creating community through celebration

A Matter of Perspective

There’s something about January. Observing the start of the new year from the dark depths of winter seems to stir up a sense of resolve in the human soul. We’re inclined to take stock of our situation and ourselves, and see if we can’t do better on both counts. Our attention is fixed equally on sifting through the achievements and setbacks of the past year as well as plotting a future endowed with hope and optimism. But why January?

The Romans had it right. Up until the 7th century B.C., the Roman calendar only had ten months, ending in December ( decem means “ten”). Confronted with the need to add a couple more months so that the annual reckoning of time would fit better with the phases of the moon, Emperor Numa Pompilius tucked in a couple more moon cycles. These are our modern January and February. It happened that the god Janus was a particular favorite of the Emperor, and it is quite apt that he was chosen as the namesake for the first month of the new year.

Depicted as having two faces pointed in opposite directions, this liminal figure was said to have the ability to see into the future as well as the past. A figure of change and transition, he symbolized fresh beginnings and movement forward and so was associated with births, marriages and planting. As is so often the case, Janus was but the Roman iteration of an archetypal figure that appears in other mythologies. From the Celts to the Babylonians, figures of the two-faced god appear on coins, in temples and even as road markers.

Perched as it is right atop the wheel of the year, January is an excellent vantage point to survey the terrain over which we’ve passed and that yet to come. This January is a particularly significant one for the California Revels. We are standing on the threshold of our twenty-fifth year of annual celebrations. The call is especially strong to look both back and ahead.

The Revels, as a phenomenon and an organization grew up on the East coast, settling into Cambridge, Ma. in 1971. It was 1986 when Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer (“Lisby” to all who knew her) decided to bring the wonder of the Christmas Revels to California. Aided by Revels founder Jack Langstaff and a cadre of unsuspecting but energetic friends, she rented the music auditorium at Mills College in Oakland and produced the first annual Christmas celebration of what would become the California Revels. The following year, we moved to our home in the Scottish Rite Theatre, a location that seemed virtually made for reveling.

Over the next two decades, Lisby presided over the growth of an enterprise that developed in both organizational and artistic terms. Under her guidance, we evolved into one of the foremost Revels companies in the country, with a large and loyal following. You can survey our production history to see what we've done

Although gifted with talent, vision and determination, Lisby was not blessed with good health. On the New Year following our 2004 Scottish Revels, she passed away. In the intervening years, California Revels has continued to fulfill her founding vision. We have expanded into a year-round operation, offering opportunity to celebrate all seasons of the year. Our outreach chorus, the Solstice Ensemble, has become an acclaimed feature of festivals and fairs from May Day through Oktoberfest.

Now we look forward to our twenty-fifth anniversary year. Over the next twelve months, we will be celebrating the seasons with the traditional observances of the Summer and Winter solstices, May Day and harvest time. We are planning an especially moving and energetic Christmas Revels and, of course, watch for us at festivals and street fairs as well. But we’ve been around for twenty-five years now - that’s a quarter of a century. You can expect us to announce some very special events to celebrate that.

As you take a Janus-like look over the year to come, plan for reveling. Watch for our monthly newsletter and check this web site . We’ll let you know what’s happening. Our 25th New Year’s resolution is to fill your year with joy and celebration. Join us!

- David Parr, Artistic Director