About California Revels
California Revels seeks to foster the health of the human spirit through a rich array of performing arts programs. We promote the celebratory and community-building power of the performing arts by presenting a unique and innovative form of Music Theater that embraces diverse audiences.
Since 1986, California Revels has brought the unique theatrical, participatory arts-form founded by singer, author and music educator John Langstaff in Cambridge, Massachusetts, more than twenty-five years ago to the audiences of the Bay Area. Crossing religious and ethnic boundaries and appealing to young and old alike, Revels blends traditional music, dance, ritual and folk plays, presented by a large volunteer chorus of children and adults drawn from the community, and a number of highly talented professional actors, musicians, artists, directors, and “bearers of tradition” from many cultures. Highlighting a particular culture and period, from a medieval English court to an Appalachian homestead in Kentucky, from a Russian village to the land of the midnight sun, Revels employs traditional materials and seasonal rituals to draw the audience into a magical revelry of song and dance.
Every December, California Revels produces, “The Christmas Revels,” a joyous production welcoming the return of the light back from the darkness of winter. Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, California Revels late Founder, claimed that many people celebrate the Solstice without realizing it. Decorating homes with lights for midwinter, for example, is an ancient ritual for “calling back the light” that predates Christmas by centuries. “The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day and brings on the longest night of the year. Across the centuries, people have chosen this time to acknowledge and celebrate the cycle of light and darkness, good and evil, life and death, that governs all our lives.”
Throughout the year, California Revels holds a series of community-based performances, celebrating the seasons and highlighting our professional actors in musicians in more intimate settings. Our outreach and education programs also continue year-long, providing mentoring in the performing arts for at-risk youth and holding free performances for social service organizations and schools.
Reveling Across the Nation
The Revels was founded by John Langstaff in 1971. Many different Revels productions occur annually in nine cities across the country, and many smaller Revels-inspired productions are performed in various small towns throughout the nation.
This December, over 70,000 people around the country will attend Revels performances in 10 different cities - 10,000 in the Bay Area - satisfying a deep human need to come together in communal celebration of the turning of the year and the re-birth of light out of darkness. Says Linda Schacht, KPIX newscaster and mother of two who's been taking her family to Revels every year for 15 years: “Christmas wouldn't be Christmas for our family if we didn't have the Revels.”
Revels Core Values
Revels recognizes the bonds that extend in all directions through time – backwards through generations long gone, forwards to generations yet to come, and sideways as we embrace those dear ones living and sharing the moment with us. Our performances validate the experience of childhood and empower the young, while at the same time honoring the wisdom, gravity – and levity of age. We celebrate the wonder of growing up and growing wiser together.
We bring traditional material to life in performance. It has been said that there is really only one myth and culture is the way it is inflected from time to time and place to place. We celebrate the manifold ways that humans have found to express the experience of life on this planet: the songs, the dances, the dramas and the ceremonies that both articulate and share the pleasure and pain of living. Art is a message in a bottle – a passionate expression of life in one time and place, set adrift on the seas of time in the hope that it will not only wash into waiting hands on a far distant shore, but that those hands will actually open it and savor the contents. In theatre we’re fond of pointing out that plays do not live in the pages of a script any more than a shelf of cookbooks constitutes a feast. Someone has to do the cooking…which leads to…
Another core Revels value, the preparation and sharing of food is the oldest expression of community. It is the metaphor, if not the literal expression of the desire to nurture and extend good will. The persistent appearance of eating and drinking (especially drinking) songs in every culture attests to the importance of the table in calling together and bolstering the spirits of the people. In both backstage consumption and onstage representation, the presence of feasting can be seen as a reminder that Revels is slow food cooking – a potent antidote to “fast food culture”.
There is much of value in things known intuitively and passed along through many hearts and hands. There is a knowing that transcends science and logic, but when distilled into ritual, and reenacted with reverence, exerts a power that is palpable and stirring.
Connection to the Land
Experiencing agrarian customs and culture reconnects us with the earth and reminds us of how human society is ultimately formed by natural forces, and how weighty is our mandate to shepherd resources carefully. Revels portrays people in community with – not dominance over – the natural realm.
While we may wish you “More and more”, it is in a spirit of recognizing blessings – both material and spiritual – and expressing gratitude and a willingness to share. Our message is not about constant wanting but about openness to the bounty that surrounds us.
The Larger Metaphors
Revels calls into awareness the greater patterns of human existence that are so hard to perceive or acknowledge through the minutia of busy modern daily life: The turning wheel of the year; the succession of the seasons; sowing, growth, and harvest; the experience of light in times of darkness, and darkness glimpsed in times of light; the finitude of death and the eternal hope of birth. These are things that are hard to talk about. Words make them seem simple and self-evident, hardly worth revisiting. But when expressed in music, poetry and ritual, they evoke recognition from a place deep within us.
