Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Nauvoo in fabric: Set onstage is large, soft

Bricks and stones, logs, masonry all of cloth
Published: Saturday, July 15, 2006

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NAUVOO, Ill. — Laurie Stringham of Salt Lake City called the Priesthood Department of the Church early this past spring looking for a particular script. She happened to talk to Mike Magleby, the technical director for the Nauvoo Pageant, which opened its second season July 7 and continues through Aug. 4.

Photo by Joy Gough
Joseph Smith, as portrayed by Dallyn Bayles, speaks to children in Nauvoo Pageant, which opened July 7 for its second season.
Copyright QuincyHerald-Whig/Michael Kipley
Emma Smith, played by Rachael Bayles, welcomes Jane Manning and her son Sylvester Manning, played by Jacqueline and Caleb White, to community, as Joseph Smith, played by Dallyn Bayles, follows.

Brother Magleby had been looking without success for a set and scenery designer who could carry out his team's ideas for the pageant stage.

When Sister Stringham, a young mother of four children, mentioned she had recently graduated in theater scenery design, she was invited to attend a planning meeting where she gave her ideas for the construction of replica cabins, homes and other 1840s buildings. She was invited back to another meeting and then another. At that point it was clear she was the right woman for the task.

All she needed was to be shown some donated old curtain fabric and, drawing from her extensive theater work, her mind leaped into action. Her enthusiasm and creativity grew as she designed the scenery that would be raised on the pageant stage to show the step-by-step development of the old city of Nauvoo.

Her work would include the assembling of "brick, log, stone and masonry" as an art form created from fabric. Audiences are fascinated by huge pieces of cloth that have been dyed, cut and sewn to represent historic buildings, as an 1840s community appears before their eyes.

Trying to work with a minimum budget, Sister Stringham devised an idea for using white plastic trash bags to be cut into strips and then crocheted to resemble white picket fencing.

But she would need lots of help to complete the job on time — many willing hands who would commit to this enormous project and see it through to completion on a tight time schedule. She immediately thought of her "sisters" in the area units of the Relief Society.

After just a few telephone calls, four teams of willing women were quickly assembled and organized for the massive scenery-sewing project. Sister Stringham traveled to four Church meetinghouses, some of them two hours away, where the women were gathered to receive her instruction.

She taught the process of dying huge pieces of fabric in several shades, then cutting them into thousands of pieces and sewing together these individual "bricks and stones" to make stage-size buildings. She also demonstrated how to make crocheted plastic look like lace curtains for windows.

Although working under a frantic schedule, Sister Stringham said there was a feeling of serenity that permeated the work, with most of the volunteers being mothers and grandmothers with their own family responsibilities who adjusted their schedules and responded when the invitation came.

Last year, visitors to the pageant saw the handiwork of 90 Relief Society women in the design and creation of embroidered panels representing the Nauvoo Temple. The temple was raised on the stage as cast members worked together to hoist up the "walls" for a dramatic effect that always brought audience applause. This season, audiences are seeing the work of Sister Stringham's 123-woman team, as replicas of a log school house, log cabins, several brick buildings and the Historic Cultural Hall take shape on the stage.

E-mail: bannrenouf@yahoo.com