Inside the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo

Halifax, Nova Scotia will be the epicenter of the Celtic world next week, as tens of thousands of attendees take in eight days of celebrations at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. The event’s Director of Marketing, Leah Whitehead, shares her perspective on the biggest indoor event in the world.

What is the festival’s core mandate?
The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo’s mandate is to produce and present a world-class international, cultural event that will stimulate Canadian Patriotism, educate youth, recognize our country’s debt to the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, attract tourists to Nova Scotia, strengthen international relations and enhance the commercial position of Tattoo Sponsors.

How has it grown over the years?
The Tattoo has continued to grow over the years, as it spreads its reach both locally and internationally. The Tattoo audience is very faithful to the show; in fact, we have over a 70% return rate from our audience members, as confirmed from our annual audience survey performed by Mount Saint Vincent University. This show started as a local, military event that was thrown together in a matter of months (and successfully pulled off!) and has evolved into an international, military and civilian show that attracts 60,000 people every year.  Word is spreading on the show and as Tattoo Staff attends tourism shows around the world, we have to explain less and less what the “Nova Scotia Tattoo” is.  It’s always encouraging when the first thought that enters people’s mind isn’t “ink on skin!”

Who attends the event?
The Tattoo prides itself on being a family event. There is truly something for everyone. The Tattoo is offering four matinees this year to make it more convenient for generational families of all ages to attend the Tattoo. It is a show for all, from the young, to the young at heart – there’s light-hearted comedic teams, moving emotional historic/commemorative scenes and straight-up entertainment as 2,000 performers fill and vacate the stage with lightning-speed precision.  The Tattoo has the world’s largest indoor stage and it can be jam-packed with performers in 30 seconds flat! One audience member is quoted as saying, “I laugh, I cry, I shiver with emotion. It’s awesome!”  It sounds cliché but this show really does do that to you – and it moves fast! Each scene is on average 6 minutes long. Most who leave the arena leave saying they feel a heightened sense of national pride and patriotism. The national anthem at the end will leave you loving Canada more than when you walked in.

What can they expect to experience this year?
The three themes in the 2012 show all have specific roots in Nova Scotia’s history.
One of the themes is Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee which the Tattoo will be celebrating in traditional Tattoo musical style. The Tattoo has a strong connection with the Royal Family. The first Nova Scotia Tattoo was held in 1979, and was officially opened by Her Majesty, The Queen Mother. In 2006 Queen Elizabeth II granted the Tattoo “Royal Designation.” Our second theme is commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This will be one of the largest scenes in the show with lots of local extras performing in period costumes depicting what the Halifax Grand Parade may have been like during the War of 1812. It will be a colourful mob scene including (what else?) a Halifax tavern! We will also be commemorating the centennial of the Titanic and drawing the strong connection between Nova Scotia and the Titanic, as Nova Scotia had great influence in relief efforts for the Titanic. Included in this commemoration will be some music from the blockbuster movie. One additional element we are bringing back to the Tattoo by popular-demand, after a twelve year hiatus is the “Naval Gun-Race” (based on the old-style Gun Run). The Gun Race features two teams racing six pound field guns, dismantling them, passing them through a hole in a wall before they reassemble them and fire them off. The teams will lift more than 1,000 pounds of equipment during this dangerous race. People have been known to lose fingers in the past!

Why is it an important event for the Celtic community here?
The Tattoo is an important event for the Celtic community of Nova Scotia as it showcases to an annual audience of 60,000 people our specific local flair and Celtic spirit. The Tattoo strives to keep piping and drumming alive and well in the province as well as traditional highland dancing. While the Tattoo has evolved into a multi-national and genre format, it still maintains those traditions that make it a Celtic Tattoo; including the incorporation of massed pipes and drums, dancers and ending with the traditional The Black Bear. This year especially the Tattoo is getting back to its roots with a traditional Cape Breton Kitchen Party, highland dancers from across the country and some traditional Celtic Folk Tunes that is sure to get your Celtic blood stirring!

Why is it an important event for the non-Celtic community here?
This event is important for the non-Celtic Community because it shows the world just how talented the East Coast really is! This show is loaded with local content and is completely planned and produced in Nova Scotia.Annually, the show brings in approx. $42m to the local economy and introduces tourists from around the world to this beautiful part of Canada.

What are the plans for the festival in the years ahead?
The plan for the Tattoo is to continue to expand the Tattoo in all areas but with a specific focus on the Tattoo festival. During the days when there is an evening performance, the Tattoo has a festival aspect to it in addition to the daily shows. With specific areas targeted around the Halifax Regional Municipality, they are free noon-time performances by Tattoo performers. It is the goal of the Tattoo to expand this festival aspect of the show – getting all of Halifax “Tattoo’ed” for the season! The Tattoo Foundation has started a pipe and drum instructional for young people in rural NS – as that program grows, those new Celtic musicians will be spotted on the Metro Centre floor, keeping the Tattoo tradition alive!

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture in Canada and around the world?
Nova Scotia particularly does a fantastic job of preserving and promoting the Celtic Culture in Canada. I would say that the province of N.S. as whole has made many efforts to preserve and promote our unique heritage. In N.S. one grows up being surrounded by Traditional Pipes and Highland dancing, as well as kitchen parties. For the first time this year the Tattoo Highland dancers have opened their auditions up on a national scale, and are even having highland dancers coming from different provinces in Central and Western Canada. The Tattoo Foundation has begun teaching piping and drumming to young people in rural Nova Scotia to keep this art alive. The program focuses on the long-term introduction of young people to pipe band instruction outside the competitive format. The plan is to establish youth programs in six areas of Nova Scotia and plans are to expand to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island as the overall program evolves.

What can we be doing better?
We can always improve. I think Celtic Life International is a great start in uniting the Celtic community globally. As a province, we should be examining our strengths as the culturally rich region that we are and looking at ways we can all work together on putting the best material out there.