To revel is a verb. Reveling is not only performance, nor is it passive watching. To revel is to interact and share in the celebration of occasion; the delight of comradeship; and the awe of mystery. By inviting all present to participate, we break down the barriers between audience and players. The performance is most satisfying when it is most inclusive.
Perhaps the image most universally associated with Revels is that of a very long line of dancers spiraling through the performance space – disparate souls linked for one brief, but glorious moment in an endless chain of connection, fellowship and joy. Many individuals, all different, all connected. Revels does not seek to homogenize or diminish those things that make each of us personally and culturally unique. Rather, Revels urges understanding and celebration of diversity in an inclusive spirit, expressed through participation. In music, a chord is not made by everyone singing in unison. Each person must sing his or her own note, but with intonation and timing that produce a sweet harmony. Together, a whole is achieved that is much more beautiful and satisfying than the sum of its parts. That is true of the Revels community: many singers, one song.
The Christmas Revels, A Solstice Tradition
Our flagship production, the Christmas Revels is the annual performance celebrating the Winter Solstice featuring holiday traditions of all sorts. From a medieval English court to an Appalachian homestead in Kentucky, from a Russian village to the land of the midnight sun, each year the Christmas Revels celebrates traditions of another time and place.
We have gathered together photos, programs, and other memorabilia into a special archive of Christmas Revels. Now you can revisit any show and rekindle your memories of reveling through the years.
The Youth Movement
One of the important ways in which Revels performances have changed over the years has been the increasing role of what we term our Young Performers, or more informally, the “YP's”. Originally these adolescents were included in performances on an informal, as-needed basis to carry props or assist in some inconspicuous onstage role. What quickly became apparent was the talent and performing energy that our youngsters added to the stage. Not only did they fill an age gap in the family groups that comprise our village stage picture, but they demonstrated great flexibility and a willingness to try almost anything. The variety of roles they have performed include the dancing crabs in the Irish show (a number that was dubbed the “Seafood Shuffle”); the fierce Prechtin in the German Revels; heroes and monsters in ”The Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh” in the Haddon Hall show; and the medieval death figures, or I Cadaveri in the 2012 production. This year, you will see them as the ghostly household staff of Haddon Hall.
Many of the Young Performers have appeared previously in the Christmas Revels children's chorus and many of them will pass into the ranks of the adult chorus, often after a time away for college. Their participation broadens the scope of what we can do on stage and adds yet one more ingredient to the wonderful stew that is a Revels performance.
How Do We Do It?
The process of creating a Revels has changed a lot over the past 25 years. Many tasks that used to be extremely time-intensive can now be accomplished with the click of a mouse or a few keystrokes. As is true in many workplaces, paper is becoming a lot rarer, and screens and hand-held devices are the preferred “desktops”.
Here is Artistic Director David Parr's home office where much of the writing and planning of the show takes place. Notice the several computer screens which allow for viewing and playing music as well as previewing scenes from other productions of the material under consideration. Scenic plans, properties lists, costume renderings and scenic designs can all be viewed and transmitted to other members of the design staff efficiently and usually without the necessity of convening meetings. We also use teleconferencing from time to time, especially when consulting with artistic staff in other Revels cities.
Not every bit of planning uses electronic tools. This scale drawing of the set for the 2013 Revels gives guidance to the construction crew and also allows the director to visualize staging in the full space.
California Revels Artistic Associates
Revels has been blessed with the participation of many gifted performers and designers over the years and we are grateful to them all, but there are a handful whose ongoing contributions have virtually created the identity of the California Revels. These are career professionals who share the Revels core values with their own communities, and with whom we are proud to be connected on an ongoing basis. We have named them as “Artistic Associates” and hope that you will take this opportunity to learn more about them.
Shay Black - Singer, Instrumentalist
Shay's most regular gig these days is the weekly “Starry Irish Session” at The Starry Plough pub in Berkeley. At 8 o'clock on Sunday nights a talented group of fiddlers, flute players, tin whistlers and other musicians gather and rip into reels, jigs and polkas for the best part of four hours. He has recorded and performed with the California Revels, Shira Kammen, Peter Kasin and Richard Adrianovich, Sharon Knight, Steve Baughman and many others. He continues to be an avid songcatcher and is known for his extensive knowledge of sea music and sea songs, and loves performing songs from the Irish, English and Scottish traditions.
Kevin Carr - Instrumentalist, Storyteller
Kevin has performed in Revels dating back to 1993 and has been generous with his knowledge of Celtic, Galician and Quebecois music and culture. In addition to performing with his musical brethren in the venerable Hillbillies from Mars, he performs with the Celtic/Grateful Dead band, Wake the Dead, and plays with his wife Barbara, both as a duo and as members of a couple of fine ensembles that feature the music of Quebec. He also performs solo as both a piper and a storyteller, and may be found every summer in Port Townsend, at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, coordinating the music tutorial program, and at the Lark In the Morning camp in Mendocino.
