For a brief moment on Sunday morning, a 53-year-old man named Greg stood on the balcony of the U.S. Capitol, being sworn in as president of the United States of America.
Greg’s only qualification? He’s the same height as Donald Trump (aka the real president-elect).
Greg – Sgt. Major Greg Lowery, that is, a performer in the U.S. Army Band – joined a cast of dozens who recreated the presidential inauguration as a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
“To be announced as the president, it was a surreal moment. But it was pretty cool,” he said afterward.
The dress rehearsal – a quadrennial spectacle that features stand-ins playing everyone from Supreme Court justices and Cabinet members, to diplomats and former vice presidents, to Trump’s and vice president elect Mike Pence’s children – allows the staffers running the inauguration to work out kinks in the ceremony before Friday’s main event.
While the fill-ins stood in position, staff adjusted microphones to the proper height, tested out equipment and marked in tape on the floor exactly where each person should stand on so no one gets blocked in the photos.
This way, it was not the first lady-elect but a volunteer who had to hear, “Melania, take a step to your left, please” until the tape was in just the right place.
The rehearsal ran in real time, giving the volunteers a taste of just how long many of the VIPs will be sitting outside on Friday.
At 9:30 a.m., “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 58th presidential inauguration” boomed out from speakers facing thousands of empty folding chairs and the expanse of the Mall beyond.
The announcer welcomed the Washington National Cathedral’s choir, which will perform first on Friday (but was replaced on Sunday by a recording of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”).
At 10 a.m., the announcer started naming dignitaries, beginning with the architect of the Capitol, who will sit outside the longest of anyone. Every few minutes, another name was called, and another congressional staffer who volunteered for the rehearsal walked out the crimson-draped archway leading from the Capitol building to the balcony, with the name of the person they were portraying pinned to their coat.
The youngest of the stand-ins: 12-year-old Charlie, whose father Sen. Roy Blunt chairs the Joint congressional Committee on Inaugural Activities. Hefilled the role of Barron Trump, the youngest of the president-elect’s five children.
With all the stops and starts, it took more than an hour for everyone to file in, just as it will on Friday.
Lowery, who as Trump’s stand-in walked out last, got into the part, beaming and offering a regal wave to a nonexistent audience.
He and Master Sgt. Neil Ewachiw, 47, who played Pence on Sunday, were tapped for their roles mostly because of their heights but also because they wouldn’t get stage fright. As vocalists in the U.S. Army Chorus and Band, both have participated in numerous inaugurations before.
Ewachiw described his role in the rehearsal as a “career highlight,” and spoke of his appreciation for the pomp and circumstance of every inauguration, no matter who the incoming president is.
“It’s really about the peaceful transfer of power. That’s what we’re celebrating,” he said. “We put it out there for the whole world to see.”
On Friday, Ewachiw plans to watch the inauguration on his television at home in Columbia, Maryland. “It’s going to really be the best view,” he said. Then he caught himself, recalling the vista he had just seen from the rostrum of the Capitol building. “Second best, I should say.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Julie Zauzmer