Rainbow’s Brown family is currently utilizing their equestrian skills in the Ramona Pageant in Hemet which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
Jerry Brown, Colleen Brown, and Lori Brown Smith are Spanish riders in the pageant which followed its April 19 presentation for fourth graders with April 20 and April 21 performances. The Browns will also be in the April 27, April 28, May 4, and May 5 performances at the Ramona Bowl Amphitheatre.
“I think people will enjoy this classic love story of life in California in the 1850s,” Colleen said. “This play takes you back to those exciting times in California.”
The Ramona Pageant has been designated as the official outdoor state play of California. It is the oldest continuous (on an annual basis) outdoor play in the United States, dating back to 1923. The Ramona Pageant is based on Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona, which involves the interaction in 1850s California between the Indians, the Spanish, and the new settlers. The novel and play focus on the romance between a Spanish-raised woman named Ramona and an Indian called Alessandro.
The performances have 3:30 p.m. starts, although pre-show entertainment begins prior to that and spectators are advised to arrive early to take advantage of that activity. As the show begins, the Browns ride onto the stage carrying three flags: Colleen holds the flag of California, Jerry carries the flag of Mexico, and Lori is holding the flag of Spain.
The Browns will also ride during the fiesta scene; Lori will ride sidesaddle during that arrival and will be helped off her horse by Felipe, the son of the Senora who raised Ramona.
The Browns will complement their horses with Spanish costumes. “It’s quite dramatic with them,” said Ramona Bowl Amphitheatre manager Linda Hoogestraat. “The horses are so beautiful.”
The Browns first joined the Ramona Pageant in 1997. Jerry Brown took over as the leader of the Spanish Riders when Phil Carter passed away in March 2002.
“It’s been an honor to have been with such a nice group of people the last 17 years,” Colleen said. “It’s been an enjoyable time for us.”
The Browns had a carriage business in 1997 and were contacted by Carter about possible participation in the Ramona Pageant. “They asked us if we would volunteer our time and use our surrey to bring the Senora,” Colleen said.
The Browns also participated as Spanish dancers before joining the Spanish riders.
“We just so appreciate their support every year coming back and being part of the tradition,” Hoogestraat said.
Jerry remarked that the wildlife surrounding the Ramona Bowl, including avian activity, enhances the audience experience of 1850’s California. “You can almost hear the voices of those early times,” he said.
Colleen noted that the mountains behind the Ramona Bowl also add to that sense of being in the past. “It’s a place like no other place,” she said.
The promotion of the pageant’s 90th anniversary included participation in Hemet’s Christmas parade Dec. 1 and in the Jan. 1 Tournament of Roses Parade. The Browns led the pageant entry in both parades, and Jerry served as the group marshal for the Rose Parade. “We really relied on the whole entire family’s past experience and leadership,” Hoogestraat said. “That was quite an undertaking.”
The Rose Parade entry was the first for the Ramona Pageant since 2000, when Carter was the marshal. The Browns rode with the Ramona Pageant for the 2000 Rose Parade, and Jerry helped with the work on that year’s parade application. His duties for the 2000 parade included writing the theme for the play, which he described as “Enhancing the cultural heritage of the future by preserving the traditions and lessons in the past.”
“I really feel that the slogan I wrote for the Ramona Pageant’s 2000 Rose Parade application describes the Ramona outdoor play,” Jerry said.
The 2013 Rose Parade also kicked off ticket sales for the Ramona Pageant. “We got a good response,” Hoogestraat said. “Our tour groups are up.”
The Browns will be making one noticeable change this year. Stormy, who had been Jerry’s horse in previous Ramona Pageant performances, is now in his early 30s and has been retired. Jerry will ride Bud this year.
“That’s sort of been our signature, the three white horses,” Colleen said. “We will now have a chestnut in the middle.”
The other two white horses will remain; Colleen will continue to ride Juan and Lori will remain on Moonlight.
The Browns are undecided about participating in the 100th anniversary of the Ramona Pageant in 2023. “You can’t plan that far into the future, but we’ll see what happens,” Colleen said.