Peter Crompton - Scenic Designer
Peter Crompton is the Revels set designer and is responsible for the artful and evocative scenery that has delighted audiences for many years. In addition to revels, Peter has designed for Festival Opera, Opera San Jose, Diablo Light Opera Company, Lamplighters, Marin Theatre Company, Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Summer Repertory Theatre in Santa Rosa, Western Ballet, University of Santa Clara, West Bay Opera, Santa Barbara Grand Opera, Berkeley Opera, Sonoma City Opera, and San Francisco Camerata, among others. He has won Bay Area Critic?s Choice, Shellies, and Goodman Choice awards. He lives in Santa Rosa, where he teaches set design at Santa Rosa Junior College and tends an increasingly bizarre sculpture garden with his wife Robyn.
Callie Floor - Costumer
For many revelers the experience of the Winter Solstice show is defined by the apt and elegant costuming of Callie Floor. Her artistry has defined the look of the Revels chorus from the very beginning.
Callie earned her BFA from the University of Utah, and her higher diploma in Theatre Design from the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. Since coming to the Bay Area in 1987, she has designed for many Bay Area theaters, including ACT, the ACT Masters Program, Aurora Theatre, West Bay Opera, San Francisco Mime Troupe, and Zaccho Dance Theatre. She is the resident designer for the California Revels and currently holds the position of Costume Rentals Supervisor for ACT.
Geoff Hoyle - Performer
Geoff has appeared in seven Christmas Revels since 1991. He was the original Zazu in the Broadway cast of The Lion King and appeared off-Broadway in his solo Feast of Fools and more recently in Mr. Fox by Bill Irwin. He trained with Marcel Marceau's teacher, Etienne Decroux, and clowned with Circus Flora, Pickle Family Circus, Teatro Zinzanni and Cirque de Soleil.
“Revels stirs in me the sense of expectation and wonder I had as a child in a wintry England waiting for Father Christmas, a roast dinner and the family party. Everyone seemed to be laughing. Crazy, but happy. And the world was, for a few delirious days, impossibly perfect.”
Shira Kammen - Instrumentalist, Arranger
California Revels owes much of its musical identity to Shira Kammen. A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Shira has spent well over half her life exploring the worlds of early and traditional music. A member for many years of the early music Ensembles Alcatraz and Project Ars Nova, and Medieval Strings, she has also worked with Sequentia, Hesperion XX, the Boston Camerata, the Balkan group Kitka, the Oregon, California and San Francisco Shakespeare Festivals, and is the founder of Class V Music, an ensemble dedicated to performance on river rafting trips. She has performed and taught throughout the world.
Susan Rode-Morris - Singer
A centerpiece of the California Revels for over two decades,Susan Rode Morris is a singer of unusual versatility whose accomplishments encompass a wide range of repertoire and musical styles. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, she has received much critical acclaim for her expressiveness and naturalness in singing, as well as her communicative presence. She is a founding member of Ensemble Alcatraz and has sung with many ensembles including Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, Sequentia Koln, Sex Chordae Consort of Viols, Foolia!, Magnificat!, Women's Philharmonic and others in North America and Europe. She has premiered numerous works of Bay Area composers, including opera and theatre pieces.
Patrick Toebe - Lighting Designer
Patrick received his MFA in Lighting and Scenic Design from San Francisco State University and has been teaching in the Theater Arts Department at City College San Francisco since 2006. His work has been seen across the United States and in Japan. His work includes lighting design for Theatre Flamenco (8 years), the World Institute on Disabilities (8 years), Sacramento Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Alabama Ballet, Knoxville City Ballet, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Sierra Shakespeare Festival, Centre Repertory, and Solo Opera. He has created lighting and scenic designs for Theatre of Yugen, Foothill Theatre Company, Pacific Alliance Theatre Company, Summer Repertory Theatre, A.C.T.'s Junior Rep, Centre Repertory, and many more. He has been the Lighting Designer for California Revels since 1999.
Deer Creek Morris Men
In 1986, Bay Area country dance luminary Bruce Hamilton assembled a group of dancers to provide for the Morris dancing needs of the first Revels to be performed in Oakland. Dubbed “Golden Ring Morris”, the group continued on its own and evolved into the Deer Creek Morris Men. For more than a quarter of a century, the fates of Deer Creek and the California Revels have been intertwined. The Deer Creek Dancers have been the mainstay of not only the Christmas Revels, but also our Mayday, and Summer Solstice celebrations as well. In recent years, they provided the antler dancing expertise for our Abbots Bromliad celebration as well as the Winter Solstice event at Muir woods. They are the first group to be collectively welcomed into the ranks of the California Revels Artistic Associates.
