For two guys who consider acting an avocation, Tyler Maxson and Trevor Orme have played one of the most challenging roles around.
They have portrayed Jesus Christ in the 65-minute, world-renowned “Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant Jesus the Christ” at the Mormon Temple, which ended a 10-day run on Friday.
Orme, a 29-year-old lawyer in Mesa, just completed his third year as Christ.
Maxson, a 37-year-old psychologist in Mesa, played Jesus for nine years until he became an assistant director of the spectacle and limited his appearance as Jesus to just the day its Spanish version ran.
What has playing Jesus done to them in their personal lives?
“It makes you want to be better and do more good,” Maxson said. “In my professional life as a psychologist, I feel like it’s made me want to care more and do more for my patients. With my family, it’s really been a gift. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
Said Orme: “In general, throughout these three years, I’ve come to realize the love Christ has for us. When I put on that wig and that costume, I’m still me but I’m not me anymore. I want to feel, act and be exactly who he would be.”
The role has both challenges and rewards, both men said.
One of the biggest challenges is it has no speaking part – but it does have a lipsynching responsibility.
None of the 504 cast members actually speak since the narrative is taped and broadcast to the audience.
Nevertheless, the actor is expected to move his lips and align his facial expressions according to the narrator’s words.
Then there are the inevitable perceptions – both by other characters on stage and the audience.
“I think one of the hardest things about playing the role are the expectations that everyone has of you,” Maxson said. “People are very free with how they feel about the Savior and the faith. They project all that onto you when you’re on stage. It’s a difficult to shoulder.”
Maxson and Orme played the Jesus who is most on the stage. The pageant uses several men to play Christ at different stages of his life – from infant to the young boy in the temple to the one who gets baptized to the one who gets crucified.
A separate actor is needed for the baptism because the scene change is too fast for one man to shed his wet clothes and don a new wardrobe.
Orme played Jesus on the cross several times.
That scene is one of two where the actor playing Christ is elevated. On the cross, he is about 20 feet above the stage floor. To portray the Ascension, a crane lifts the actor 60 feet.
Having done both, Orme said, “they’re both incredible, but for different reasons.
“On the cross, that was particularly unique because you’re portraying a very recognizable moment that most Christians fix their belief around. You also have a different visual perspective on the crowd,” he added, noting:
“It’s probably the same perspective Christ had when he was hanging on the cross, looking out at everyone who had gathered, seeing his mother. It’s a very humbling, somber, tender moment.”
Naturally, the two actors also have pondered what Jesus felt in those waning hours of his life.
Orme said playing the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane was a revelation. “Most people look at that scene and it’s one of great suffering by Jesus. Instead, I felt overwhelmingly sad. It’s not just physical pain but a sadness. I imagine Christ really felt that sorrow as he considered what was about to happen. He was dying for our sins. That makes you want to cry.”
No one seeks the role during the pageant’s September auditions, said Jenee Prince, the pageant director for the last six years.
While the choice is made by a committee, Prince looks for applicants who can play the role.Nor does she look only for stage presence; the actors’ conduct in real life matters.On both scores, she said, both Maxson and Orme fit the bill.
“Both of those men have great presence and a wonderful personality and spirit that is calming and peaceful and so humble,” she said. “And they have some acting background.”
She said both reflect what she prizes in the actors’ personal lives: “Their countenance and the way they conduct themselves with their family and their community. Their knowledge and relationship with the Savior and others. These are all important considerations.” Prince herself sees the role as particularly challenging.
“It has to be a little overwhelming to play someone who is perfect. As imperfect people, we’re trying to tell the story of a perfect person,” she said. In some ways, that’s why Maxson retired from the role: The father of three said he was concerned that his annual portrayal of Jesus might confuse kids now that they are older.
“I didn’t want my children to have to wrestle with their image of their dad,” he said.
And as much as he liked playing Jesus for nearly a decade, Maxson is proud to have helped Prince direct.
“The pageant is really a unifying thing,” said Maxson. “Being part of this pageant has connected me with people of other religions, and I love what we have. I think it’s a gift for the city and for those who want to connect with Easter in a special way.”