creating community through celebration

As We Go Märchen On - March 2009

I'd like you to meet a quartet of gentlemen, two of whom have long been involved with California Revels, and two of whom soon will be. Their names are Patrick, Wendell, Jacob and Wilhelm.

Patrick and Wendell are Patrick Toebe and Wendell Brooks, both of whom have been invited to join the elite ranks of the California Revels Artistic Associates. This is a small group of creative artists (now 9 in number) whose contributions to the Revels community over the years have had a major impact on defining the character of our organization. They are also notable in the way they express Revels core values in their entire body of work. Both of these gents are richly deserving of inclusion in this group.

Wendell is probably most familiar to Revelers as the audience song leader in numerous Christmas Revels. Possessed of a strikingly large frame, and an even larger voice, Wendell has been inviting audiences to join in on the caroling since the mid-nineties. He is an accomplished opera singer, and has trained generations of young singers at Berkeley High School where he has been choral director for many years. In addition to performing in the winter shows, Wendell has performed with California Revels on the Julia Morgan stage for Mothers’ Day, as well as performing in several house concerts where his rendition of traditional work songs and spirituals helped us celebrate Black History month. And did I mention that he is also fluent in Swedish?

Revelers have been admiring the work of Patrick Toebe for over a decade and probably were unaware of it. That’s because Patrick is our resident lighting designer – an occupation that feels best rewarded when its achievements go unnoticed. In my role as Stage Director, I rely heavily on the ability of my designers to realize the vision of the show. As the audience is swept through the action, few realize that the seamless transitions and evocative moods are the product of high artistry and careful execution. The colorful scenery of Peter Crompton and the sumptuous costumes of Callie Floor (both of them Artistic Associates) would not be such a visual delight were it not for the skillful way in which Patrick paints the stage with light. He is a colleague of mine, teaching at City College of San Francisco, and also designs professionally for many theatre and dance companies, including the Smuin Ballet.

California Revels is proud to welcome both Wendell and Patrick as California Revels Artistic Associates. Find out more about them and their compatriots on our web page.

Jacob and Wilhelm are brothers. Grimm brothers. Or as they are more commonly known, the Brothers Grimm. They are best known for collecting European folklore and children’s stories, including most of the commonly known tales in modern American children’s literature (e.g. Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel.). As I go about preparations for the 2009 Bavarian Christmas Revels, I have been studying the work of these two individuals. Their own stories have almost as many interesting twists as the fairy tales they narrate. In the early 1800’s, the period in which our winter show will be set, there was no actual German state. There was a confederacy of 39 smaller entities, many of them set up by Napoleon Bonaparte. The common thread that bound them was the language, and so the Grimm brothers set out to codify German language and folklore as a way of developing cultural identity.

The German word for folk tales is Märchen. In 1806, the Grimm brothers began collecting these folk stories from all over Germany and compiled 53 manuscripts, which nobody wanted to publish. Undaunted, they kept collecting and in 1812, published their own Children' and Household Tales, which contained 86 stories. Throughout their lifetimes, they would add to this collection until it ended up including 200 numbered stories plus 10 more “Children’s Legends”. In 1818, the two intrepid collectors came out with Deutsche Sagen, a huge compendium of 585 German Legends. Their careers also spanned the worlds of academia, politics and linguistics.

A theory of sound relationships that express the evolution of language was dubbed “Grimm’s Law”, and they even undertook the editing of a comprehensive 33 volume German language dictionary, the Deutsches Wörterbuch (which would end up weighing over 180 lbs.), although they only made it as far as ‘L’ during their lifetimes.

How will the stories gathered by these two busy brothers show up in the 2009 Christmas Revels? I’m not quite sure yet, but in the past we’ve seen the work of 19th century English folkloricists like Halliwell and Jacobs in the show, and in 2007 we even met a character suspiciously resembling songcatcher Cecil Sharp. As we venture into the snow-clad landscape of Old Bavaria this December, it’s a safe bet that we’ll run across the footprints of the brothers Grimm along the way.

- David Parr, Artistic Director