25th Annual Soldier Show to Give Taste of Baghdad
March 24, 2008
By Tim Hipps
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, March 24, 2008) - The cast and crew of the U.S. Army Soldier Show will emphasize their working motto of "entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier" in a simulated deployed setting to celebrate the show's 25th anniversary, which will open April 11 at Belvor's Wallace Theater.
"The impression we want the audience to get is that they've been transported to the Middle East, to a combat area," Soldier Show director Tim Higdon said.
The stage floor will be tan to simulate sand and the faAfASade will be covered with desert camouflage nets and faux sandbags to simulate a field environment in Iraq or Afghanistan. Army Combat Uniform seatback covers will extend the setting throughout the entire auditorium.
A louvered wall stage backdrop that features a desert sunset with signs bearing the names of Army camps and Forward Operating Base locations will help make the set seem real, along with the sounds of a field environment: trucks bypassing, helicopters taking off and buzzing overhead, off-duty Soldiers at play, cadence calling, etc.
"The printed program has a smart book or field manual layout, which goes back to the Soldier aspect of the show's mission," Higdon said. "The goal is to give the sense that we are watching the Soldiers return from a mission, who then take the time to put on a show for the audience."
In the end, troops will be donning their battle gear as they exit the stage "to drive home that they start the show as Soldiers and they leave the show the same way, as Soldiers - to do what their mission in life is," said Higdon, a 1988 Soldier Show performer who this year replaced Victor Hurtado in the director's chair. "Since we're not taking the show to Baghdad, we're bringing Baghdad to the show."
Nearly half of the cast and crew already have deployed during the War on Terror, so they know the drill. Just getting an opportunity to entertain Soldiers and military Families during the seven-month tour will fulfill a lifelong dream for most of them.
The latest in video and light technologies will add to the production. Two 65-inch plasma displays will be suspended from speaker clusters that will play a loop of sponsor video commercials, Soldier Show cast and crew interviews, along with Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command logos and promos before the show.
During the show, the video screens will add visual elements to the performances. For example, the cast will honor the modern era of the show's 25th anniversary with a World War II tune: "This is the Army, Mr. Jones," which was written in 1942 by Soldier Show founder Irving Berlin for "This is the Army." During that number, a video montage of photographs, posters and video clips will chronicle a quarter century of Soldier Shows.
"We touch on the 25 years, but the show isn't focused on that," Higdon said. "The show is still relevant to today's Soldier and Family members in the communities. We have some fun with period pieces, as we always do, but there's no conscious effort to really drive home '25 years.' It's really more about the Soldier and the environment they serve in today."
The show will, however, pay tribute to the coincidental 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the best-selling album of all-time on Billboard's charts. As the song begins, a Soldier-performer on guard duty scans the audience with a Night Vision camera and spectators can see themselves on positive screens. With the use of black lights and colored costumes, the Night-Vision effect will spill onto the stage.
"So it's as if the audience is watching this number in Night Vision," Higdon explained. "And we've 'cartoonized' the original Michael Jackson video that will be shown on the plasma screens while we're doing it live on stage. It will be a pretty big production number.
"We will have a well-balanced mix of everything," Higdon said. "There will definitely be something for everybody - presented as if Soldiers had to do it themselves with what they had available. We'll still have nice gowns and all that stuff, but things will transition to help make it feel like it is set in the field. For instance, we're going to have a song done in a canteen-like arena."
From the opening montage to the finale, visual and song elements will focus on the strength of our Soldiers, tying into "Army Strong."
"We never want the audience to forget that these aren't professional singers and dancers, that they're Soldiers," Higdon said.
(Tim Hipps works for the FMWRC Public Affairs Office.)