Roadshows

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Since the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Latter-day Saints have been interested in socializing. The pioneers were encouraged to circle their wagons after each day of traveling and join in singing and dancing as a way to rest after the demands of the day, to build camaraderie, and to lighten moods and raise spirits. Brigham Young is believed to have said, “I want you to sing and dance to forget your troubles.” This evening entertainment was often called “trail shows.”[1]

Once the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, the need for gathering for cultural experiences continued. The Salt Lake Theater was completed in 1862 and the Social Hall in Salt Lake hosted little theater performances meant to build community, just as the trail shows had.

Frank Y. Taylor, while serving as the president of the Granite Stake in Utah from 1900 to 1928, created the idea of “merry-go-rounds,” later called roadshows; the first was performed in 1924. The format of a Latter-day Saint roadshow was a 15-minute skit involving musical numbers and dancing that each ward created. The roadshows were performed in a single night, with performers traveling between church buildings to perform to individual wards throughout the stake. Each roadshow was judged, and at the end of the evening, awards were given. At one point, the Church sponsored an all-church competition and regional winners came to Salt Lake City for the final competition.[2]

Terryl Givens noted that during a typical year in the 1920s, Utah wards completed 706 three-act and 918 one-act plays with 23,000 participants.[3]

In 1928, the Mutual Improvement Association, the youth organization of the Church, adopted the roadshow as a church-wide program. Roadshows continued to grow—with the 1950s and ’60s being the height of its popularity—through the 1960s and 1970s before they began to dwindle. But even in the 1980s, the Church published an article in the Ensign detailing how to stage a roadshow. Latter-day Saint roadshows grew to include families—and nonmembers and less-active members had an opportunity to join in a fun activity.

Latter-day Saint roadshows are now performed infrequently, if at all, but they remain part of the cultural history of the Church. Some of the considerations contributing to the decline of the roadshow included the amount of time and resources needed. Ward budgets for such activities changed. Most Latter-day Saint meetinghouses included stages, curtains, and lighting, but as the Church membership expanded, ward meetinghouse plans were standardized, leaving stages to be built in stake houses only.

External Sources

See also Orson Scott Card, Saintspeak (Salt Lake City: Orion Books, 1981) and Terryl Givens, People of Paradox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).