The Ramona Pageant
|The Ramona Pageant|
The Ramona Pageant in 2013
|Date premiered||April 13, 1923|
|Place premiered||Hemet, California|
The Ramona Outdoor Play, formerly known as (and still commonly called) The Ramona Pageant, is an outdoor play staged annually in Hemet, California since 1923. It is based on the 1884 novel Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson.
History and Origination
The original script was written by Garnet Holme in 1923. Holme was also the original director and the person who chose the plot of land where the play is still currently set, called the Ramona Bowl. The Ramona Bowl (or The Bowl) is located in the San Jacinto mountains, in a valley in Hemet. There is a hillside where the stage is set, as well as an audience area. In 1988, major renovations took place, in which the valley was lifted, allowing the audience to move closer to the hillside. Although at least eight other stage plays have been adapted from the novel, as of 1993[update] The Ramona Pageant is the only surviving version.  Moreover, Holme's adaptation is the most successful and the most circulated version of the play. The play is held over three consecutive weekends in April and May in the Ramona Bowl, a natural amphitheater in the foothills above Hemet in Riverside County. In 2015, a brand new, updated script was written by international award-winning film director and screenwriter Stephen Savage, based more closely on the original novel, and featuring much more action and historic content. Under the skilled direction of artistic director Dennis Anderson, the new version enters its 4th season in 2018.
The Ramona Pageant is the longest running outdoor play in the United States. It ran uninterrupted except in 1933, when the Great Depression occurred and in 1942, when World War II occurred . In 1993 it was declared California's official State Outdoor Play.
The play can be considered a "Romeo and Juliet that is set in the Wild Wild West", since it resembles the story of two star-crossed lovers challenging their rivaling families in order to be together, despite the ongoing situation of white settlers taking over the native land. Ramona is an orphaned half-Native American and half-Scottish, who was adopted by Senora Moreno, a Mexican-American woman. Unfortunately, Ramona was neglected by her adopter, since she was of mixed race. When Ramona met Alessandro, she fell in love with him. Alessandro is the son of Pablo Assis, the chief of the Temecula Indian tribe. When Senora Moreno found out about Ramona and Alessandro, she was infuriated because she does not approve the marriage between a half-Native American and a full-Native American. When Ramona finds out that Senora Moreno never actually treated her with love and respect as a child, she runs away with Alessandro. During their elopement, they were constantly going through hardships such as getting exiled from their land, having their properties stolen by immigrants, and being pushed further into isolation. Soon, they conceived a child. However, Alessandro had mental health issues and was eventually shot and killed. After Alessandro's death, Ramona returns to Senora Moreno's home and marries her son. They both have multiple children, along with Ramona's and Alessandro's first child.
The production features a cast of approximately 375 members, mainly local volunteers or residents in the community. Holme says that casting local members maintained the authenticity of the roles in the play. Animals such as horses and mules are also featured in the play, as well as Mexican musicians.The lead roles are Ramona and Alessandro, her Native American lover. As of 2018, The Ramona Pageant is in its 95th season.
- Ramona – Dorise Schukow (1923-1933), Dorothy Bailey Vosburg (1951-1961), Kathi Anderson (1985), Kayla Contreras (2018-)
- Alessandro – Bruce Botteler (1923-1933), Maurice Jara (1952-1966), Tom Lancaster (1982), Christ Thomas (1985-1986, 1989), Joseph Valdez (2018-)Brent Howard (1995-1996)
- Senora – Adelaide Clarke, Kathi Anderson (2014, 2018-)
- Felipe – Karyl Marker, Frank Jaramillo (2014), Bret Cherland (2018-)
- Juan Canito – Ed Poorman, Daniel Martinez (2004-2006, 2018-)
- Marda – Cesaria Hernandez (2018-)
- Father Salvierderra – Frank Felt, Jim Marbury (2014)
- Luigo – Paola Cifuentes (2018-)
- Margarita – Paola Cifuentes (2018-)
- Aunt Ri – Monica Reichl (2018-)
- Joe – Rafael Wave Hernandez-Minard (2018-)
- Father Gaspara – Jim Marbury (2014)
- Yesidro (Ysidro) – Frank Jaramillo (2018-)
- Jim Farrar – Dan Ferguson (2018-)
Occasionally, professional actors have performed in the show, often portraying the romantic leading roles.
Performers (listed alphabetically by first name) have included:
- Anne Archer as Ramona (1969)
- Francesco Sorianello/Frank Sorell as Alessandro (1967-1971, 1975-1978, 1981)
- Henry Brandon
- Jean Inness as Ramona alongside her husband, Victor Jory as Alessandro  
- Jeffrey Meek
- Raquel Welch/Raquel Tejada as Ramona (1959)
- Victor Jory as Alessandro (1933-1937)
- Brent Howard 1995-1996
The play is strongly supported by local residents of Hemet, some spanning generations of entire families, who have had a role in the play, such as managing and leading a group of children acting as Native American kids who play on the hilltop, washing and mending the costumes that the casts wear, and applying makeup to cast members. Although the play was shortened from three hours to two and a half hours, the play's theme of tolerance and message of acceptance haven't been changed. The narrative has remained the same, maintained through the tradition of the play. Alongside The Ramona Pageant, there were also five movie adaptations, one song adaptation, and tourist attractions. The play also launched the successful careers of Anne Archer and Raquel Welch. Moreover, it gave an opportunity of exposure in which it altered the public opinions of Native American culture and the history of how they were almost decimated as the country moved forward, advancing in technology and urbanization. The romanticizing of 1850s Southern California also signified the historical heritage and the lifestyle of the indigenous people before industrialization and modernization.
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