A Chat With: Virginia International Tattoo Director J. Scott Jackson

Classic Arts Features   A Chat With: Virginia International Tattoo Director J. Scott Jackson
The Virginia International Tattoo is a signature annual event of the Virginia Arts Festival – a festival of extraordinary arts experiences that lasts through June. Virginia International Tattoo performed April 25-28 at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.

More than 900 bagpipers, drummers, military bands, dancers, singers, drill teams, color guards and performers of all kinds will travel from the four corners of the globe for the 2013 Virginia International Tattoo. This awe-inspiring show is the largest Tattoo—military musical display—in the U.S., an awe-inspiring celebration of patriotism, pride and international good will. The theme of this year’s Tattoo is “Homecoming,” focusing on the profound joy and pride accompanying the return of the men and women who devote their lives to the safeguarding of freedom. For tickets, please visit vafest.org or call (757) 282-2822.

How long have you been the producer/director of Virginia International Tattoo? And when did you first become involved with the Virginia Arts Festival?

I have been the Producer/Director of the Virginia International Tattoo since 2003. The 2013 edition of the Virginia International Tattoo will be my 11th in a leadership role.

I have been with the Virginia Arts Festival since its inception in 1997. For the first two seasons, I was the Festival’s director of Education and Community outreach.

For our readers who have never experienced a viewing of a Tattoo – can you tell us what it’s like to watch one for the first time?

Imagine if Hollywood decided to create an old fashioned Epic motion picture with a patriotic theme and you had a chance to see it performed live. You would have:

A huge cast, stunning costumes, intricate choreography, a dramatic musical soundtrack, moments of sheer spectacle, stirring pride and patriotism, something to make you laugh, something to make you cry, 2 hours that flew by way too fast and a really good villain. Replace the villain with 125 massed Bag Pipes and you have the Virginia International Tattoo.

Do you recall the first time you saw a Tattoo performed?

Yes – it was in 1997 and I was actually performing in the show. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know what a “Tattoo” was, and it turned out that almost nobody else did either!

The 2013 Virginia International Tattoo is made up of many diverse groups - over 900 people – including some from as far away as Australia and France. How were these teams/bands selected to be a part of the Tattoo this year?

I visit other major Tattoos around the world each year to look for great performers for the show and supplement that with on-line research (I view a lot of YouTube videos) as will as direct inquiries from groups themselves. I come up with a working cast list about 24 months out and by 12 months out usually have a pretty solid idea of the upcoming year’s cast.

Can you tell us about the Tattoo rehearsal process? It is very difficult because of the large amount of participants?

There are some unique rehearsal challenges for the Tattoo. Musical rehearsals are relatively straight forward. All of the performers receive music well in advance and we can usually get the music polished up in one rehearsal. The overall choreography is what is most difficult. Getting every person, musical instrument, microphone, lighting instrument, video camera, and Flag in the right place at the right time is a very involved process. I rely on a production team of more than 100 to help make it happen.

How do you prepare yourself for each performance?

We do a production meeting following each rehearsal and student matinee to review any and all production challenges that need to be addresses. It is important to address any changes with the entire team because one person deciding on their own to “improve” something seemingly innocent can affect a lot of other people in ways that they can’t imagine. From the moment that meeting ends until the next performance begins I trust my team to implement the changes as discussed and I focus on the really fun stuff like VIP seating.

What other performances in the Festival are you most looking forward to?

Luciana Souza – May 10
The Rite of Spring – May 29

Visit www.virginiaartsfest.com

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