As the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor planned its 75th annual Easter pageant during Holy Week, this year’s director wanted to make preparation as important for the students involved as the presentation would be for 5,000 spectators.
Each year, the school’s president chooses students to fill the roles of Jesus and Mary and one to direct the pageant, based on how they demonstrate their Christian faith. This year, President Randy O’Rear selected Karl Baker of Graham and Esther Gibbs of Rockwall to portray Jesus and his mother, and he chose Jason Aleman of Round Rock as director.
“At first, when they called me into Dr. O’Rear’s office, I was nervous. I had no idea what we were going to be talking about,” Aleman said. “He started talking about the rich history of the Easter pageant at UMHB, and when he asked me to be the 75th director, I was just in awe.”
Once Aleman had recovered from his shock, he began thinking about his responsibilities—assemble the rest of the cast, choose assistant directors and establish a calendar of preparations and rehearsals. Even from those early stages, though, he knew he wanted this year’s pageant to be about more than the final performances.
“My focus was not so much on the production itself but on providing an opportunity for the participants to grow through the production,” Aleman said. “I have used it as a way to minister not just to those who were going to be watching the show but to those who were a part of it, as well.”
This motivation drove every step of the production, including casting. Traditionally, the pageant’s director and his or her assistants made all the casting decisions. This year, however, Aleman and Baker met to discuss a different way of doing things.
“I wanted him to choose his disciples himself,” Aleman said. “We had very similar visions. We didn’t want him to just pick his friends. Instead, he grabbed a variety of students.
“Some of them haven’t been as involved in campus activities as others, and some might not have been as strong in their faith as others. We wanted a group of men who had the opportunity to grow together.”
After Baker selected his disciples, the group began meeting weekly for Bible study and fellowship. They even formed an intramural flag football team.
When it was time to begin rehearsals as a full cast, Aleman made sure every meeting began and ended with a presentation of the gospel.
“We would have a large group devotional before each rehearsal,” Aleman said. “Then we would break up the cast into 12 groups, and each group was led by one of the disciples, who would walk them through questions about the devotional.”
Aleman also met with Gibbs, challenging her to take a leadership role of her own.
“She led a thirteenth group, made up of her fellow mourners,” Aleman said. “In the past, the actress playing Mary hasn’t had a huge role in leading, but we are trying to start something new.”
His focus on the cast and support crew’s journey did not come at the expense of the production, though. Aleman recognized the opportunity the pageant’s three performances presented to touch the audience.
“We knew there were going to be thousands of people coming,” Aleman said. “For many of them, it could be their first introduction to the gospel.
“If only one person is affected by it, it will all be worthwhile. That’s what I’ve been praying for.”
After the final performance, he offered a message to his cast and crew.
“The production may be over, but our ministry is not,” Aleman said, adding he hoped through their involvement in the pageant, they had gained gained the confidence and the skills to continue sharing their faith.