They’ve got Designs for a Church Pagent
by Betty Lukas
Talk about commitment to a cause.
Three very talented people have been working five days a week since last September in a chilly warehouse on Anaheim Street to create and paint life-sized backgrounds for 15 pieces of familiar religious art featuring Jesus as their centerpiece.
The product of their sustained effort will emerge in March as “The Pageant of Our Lord,” now in its 25th year at Rolling Hills Covenant Church. It is the only such religiously themed production in the entire state, they say.
More than 100 models, 95 percent of whom are members of the Rolling Hills Estates church, will be participating in the popular event that will run for 19 performances from March 19 through April 3. A new, shorter, free performance with its narrative geared to children will be presented at 4 p.m. on March 31, according to Brad Hicks, art director and set builder for the past seven years, who said this special program was suggested by the Children’s Ministry at the church.
This year, the remaining adult performances expect to attract 15,000 people, Hicks said. And chief builder Jerry Rilling added, “Some people called about tickets as early as last September.” The church board, in order to attract a larger audience, has reduced ticket prices to $12 and some for $7, he noted. Other tickets will even be available at no charge. “Between 400 and 500 vouchers will be given to those who can’t afford to pay,” he explained.
With justifiable pride, Rilling pointed out that busloads of people attend the performances, “some from as far away as Santa Barbara.”
The Pageant is all about outreach, they agreed, and the expectation is that the church will break even this year, said Rilling, who, with Hicks, is part of the planning committee that selects the artwork. This year’s new addition, “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by Sebastiani Conca from 1740, was discovered by Hicks while he was researching possible religious art to add to the pageant. Now part of the Getty Center’s collection—but not currently on view– he said its curators were “very cooperative and helpful in working with us.”
According to the Getty’s background explanation of the art, “Conca painted this picture for Rome’s more adventurous patron, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.”
Also helpful in their planning, they said, were the leaders of Laguna Beach’s “Pageant of the Masters, now in its 75th year. “Twenty-five years ago, our producer and music director, Dr. David Halverson, came up with the idea that we should have our own pageant—this one with a Christian theme—and we all received a lot of cooperation from them,” Hicks said.
Through the years, and with the help of artist Rassie Harper, who has now retired after 20 years of Pageant work, the church has produced 40 pieces of art, which are kept in a warehouse in Torrance, Halverson said. “We have enough now that we can rotate them every year—plus adding new ones.”
Hicks, Rilling and Margaret Mohr, the creative trio that labors in the warehouse, were quick to note the variety of other important tasks involved in the Pageant — most of them performed by church members: Lori Mellinhour, production coordinator/cue calls; Jodine Tamble and Jackie Toubes, makeup directors; Jackie Morgan, model coordinator; Karen Forest, drama director; Guy Forest, script writer; Rovert Hennie, technical director; Jim Wade audio director; Christian Berry, sound coordinator; Dan Howden, lighting director/lighting designer; Mark Cramer, stage manager; Jeannie Halverson, graphics and publicity; Ellynn-Marie Artusio, production assistant, and Anita Ford, ticket coordinator.
Added to this list are more than 250 volunteers, who handle duties ranging from ticket sales to parking lot attendants, they said. “We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” Rilling said.
As for the models themselves, “They get so excited that they want to be in it every year,” he added. “It gets to be like a family.” Because so many portrayals feature Jesus, last year the pageant cast 13 men in the role. “Here’s one of them now,” said Hicks, as a tall, slender young man appeared at the warehouse to chat.
And, of course, the creative trio have been active in the production for several years.
Artist Mohr– “I put the color on”– participated in the original production 25 years ago, and has been “a periodic contributor for the past seven.” She is a former commercial artist “who has turned to fine art as a way of expressing my spiritual convictions. My goal,” she went on,” is to bless the viewer with a new perspective on something they might not notice.” Mohr is a member of the Palos Verdes Art Center, The Artists’ Studio and the South Bay Watercolor Society, and her work is frequently exhibited in California shows.
Hicks, a graduate of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, has worked as a professional artist in the film industry as well as the fine art world for 28 years. A highlight of his career, he said, was work as a background painter on seven feature animated films at Walt Disney Studios. He most recent is the 3D feature animated film “Alpha & Omega.” As a plein air painter, Hicks’ work in that field has been exhibited in recent solo shows in the Los Angeles area.
“My passion,” he explained, “is set on extending the grace of God to others through the gifts He has generously bestowed on me, through acts big and small.”
Rilling, who calls himself “the carpenter,” brings an assorted background to his present commitment. Retired in 1990 after 28 years as an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, he has owned two small fishing-related businesses in San Pedro. He even worked on a fishing boat in Alaska for four summers, and has managed a fish-processing plant, he said.
“I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ when I began attending Rolling Hills Covenant Church, and decided to follow Him for the rest of my life,” he explained. Aside from his work on the Pageant, Rilling has been involved as an usher, as part of the Communion Team; teaching at Singles ministry and Men’s discipleship; Prison Ministry at the County Jail and Terminal Island Federal Prison, plus the Bill Glass Prison Ministries.
Music, as always, is an essential element of the Pageant. The church’s sanctuary choir and its full orchestra will accompany each presentation, in addition to narration of the artworks as they appear.
“The purpose of this endeavor,” Halverson said, “is to present the life of Christ through art, music and drama in order to change the lives of people who see it.” PEN