For more than three-quarters of a century, UMHB has preluded the Easter holiday with its annual Easter Pageant. And while guests often leave campus feeling moved by this rendition of Christ’s crucifixion, the pageant has an equally strong impact on those who portray the Biblical characters.
The pageant process begins with the selection of a director, and individuals to portray Jesus and Mary. These selections are made by University President Dr. Randy O’Rear. This year, senior social work major Carissa Araujo was selected to direct.
“I was in complete shock that I was asked to direct. I was also so thankful and humbled by this opportunity,” Araujo said.
Dr. O’Rear selected senior Christian studies major, Quinton Payton to play Jesus, and senior education major, Brianna Helmer to portray Mary. Once these three roles are assigned, the director begins putting together the rest of the cast.
“Usually, several people want to fill the same role which is where being the director can be tricky,” Araujo said. “Casting took a little while this semester.”
Araujo said it was important that she considered what role would be right for each individual.”
“I spent a lot of time praying and thinking about who should fill what role. I want people to be able to connect to the story in a different way through each role,” she said.
Once roles were assigned, Araujo then had the task of putting the performance together.
“The first week of rehearsals I was only working with Mary, Jesus, disciples and mourners,” she said. “We worked on the few opening scenes so that they would have those down and be comfortable before we added the rest of the cast in.”
Pageant participants don’t always have acting experience, so it was important for Araujo to ease everyone into the process.
“I would try to focus on three to four scenes at each practice before we started morphing all of the scenes together,” she said. “Practice takes a lot of repetition at times, so it was always important to just keep the people you specifically needed for those scenes to respect everyone’s time.”
As time went on, the pageant became less of a theatrical production and more of a spiritual learning process. Payton said the experience playing Jesus gave him and his fellow cast members a chance to grow in their faith.
“For me to play Jesus, it meant that I was going to bring others alongside me to enjoy this journey with me and be there with me when it became difficult,” Payton said. “God surrounded me with an amazing group of disciples from all across the campus and brought us all together to grow in Christ’s love and ultimately display Christ’s love through the practices and shows. The role of Jesus was a ministry to others and a ministry to me that God used to His glory.”
For Helmer, experiencing the crucifixion through the eyes of Mary was a humbling process.
“It was an incredible experience. I was so honored to play the part of Mary. I learned so much about her and how she had to trust God for everything. I only got a small taste of what life must have been like for her,” Helmer said.
While the Easter Pageant is merely a dramatization of Christ’s story, Payton was still impacted by the events he acted out.
“After the second show on the day of Easter Pageant I realized that all the miracles I was portraying, all the abuse I was going through and all the love that was being displayed through me was all that my God did for me,” Payton said. “It was my God that laid His own life down so that I could be free from sin. It was my God that traded heaven for me. It was my God that made all of the sacrifice that I could be with Him forever.”
From fellowship to faith, Helmer said the production brings the campus and community together in a multitude of ways.
Easter Pageant is by far my favorite tradition at UMHB,” she said. “I really love that I get to meet so many new people through it that I wouldn’t get to know otherwise. The fact that we want to share the story of Jesus is something we all have in common.”