus Christ. In 1967, organizers put together a dramatic production on the life of Christ, highlighting his birth, childhood and teachings, culminating in his passion, death, resurrection and ascension.
“Hopefully I’m not spoiling it for you, but Christ comes back to life at the end,” Mark said.
Since its last presentation during the 2018 Easter season, the pageant has undergone several significant changes, including new sets, new script and new music written by Valley composer Rob Gardner, whose recent work includes Lamb of God: The Concert Film. The score was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in January, followed by the singing voices and narration recorded locally.
“Our purpose is to bring all of us closer to the savior,” pageant creative director Jenee Prince said. “We want to get to know Him, to feel His love and to feel more hope and peace. This pageant is our gift to the community.”
Kevin and Katey Bersch, who attend the Summit Point Ward in Chandler, are longtime veterans of the pageant. Katey first participated in 2010. Kevin joined the following year. This year, Katey is a member of the family cast. Kevin plays a Pharisee.
“They pray over every application. They look at them and decide where they might fit and then pray over all of them,” Kevin said. “I just feel blessed that we’re still here, that they keep calling us back.”
Volunteers comprise the 425-member cast. Every rehearsal begins with a prayer, and every performance is preceded by a devotional service at the Latter-day Saints meeting house just south of the Mesa Temple.
“There’s a great spirit there. We have spiritual experiences almost every night of the performance, and many nights of the rehearsals,” Kevin said.
While members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are known for their open Scripture, including the Book of Mormon, in addition to the Bible, everything from the pageant is taken strictly from the New Testament and offers something for all Christians, as well as those of other faiths, according to the Egans.
“Everything you’ll see you can find in the New Testament. If anyone is familiar with Christianity, they’ll be familiar with some of the stories — if not all of them — being told in the pageant,” Aliyah said. “Even people who aren’t Christian, or have heard a little bit about Christ, they’ll know, ‘Oh yeah, baby Jesus is being born in a manger. Love your neighbor, forgiveness.’ All of these stories are going to be teaching these morals.”
Cast members are not required to be Latter-day Saints, the Bersches said, recalling a family from the West Valley that participated although none of them were members of the church.
“We all view this whole thing as worshipping Christ,” Kevin Bersch said. “That’s part of the reason we do this. It’s all about bringing people to Christ. One of the reasons this pageant survived when they cut some of the others is this was the only pageant that actually dealt with the life of Christ.”
Although the pageant is at the Mesa Temple, the oldest Latter-day Saints temple in Arizona, participants from across the Valley and beyond participate. Kevin recalled a cast member who drove from Tucson every night and another family from Puerto Rico that took a month off to spend in Arizona in order to participate.
“It’s been a great experience for me,” Mark said. “The music is a really great way of worshipping and remembering Christ. For us, this has been a really uplifting way of celebrating and worshipping God.”