The sounds of cannons firing in the distance is not unusual on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (JBMHH), and on April 19, 2023 it provided a familiar soundtrack signaling that Twilight Tattoo is back in full effect on Summerall Field. One of the key Joint Task Force-National Capitol Region/ U.S. Military District of Washington (JTF-NCR/MDW) productions, the action-packed Army experience dates back to WWII and features Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.”
This rehearsal was not just any rehearsal; it was the commanding general’s validation. This validation is the final step before Twilight Tattoo makes it season debut on May 3rd. The planning process for the 2023 show began immediately after the 2022 season ended, as show creation is an intricate process.
“We generally do an AAR [after action review] within the month while we’re still thinking of 2022,” said Marci Seeger, Deputy Director of the Ceremonies and Outreach Directorate and Chief of Strategic Outreach. That review is done with all the participants and organizations that help make Twilight Tattoo possible.
The Ceremonies and Outreach Directorate (COD) takes the lessons learned from the prior season coupled with Army messaging and information to begin the scriptwriting and logistical planning.
“We start briefing that as early as November to the commanding general to say what we're thinking and give him an opportunity to really provide some guidance at that very early stage,” said Seeger.
Some of the new items incorporated into the 2023 Twilight Tattoo show include new characters and a new storyline.
“We have a whole section where we are featuring people like General Cavazos and Dr. Mary Walker, [people] who aren't necessarily top of mind,” said Seeger. “They have great stories and are going have bases renamed for them.”
Seeger explained that they didn’t want to just include them and say a base is going to be named after them, but wanted Twilight Tattoo to tell their stories to bring better recognition of their contribution to the Army and the history of our nation.
In addition to the new characters, the storyline of the show centers on the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration.
Seeger said that the Hal Moore sequence recognizing Vietnam Veterans was augmented to include the work of his wife Julia Moore.
“The Vietnam War was 50 years ago; there's so much history between then and now,” said Seeger. “We had a tendency before to kind of walk through all of the conflicts, through the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and get to Vietnam and think, ‘Oh, now we have to end the show,’ and skip forward. This year we got through that early history much more quickly.”
Seeger said that when discussing what to include in the programing, Maj. Gen. Allan M. Pepin, commanding general JTF-NCR/MDW, also thought it was important to include the more recent Afghanistan and Iraq operational history in, and acknowledge the Afghanistan withdrawal and the efforts of the 82nd Airborne Division there.
Once developers decided on the new material and messaging, the next step included finalizing a script and beginning the audition process.
“We've got a script that everybody's at least seen and is provisionally okay with,” said Seeger. “We can audition in early February before the Old Guard goes out to do their E3B [Expert Infantry, Soldier or Field Medical Badge] training.”
This year those auditions were held February 13-15, 2023, in the 4th Battalion, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment Headquarters on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Most of the Soldiers cast in the performance are members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).
“We ended up seeing over 90 Soldiers, and we have 16 speaking roles [to cast],” said Seeger.
While several of the Soldiers who auditioned for the 2023 Twilight Tattoo have also participated in other JTF-NCR/MDW outreach events, not all were seasoned performers.
“We try to work with them a little bit in the audition process,” said Seeger. “There's nerves and some have never auditioned before, but once they memorize it, they can be very dynamic. Part of it is trying to see through the audition process to see what the possibilities could be.”
While the actors are being cast, COD also works with The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” to create the music that uplifts the show from just spoken words to a full experience.
“We basically say, 'Here's what we're thinking, what do you think works,' and they come to us with ideas for the underscore,” said Seeger. “Their contribution to the show is incredibly important because music on a live show is the key to the energy level. It's the music that really helps it still feel like a full experience.”
Seeger said show collaborators are fantastic, valuable partners, and that the teamwork between COD, JBM-HH, The Old Guard and The U.S. Army Band is incredibly important to putting together a great show for audiences that visit the installation almost every Wednesday evening from May to July.
After all the hard work that is put into planning Twilight Tattoo, the team is ready for the validation. Pepin, along with members of the JBM-HH, The Old Guard and The U.S. Army Band leadership then watch the rehearsal on April 19, 2023 to provide the final approval.
Pepin praised the team for the work they have put in so far and gave some final adjustments to make, but he gave the show the word to continue moving forward.
The next step in the Twilight Tattoo season is opening day on May 3, 2023. For Seeger, the crowds filling the bleachers is what she most looks forward to each season.
“The kids are dancing in the stands and they're singing along,” said Seeger. "It's that energy that comes from the crowd that then gets the cast excited that then just creates this really fantastic experience.”
Twilight Tattoo will take place every Wednesday beginning May 3, with a break June 28-July 5. Check back in next week to learn about some of the new characters and soldiers portraying them in the 2023 Twilight Tattoo.