The Living Book of Mormon

Lauren Lancaster for TIME
Lauren Lancaster for TIME
July 12, 2012 Palmyra, N.Y.
Actors rehearse for the 75th anniversary of the Hill Cumorah Pageant—a theatrical pageant that presents ten scenes from the Book of Mormon and has had few modifications since it began in 1937.

Every summer for the past 75 years, the earliest stories of Mormonism come to life on a stage set high on the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, N.Y. The location, considered to be the birthplace of Mormonism, is where the Angel Moroni delivered the golden plates to Joseph Smith, the religion’s founding father. The annual event attracts thousands of tourists who come not only for the show but to visit the sites that set the foundations of their religion, like the Sacred Grove and the farm where Joseph Smith lived.

Lauren Lancaster for TIME

The recreated barn on the Joseph Smith Sr. Family Historic Farm and Sacred Grove.

LightBox sent Lauren Lancaster to photograph the pageant’s opening night. It was her first experience learning about Mormonism, and Lancaster suggested we speak to the actors in the performance. LightBox asked 16-year-old Samuel Hatch from Salt Lake City, the actor playing Joseph Smith, to explain the event and how it feels to be the leading man of the show.

What is the pageant about?

The show is about the Book of Mormon and how the records were brought fourth in the latter days by Joseph Smith.

How did you end up in the play?

My mom came for three years when she was a teenager. She had such a wonderful experience and wanted our family to do it. I didn’t expect to get the part of Joseph Smith, but I did.

Why do you think you were chosen to play Smith?

They were not just looking for someone to only deliver lines but were looking for someone with the right hair and physical appearance, I think.

How long do you get to practice?

I was cast on the 6th of July. It’s not too complex but I have to make sure I have my lines down.

The cast consists of around 750 people playing 1,200 parts, but I only get to play one.

What’s the best part?

The most insightful part for me has been to think about the man (Smith) establishing the church. I wonder if I would had that strength? It’s humbling to me because he was such an amazing man.

What was the hardest part of being in the show?

At first it was intimidating, thinking about a nightly audience of 5,000, but I’ve lost that fear and now I do my best to help the others find the spirit.

Can you tell us about the hair style?

My hair was pretty long and they saw potential in it. I had two haircuts one day and then another. Its kind of unfortunate but its for a good cause so I took that mindset.

Lauren Lancaster for TIME

The Book of Mormon displayed in many languages.

Do you see yourself doing it again?

I would most definitely do it again. In the future I hope to bring my family here, just as my mom shared this experience with us.

The Hill Cumorah Pageant, an annual summer event, is performed in Palmyra, N.Y., each night through July 21. For more information, visit their site here.

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