The 2015 National Order of the Arrow Conference closed Friday night with a show that made Arrowmen think, laugh, scream, dance and maybe even get a little teary-eyed.
In a brilliantly devised, flawlessly executed two hours, 15,000 Arrowmen were more than entertained. They were inspired and rejuvenated in a way they can’t help but bring back to their Boy Scout troops, Sea Scout ships and Venturing crews.
The NOAC 2015 closing show was a night these Arrowmen will never forget. They’ll tell stories to their friends about how insanely awesome this night was. The great thing is, they won’t even have to exaggerate. The truth will be impressive enough.
The night spanned a range of genres. It started with an inspiring stage play with an important message about acknowledging the past without being bound by it. It evolved into a technologically advanced 3-D light show that used the entire stage as a canvas on which to paint images. It ended with a sing-along as red and white confetti fluttered down from above.
The first, longest portion was devoted to a well-acted, smartly scripted stage play.
The stage: The entire floor of the Breslin Student Events Center at Michigan State. Volunteers transformed the floor into Camp Fort Sentry, a fictional camp that was just 72 hours away from getting bulldozed so developers could add new upgrades.
“You are now the only witnesses to how our camp was saved from destruction,” a voice-over said. “And why.”
Throughout the play, a youth staffer named Trey was conflicted. He needed to write a rededication speech for the camp as it prepared for major renovations that some worried would remove the character of the place.
The conflict centered on the balance of protecting a camp’s traditions while still advancing it into the future and giving modern Scouts what they want. It’s a conflict that may feel real to some.
When Trey mentioned that today’s campers love robotics, for example, a former, tradition-bound staffer asked whether this was a Scout camp or “Camp Robot.” Why can’t it be both?
Later, Trey met a seasoned Scoutmaster who showed him the light.
“I wish there was some way to stop those bulldozers,” Trey told the man who had been coming to this camp for 52 years.
“Bulldozers? I don’t care about that,” the Scoutmaster said. “They can flatten this place for all I care.”
Trey was stunned but intrigued. Scout camp, the Scoutmaster said, is more of an idea than a place. A Scout camp can be a depressing sight when no campers are there.
Without kids “it might as well be the setting for a horror picture,” he said. “Kids are what make it happen here. Without them, no camp. When everybody goes home for the summer, they take camp with them.”
This made sense to Trey, who used that message in his speech at the rededication ceremony. In the night’s most inspiring moment, he spoke with passion.
“We will not allow anyone to destroy our camp,” he told the group of current Scouts, former Scouts, parents and volunteers. “You see, that can’t happen. Because no such place exists. This camp, like Scouting, isn’t a place. It’s an idea. It’s made out of people. It’s made from those truly rare moments of delightful transits and chilling uncertainty that only exist on that razor’s edge of things.”
The final message: Don’t be bound by traditions; be bound to one another. Don’t be bound to things; be bound to actions.
“If the future is filled with better tomorrows, that starts with us.”
Next, the show pivoted to a light show the likes of which I’ve never seen.
Bastille’s “Pompeii” started things off as the camp set was used as a canvas. Instead of paint, colored lights filled the stage with a series of dazzling three-dimensional patterns. Inspirational videos played, too, reminding Arrowmen both who they are and whom they serve.
Perhaps the biggest compliment during this portion was that so many Scouts and Scouters pulled out their smartphones to record the show. Apparently these Arrowmen felt they were seeing something worth sharing with their friends back home.
The night ended with an energetic sing-along, including “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, “Rock and Roll All Nite” by Kiss and “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey.
Red and white confetti shot out of cannons, fireworks and sparks emanated from multiple places, and lasers cut through the fog and smoke.
Every Arrowman was standing at this point, and most were dancing or jumping up and down.
When the music ended and the house lights rose, I saw several Arrowmen giving one another hugs and high fives before heading toward the exit.
Then, true to the Order of the Arrow’s commitment to cheerful service, dozens of Scouts and Scouters headed to the stage floor to start cleaning up. Many hands made light work, and most of the stage had disappeared within 20 minutes.
Missed any of my NOAC 2015 coverage from this week? Catch up here.
Photos by Robbie Rogers and Jim Brown.