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A young approach on stage in Nauvoo

College-age members share talents as performing missionaries in Pioneer city

NAUVOO, Ill. — It's a win-win situation: In exchange for "the experience of a lifetime," college-age Latter-day Saints lend their talents in the performing arts to add some sparkle and dazzle to the experience of visitors to historic Nauvoo.

Thirty-five young people participated in more than 500 performances this summer in Nauvoo. More than 200 young performers from throughout the United States and Canada submitted videotaped performances during the fall of 2004. Forty were chosen to participate in live auditions in Salt Lake City. The 35 performers selected to come to Nauvoo were then set apart by their bishops and stake presidents as young performing missionaries.

Of that number, 20 stage missionaries shared a variety of talents with three rotating casts of senior missionary couples in "Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo," an 1840s era play, and "Sunset by the Mississippi," an outdoor variety show including singing, instrumental selections, dancing, comedy routines and an old-fashioned melodrama. They also performed two musical theater shows twice daily: "Just Plain Anna Amanda" and "High Hopes and River Boats."

Pat Davis, executive director of Nauvoo Productions, said getting to know the young performers was like opening Christmas presents.

"We knew of only one talent each had when they were selected, but so many played multiple instruments and were talented singers and dancers, writers and composers," she said. She added that while a number of the performers previously participated in theatrical productions and had completed years of lessons to hone their talents, others, often from smaller communities, had limited training but incredible natural talents.

The 15 additional members of the group were players in Pitts Brass Band. Conducted by Lemoyne Taylor, a missionary, the band daily played noontime concerts in the West Grove and paraded through Nauvoo's historic district and contemporary downtown in a horse-drawn wagon, playing lively brass band music. They also performed at the dedication of the statue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and commemoration services on the anniversary of Joseph Smith's death.

The band joined the Nauvoo Community Band in rehearsing and performing two Nauvoo community concerts. Another week, the band members assisted Sister Davis in the local Vacation Bible School sponsored by several Nauvoo churches. During the Nauvoo Pageant they also performed before the show each night as the audience gathered for the outdoor presentation.

Asked how being a Young Performing Missionary had affected her life, Marie Brinton of Salt Lake City commented, "It made me realize that life is the sweetest when it's spent serving others and God. That's the beauty of it."

Cory Scott of Fort Bragg, Calif., said "Coming here has rejuvenated my spirit. Being from a small area with so few members, it wears on you. Coming here with so many wonderful, strong members has given me much needed strength.'

Elder Bryan Michael Stephenson, who left his season in Nauvoo to enter the Missionary Training Center for a mission in the Netherlands, wrote, "Being a (young performing missionary) solidified my position on serving my full-time mission. This has been wonderful and changed my life as I've grown mentally and spiritually."

To express their thanks for this "experience of a lifetime," the young performers put on a talent show for senior missionaries and their newfound friends in Nauvoo. Contemporary and classical music, original skits, dancing and selections by the band delighted the audience of nearly 600 attendees.

Each performer also shared a special memory of their summer experiences. These included "hot tubbing" together (10 female housemates soaking their feet in their large bathtub while eating ice cream), making friends with college student interns from the Community of Christ, watching 10 young men shriek and run when a bat invaded their house, getting an emergency repair of a clogging shoe in the historic Riser Boot Shop, and acquiring a whole new community of "grandpas and grandmas."

Individuals interested in applying to be part of the Young Performing Missionary troupe can obtain applications beginning Sept. 15, 2005, from Nauvoo Productions, 15 East South Temple, 1st Mezzanine, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150; phone (801) 240-2340. Female participants must be between 19 and 24 years of age; male participants, who often participate before regular missionary service, can be from 18 to 24 years of age. Individuals with a wide variety of talents are invited. They must pay their own expenses and be set apart as missionaries for the summer.

E-mail to: sallylarson34@hotmail.com