The making of a tattoo

The fourth annual Okanagan Military Tattoo promises a wide range of performers and entertainment

  • Jun. 18, 2017 3:30 a.m.

How do you transform Kal Tire Place, Vernon’s multi-purpose arena with its harsh white lighting, into a performing arts facility?

“Our greatest challenge is time,” says Dave Brotsky, well-known in the Okanagan for his involvement in theatre production. He is the set and light designer/operator for the Okanagan Military Tattoo (OMT) and is responsible for this transformation.

Originally, tattoos were simply military demonstrations of music and drills. But today’s tattoos are elaborate shows that include theatrics, dancing and a large variety of musical performances.

This year there are two performances of the OMT, an evening show July 29, and another in the afternoon July 30. And at 6 a.m. on the Wednesday before the performances Brotsky, with his six-person volunteer crew and a half-dozen professionals from SW Event/Technology of Kelowna, will begin the transformation.

Three riggers will climb the trusses to drop down winches to raise and position the lighting. From a big boom-lift, the more than 50 stage lights will be adjusted and the control consoles set up in the broadcast booth. Hundreds of meters of black curtains will be hung to create a back stage and the castle façade with its massive gates will be set in place by another crew of volunteers. By afternoon, rehearsals will begin.

The out-of-town performing groups will start arriving mid-week.

“Last year our bill for accommodations for performers topped $40,000,” said Warren Burgess, the accommodations coordinator. “Most of the groups are housed at Silver Star but some stay in Vernon.”

Volunteer hosts are assigned to each group.

“They need to be seasoned locals who know the city and can respond to everything from dietary needs to finding a dry-cleaner,” said Warren.

Later on Wednesday, stage manager Lorraine Brotsky Johnson and director Norm Crerar choreograph the show, clocking each performance and the entrances and exits of 500 performers, melding a dozen separate groups into a dynamic show that flows with military precision. It is no easy feat to distill the amazing array of Western Canadian talent into an action-packed two-hour show.

Vernon’s Community Band will serenade the arriving crowd with Second World War-era tunes and then the fourth annual Okanagan Military Tattoo will open with a burst of joyful, colourful 1967 nostalgia, honouring Canada’s 150th birthday.

Kelowna’s Blakey Irish Dancers will dance their jigs to the toe-tapping fiddle music of the young Celtic Lasses from Burnaby. The 150-member Calgary Roundup Band will combine its youthful energy with the bold brass and precision drills of the professional NADEN Band of the Royal Canadian Navy. Vernon’s Argyll School of Performing Arts and Motion dancers will fill the floor along with the Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble.

Of course there will be drums and bag-pipes, including kilted bands from the Valley, OMT’s own pipe band and Highland dancers and the scarlet-clad E Division RCMP Pipe-band and Ceremonial Troop, who are returning for their third OMT.

“It’s fun to be involved with a big professional show,” said Miranda Williams, volunteer/food coordinator and a relative newcomer to Armstrong. “We need volunteers to assist with sets and lighting, food services; to be band hosts, ticket takers and ushers. There are many opportunities to meet the performers whether you are handing them pizza, directing a bus driver or helping at rehearsals.”

With the OMT feeding the performers and volunteers during dress rehearsals and the performances, Williams said the local vendors, suppliers and caterers do a great job providing the food.”

A highlight will be a poignant “Tribute to Vimy.” It is the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s Battle of Vimy Ridge, where Canadians from across our country fought together enduring devastating loss. Dozens of members of the Okanagan’s own 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (now known as the BC Dragoons) were buried at Vimy. About 200 cadets in the music and ceremonial drill programs from the Vernon Cadet Summer Training Camp will join veterans in this touching ceremony.

The finale, with a cast of more than 600, will leave attendees inspired and energized.

“It’s a professional full spectacle of colour, light and scenery,” said Brotsky, and with ticket prices from $25 to $50, it is an affordable first-class show that will entertain everyone from grandparents to teens and toddlers.

For more information, including volunteer opportunities, and to purchase tickets, go to

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