creating community through celebration

A Touch of Silver

Twenty-five years is a healthy stretch measured against a human lifespan. It marks the horizon line of accurate memory. It is the rough demarcator between assured fact and the amended recollection of experience. Consider for a moment who you were and what you were doing in the Spring of 1985. If you have children, perhaps they were quite young, or perhaps you yourself were quite young – or at least quite a bit younger, or perhaps you yourself were not yet even on the scene.

A few historical facts to help re-create the world of 1985: Amadeus won the academy award for best picture and We Are The World was the major musical event. Calvin and Hobbes made its debut in the papers. Politically, of course it was the midpoint of the Reagan era. The Unibomber was making news and explorers had located the wreck of the Titanic. The technologically hip could purchase a new Amiga personal computer, play an electronic game called Tetris , and begin an ongoing relationship with Microsoft by installing the just-released Windows 1.0.

Another thing that was going on in the spring of 1985 was a furious spate of organizing and planning going on in the fertile mind of one Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer. A well-respected clinical psychologist and U.C. Berkeley professor, Lisby was also the musical protégé of Jack Langstaff, founder of The Revels.

For fourteen years, the Revels had been playing in Cambridge, MA, and by 1985, was beginning to branch out into a few other cities. “Why not perform in the Bay Area?” reasoned Lisby, and with characteristic determination, she began to assemble the people and resources necessary to realize her dream.

That first year, Jack directed a production of songs and dances, loosely arrayed around a medieval theme, which came to be the standard show used to introduce Revels to new cities (we reprised it here as our twentieth anniversary production in 2005). It was performed at the music hall of Mills College and generated an audience response that emboldened Lisby and her colleagues to try it again. And again. And again.

Twenty-four “agains” later, California Revels is entering its Silver Anniversary Season. With this December’s Christmas Revels – our twenty-fifth - we will have completed a quarter century of celebrating the power of music and community. Not only have we reliably brought back the joy of the annual Winter Solstice Celebration year after year, but we have extended the magic of folk ritual and traditional celebration to the other seasons as well.

This landmark year, in addition to our usual observances of May Day, The Summer Solstice and numerous festivals and street fairs, we have several 25th Anniversary special events planned.

  • The annual Summer Solstice Gala, slated for June 20th at the Snow Building of the Oakland Zoo, has become a popular tradition with feasting, singing, dancing the Helston Furry, and the Deer Creek Morris dancing the sun down on the longest day of the year. Because this is such a significant anniversary, this year’s Gala will feature a retrospective of music and dance from various shows and traditions spanning our quarter century of performing in Oakland. This event always sells out, but we’ll let you know as soon as tickets are available.
  • Labor Day marks the end of the summer vacation season and signals the start of the school year, but this year, Labor Day, September 6th also coincides with another important observance. It is Wakes Monday, the day on which the Deer Dancers of Abbots Bromley, England make their traditional rounds.

Accordingly, California Revels is planning to host the first ever Abbots Bromliad. We plan to make history as dance teams from all over join us in a festive celebration, culminating in the largest group performance of the Antler Dance ever attempted. There will be picnicking, singing, dancing and games in this free-to-the-public event. Watch for more details in this newsletter.

  • If you’ve been counting, you know that approximately 1750 performers have graced the stage of the Christmas Revels over our twenty-five years. This Fall, we are planning a reunion pot-luck cast party backstage at the Scottish Rite Theatre to bring the Revels chorus family back together and celebrate their accomplishments. If you’ve appeared in a Revels at some point in our history, expect to hear from us about this one. Lots of memories and memorabilia will be shared.

And speaking of memories, we’ll be recounting some of the stories and legends surrounding the California Revels each month in this newsletter. You’ll hear facts and anecdotes, many of them relatively true, as well as the usual banter about Revels paraphernalia and fascinating background information on the Winter show. Stay informed and join us in celebrating twenty-five years of “Creating Community through Celebration”.

- David Parr, Artistic Director