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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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'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 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 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.
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 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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
David has been an active theatre professional in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past thirty years. Trained at the University of Illinois (M.A. in Theatre) he has a background in dance, photography and videography as well. During his years as a professional actor, he performed and directed on many Bay Area stages and served for ten years as an elected representative for Actors' Equity Association. He joined the staff of the California Revels as Resident Director in 1990 and was appointed Artistic Director in 2005. He is a tenured professor on the Theatre Arts faculty of San Francisco City College, where he founded the critically acclaimed City Summer Opera. David has directed the Revels in Oakland for twenty years, as well as the Revels in Tacoma and the Oakland production of Noye's Fludde, featuring Revels founder Jack Langstaff. He resides in Oakland with his wife, Krista and two sons, Luke and William.
Fred has degrees in music theory and liturgy from the University of the Pacific and Pacific School of Religion. He has performed on choir tours of the Soviet Union and Great Britain, in the Los Angeles Master Chorale and in madrigal quartets. His teaching duties have included public and private schools in Alameda, San Francisco, and Conta Costa counties, San Francisco State University, San Francisco City College, and Laney College. He is the resident music director for the California Revels and music director of St. James Episcopal Church.
A key member of our Christmas Revels chorus for many years, Dave has taken on the duties of rehearsing and conducting our very popular Solstice Ensemble. He lives in Oakland with his wife Rachel, and young daughter, Chloe.
Dirk began working for California Revels as the box office manager in 2002 before becoming Executive Director in 2004. From 1990-2001 Dirk was the Director of Ticketing for San Francisco's Blue & Gold Fleet, where he oversaw the sales of 1.3 million tickets annually for the Alcatraz Island tour. He has also worked for the Shubert Organization in New York's Broadway district, the Catalina Island Blues Festival and Shorenstein Hayes & Nederlander Theaters in San Francisco. Dirk lives in San Francisco with his partner Mike and their pup, Lisby.
- Ellin Adair Barret
- Betty Feinstein
- Mary Catherine Haug, Secretary
- David Hildebrandt, Treasurer
- Suzanne Long
- Kris Murray
- Ronya Robinson
- Carolyn Thiessen
- Terry Trotter
- Fred Wagner, President
- Helen Wills Brown
- Bone Burke
- Malcolm Carden
- Kathy Fitzgerald
- Carl Ludewig
- Theresa Nelson
- Dr. Joel Parrott
- Susan Poor
- Tricia Swift
- Marcia Vastine
- Andrew Williams
- Linda Williams
The chorus is made up of true “amateurs”–people who do what they do simply for the love of it. They are quite literally the core of the Revels village, and the welcoming friendship, connection and warmth they share together radiates out to the audience and the community. They are people of all ages and walks of life, spanning 6-years-old to over 60-years-old. Children, students, and professionals come together to create the music, dance and celebration that is the spirit of Revels.
*Chorus Resources - a password accessible area for the use of Revels choristers.
Requirements for participation in the Revels adult chorus include the ability to learn and accurately sing music, possession of stage presence, and most importantly, the willingness to invest time, energy and emotional commitment to the success of a group venture. Instrumental, dancing and acting ability are valued but not necessary.
The rehearsal schedule is demanding - six weeks of Mondays in the Fall, followed by every night and weekend day in the weeks leading up to performance. An understanding spouse/family is a major asset.
While the demands of performing in the California Revels adult chorus are considerable, the rewards in terms of shared experience of achievement and the joy of community are what bring Revellers back year after year.
Over the years, the inclusion of young adolescent performers has become standard in the California Revels. Not only do these youngsters fill out the “Revels village”, but they also make important contributions with their energy and performing skills. Their June audition does not focus exclusively on singing, nor at this stage of their vocal development are they expected to learn the entire adult repertoire for the show. Young Performers do not have to attend the weekly music rehearsals in the Fall, but once staging rehearsals begin, they are assigned specialty roles, often including dance, puppetry, and some of the most interesting costumes in the show.
Consisting of children ages six to twelve, the children's chorus is cast in the early summer and attends music rehearsals adjacent to the adult chorus rehearsals for approximately six weeks in the fall. Once we “load in” to the Scottish Rite Theatre the schedule intensifies, although the children are released by eight o'clock during evening rehearsals prior to the last week leading up to performances.
Maintaining school work and setting aside sports and other activities can be a challenge for children in the chorus, but the artistic and social development of children in the Revels chorus is extremely rewarding. It is not uncommon that several members of the adult chorus can point to the children's chorus as their first experience of Revels.
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.
Chris discovered the Celtic harp during a six-month stay in Scotland after high school. After three years of studying music composition at San Francisco State University, he started making harps in the early 1970s. At that same time, he also launched a performing career with Robin Williamson, and later formed the duo Caswell Carnahan, with musician and Reveler Danny Carnahan, touring and performing from 1978 to 1983.
Chris taught music every summer at the Lark in the Morning Music Camp in Mendocino, from its beginning in the early 1980s until 2012. In 2003, while teaching there, he met his second wife, Roxanne. They married the next year and moved to Oakland, where Chris set up shop again as a harp-maker in Berkeley, continuing to build a reputation that went far beyond the Bay Area, both as a craftsman and musician.
Celtic harpist, storyteller, and fellow Reveler Patrick Ball remembers Chris this way, “To me, Chris’ most marvelous contribution was in rooting into and revealing the deep spiritual, mythic underpinnings of the Celtic harp and its music.”
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.
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.
Outside of Revels, throughout a long career in education, Wendell brought the gifts of his insight, both musical and philosophical, to generations of youngsters. His work also extended to the opera and concert stage, where he was much in demand. He was an active member of St. Clements Episcopal Church in Berkeley. 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.