The Solstice Ensemble
Many Revelers first encounter us when they hear lively traditional music sung at a festival or street fair. The Solstice Ensemble is is the face and voice of the California Revels at these events. Clad in emerald green and ruby red, this band of choristers carries the Revels tradition of seasonal celebration into the larger community.
Numbering fifteen to twenty singers, the ensemble meets regularly to rehearse a repertoire of seasonal songs that rotates through the seasons of the year. They are featured at our May Day events as well as the Summer Gala, Yule at the Zoo, Children's Fairyland, and many other festivals and fairs. The Solstice Ensemble includes some singers who perform in the chorus of our Christmas Revels, as well as others who can't make as large a rehearsal commitment, but who really enjoy performing Revels music in a celebratory community.
The Solstice Ensemble is available to entertain at your next event. Download the Performance Request Form for details or call 510-452-9334.
Membership in the Solstice ensemble is by audition. If you are interested, you can contact the Ensemble Director, Dave Watt.
December 9, 1937 - October 16, 2013
No one symbolized the Revels connection to our long-time home, the Scottish Rite Theatre, more than Alex Kirkpatrick. His tenure as building manager began in 1990 and continued through a quarter century's worth of Christmas Revels. Active, affable and curious as he was, Alex became very involved with the production aspects of the Revels, offering valuable assistance, particularly in equipping the SRT for the lighting and sound requirements of the show. Alex became a familiar and welcome face backstage and at other Revels functions as well. He is a true and loving Spirit of Haddon Hall.
John Meredith Langstaff
Author, Singer, founder of the Christmas Revels
December 24, 1920 - December 13, 2005
By Scott Alarik, Globe Correspondent
December 14, 2005
It seems strangely like John Langstaff to leave us at Christmastime. Though he achieved fame as a concert baritone, influential music educator, author, and cultural activist, his life and art always seemed to revolve around the holiday season.
Mr. Langstaff died of a stroke yesterday in Switzerland. He lived in Cambridge and also had a home in Vermont. He was 84.
Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer
The Founder of The Christmas Revels in California
December 4, 1947 - January 1, 2005
For those who knew her, either personally or by reputation, Lisby was a tireless and tenacious worker, deeply committed to the Revels cause and generous in sharing her wisdom and energy with her colleagues. She oversaw the development of what became the California Revels from an upstart performing group, populated by a few close friends performing on a Mills College recital hall stage (decorated, I might add, with trees pruned from Lisby’s yard), to an organization with year-round employees that has performed for tens of thousands of audience members in one of the Bay Area’s premiere performance venues.
Singer and Song Leader
d. August 3, 2012
A featured performer on the California Revels stage from 2000 to 2012, Wendell's was the grand voice and larger-than-life persona that welcomed thousands into the Christmas Revels fold. His warmth and infectious good nature encouraged singers and non-singers alike to join him in the Sussex Mummers' Carol and his always moving Dona Nobis Pacem. All who came into contact with Wendell were surely drawn into the orbit of his Saturnine presence. A member of the California Revels group of Artistic Associates, Wendell has passed into the ranks of legendary performers who once graced our stage in person and whom we will always hold in our hearts.
d. September 28, 2009
Mary was a treasured member of the Revels chorus. She appeared in several Christmas Revels in the 1990's before her illness forced her to step aside. She returned for a final appearance in the 2004 Scottish show.
b. 1929 - d. November 29, 2008
A popular actor on local stages as well as on film, Roland endeared himself to Revels audiences as one of our earliest “Father Christmases”- a role that expressed the warmth and generosity that bespoke his very nature.
b. 1915 - d. 2001
Madi Bacon, distinguished conductor, teacher, and music educator directed the San Francisco Boys Chorus from its inception until her retirement in 1972. She was involved in the music direction of the very first California Revels and continued to support us and attend the Christmas Revels every year until her passing.
d. May 17, 1999
A noted performer with the Boston Camerata as well as the Revels, John's career spanned a long arc from rock drummer to consummate early musician. He played and recorded with Artistic Associate Shira Kammen in the group Fortune's Wheel, as well as appearing in the 1995 and 1997 Christmas Revels here in Oakland. He was slated to appear opposite Jack Langstaff in our 1998 show, but his failing health forced him to withdraw.
Although best known as a Celtic harpist and harp maker, Chris Caswell enriched the Revels with a wide range of instruments ranging from the great pipes to penny whistles. He was the musician we sought out when a show required versatility and especially Celtic artistry. He appeared with us in Scottish and medieval shows and also performed with Revels at the Dunsmuir Scottish games.