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Revels History

The Revels: Nationwide Celebrations of the Changing Seasons

Since its 1971 beginnings in Cambridge, more than 500,000 people nationwide have joined in the song and dance of Revels' solstice celebrations, including the Christmas Revels, Midsummer Revels, Spring Revels, Sea Revels and Harvest Revels.

The Beginning - The Christmas Revels

Back in 1957 a young concert baritone, John Langstaff, staged his first large scale Revels production in New York City at Town Hall. The production was an exciting one, receiving critical accolades, but the costs exceeded the income, and the plan for future Revels was tabled.

Nine years later NBC Television, recognizing the value and appeal of the Christmas Revels, engaged John Langstaff to create a nationally televised Christmas Revels Special which ran for two consecutive years. An entire Elizabethan house filled the screen with singing, dancing, and a traditional mummer's play with the young actor Dustin Hoffman as the dragon.

In 1970, and now living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Carol Langstaff, John's daughter, asked if they couldn't again put on a Christmas Revels. Together, with Carol's encouragement and enthusiasm, they staged three performances of the "Christmas Revels" in 1971 in Harvard's Sanders Theatre. This time, in the close community of Cambridge, they found the right environment and the supportive response they were seeking. By 1974, a community of "Revellers" was actively involved in the annual productions, and the non-profit group "Revels, Inc." came into being.

What are the Revels?

The "Christmas Revels" is a celebration of the Winter Solstice - with traditional and ritual dances, processionals, carols and drama. For many, Revels answers that submerged yearning for ritual and for the markings of ancient landmarks in human life, which lie deep in us all. As author Susan Cooper says: "Revels productions show that all cultures throughout the ages are fed by the same great river of myths, story and song."

Revels cast members include professionals and non-professionals - singers, dancers, mimes, actors, storytellers - adults and children. Professionals are rejuvenated by the energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers, and the volunteers' own abilities are amplified and stretched to their maximum potential by the opportunity to work with seasoned performers. The addition of children augments the onstage aura of community. Early in the rehearsal process cast members are formed into family groupings. The children form real attachments to their Revels "parents" and this bond is reflected in its appeal to the audience.

Langstaff's theatrical vision distinguishes itself in that its creativity comes not only from within, but also from the people with whom he celebrates, thus creating true community celebrations. In a real sense, he facilitates the performers' interactive creative involvement.

Some elements in the productions remain the same from year to year, but the time and place may change from a Victorian parlor room to an Eastern European or Mexican village, to Appalachia or to a Medieval manor. In the Revels, the audience joins in some of the singing, and anxiously awaits the magical dances of the Morris Men, the Mummer's play of death and rebirth, the mystical Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, and dancing with each other in the much anticipated "Lord of the Dance" recessional at the end of Act I in the Christmas Revels, or the Padstow May Day dance at the Midsummer and Spring Revels.

Need for Tradition

Langstaff says, "Through the Revels we come in touch with ritual, once an integral part of our lives, now lost in commercialism." In this age of migration to the city, the weakening of family ties, and the hectic pace of living, we long for tradition and the sense of community which Revels helps to satisfy. In "The Lord of the Dance," the singing audience and cast eagerly join hands to weave out of the theater and into the lobby in a simple ritualistic dance step handed down through the centuries, circling in a spiral, tighter and tighter, then symbolically winding out of the winter darkness into light, ending with a joyous cheer. "The impact of the Revels is that the individual comes away with a sense of having been in contact with a community that extends beyond the walls of the theater - touching deeply and stretching outward. The people touched in this way don't bother searching for words. They just join in."
Michelle Koetke, Boston Herald .

For more information, you can:

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80 Mount Auburn Street
Watertown, Massachusetts 02472-3930
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Back Sheldon Brown's Unofficial Revels Index Page

Official Revels, Inc. Site
The 2005 Christmas Revels
The 2000 Christmas Revels 2001 Spring Revels
The 1999 Christmas Revels 2000 Spring Revels
The 1998 Christmas Revels 1999 Sea Revels
The 1997 Christmas Revels 1998 Sea Revels
The 1996 Christmas Revels 1997 Midsummer Revels
The 1995 Christmas Revels 1996 Midsummer Revels

history Since October 17, 1996

Updated Tuesday, January 23, 2001
url http://sheldonbrown.org/revels/history.html