In the Moment: Arena Stage and USO “Annual Military Thanksgiving”

It is a season of thanksgiving and spending time with family and friends. But, untold numbers of D.C. and Baltimore area military families spend the Thanksgiving holiday away from loved ones serving and defending America. What can be done?

Over the past seven years, with appreciation for their service and sacrifice, Arena Stage has had an annual tradition. It is the Military Thanksgiving event. The event reaches-out to wounded warriors, service men and women, and their families to provide a respite from their immediate military responsibilities.

This year’s Military Thanksgiving is on Friday, November 24th. Arena Stage, in partnership with the USO-Metro, will be providing a complimentary dinner and a free performance of the musical comedy The Pajama Game at the Mead Center for American Theater. Since the first Military Thanksgiving in 2011, Arena Stage has served more than 1,000 military members and their families.

Read our Pajama Game review here!

Edgar Dobie of Arena Stage. Photograph by Cameron Whitman.

“We owe an enormous debt to the Service men and women and their families who sacrifice so much for our country. Hosting the Military Thanksgiving allows us to offer a small act of gratitude for the members of the United States Military,” said Arena Stage Executive Director Edgar Dobie. “Our production of The Pajama Game feels like the perfect show for this event not only because of the high-energy music and dancing, but because its central story revolves around a union labor dispute, a clash made possible because of the freedom we experience as Americans.”

The special Military Thanksgiving is possible with the partnership with the USO-Metro. The mission of the USO is to strengthen America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. The USO is sustained by the charitable contributions.

“Military service members are devoted to protecting our country, our freedom, and their fellow Americans. They do this voluntarily so that other Americans can live out and enjoy the freedoms our country provides us and for that, we owe them our sincere gratitude” said Alexandra Bitonti, USO-Metro, Events and Sports Specialist. “Military families sacrifice a lot and the unique lifestyle military families experience is something we should all appreciate.”

The Military Thanksgiving will begin with a 5:30 p.m. cocktail reception featuring a performance by military musicians and the presentation of the colors. A seated, three-course dinner will be prepared and served by Ridgewells Catering at 6:00 p.m., and guests will enjoy a performance of The Pajama Game at 8:00 p.m. The event will include remarks from Retired Army General Carter F. Ham, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of the United States Army.

Arena Stage is working primarily through the USO-Metro to distribute the tickets irrespective of rank. Additional tickets are distributed through the Washington, D.C.-Virginia Medical Center Caregiver Support Program and the Southeast Veterans Service Center. Tickets are distributed without regard to military rank. It is anticipated that about 200 service men and women and their families will experience this special event.

An image from 2016’s Arena Stage Military Thanksgiving.

The evening is not the only recognition for military service members and their families provided by Arena Stage during the year. Arena Stage offers veterans and those currently serving in the U.S. military, police, and fire departments 20% off the regular ticket prices for each production in our season. “We are proud to partner with Theatre Communications Group and many other regional theaters across the United States to offer this discount as another extension of our thanks to those who have and continue to protect our freedom and personal safety as Americans,” said Dobie.

“It’s a time of year when people come together and create family—sometimes with blood relatives and often with people who share a common bond,” added Dobie. “We hope that Arena has created a family with members of the military and that they will find some joy gathering for a meal and a good show at our house.”

Note: At the time this column was developed, the Military Thanksgiving is sponsored by Lockheed Martin. Additional support is provided by Raytheon, Discovery Communications, and David Bruce Smith in honor of Max Smith, Clark Construction, GEICO, Enterprise Holdings and The Wawa Foundation and others.

Note: In these current times and for those wishing to learn more about military service demographics in the DC metropolitan area, this link may be of interest.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.


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