creating community through celebration

2014 - American Crossroads

  The 2014 Revels opened in the 1930s where our protagonist meets a mystery man who sends him on a journey east to Appalachia, south through the bayous of Louisiana, north to the mid-Atlantic states and finally westward ho to California! It’s a crazy quilt of many colors creating the fabric of the holiday traditions we still share. Filled with Cajun music, Appalachian clogging, old folk tales and holiday rituals that some will remember being passed down from our parents or grandparents, the 2014 Christmas Revels saw a return to familiar American carols and folksongs, toe-tapping music and of course, plenty of laughter. more

2014 Program


2013 - The Spirits of Haddon Hall

It's the Shortest day, and ghostly revelers gather in the chambers of venerable Haddon Hall for their annual celebration. There's a knock at the door, and in comes the family of John Manners. He is the 9th Duke of Rutland and landlord of the premises. Manners wants everybody out because the Hall is about to fall, a victim of progress and the demands of economics.

 What will happen to Haddon? What will be the fate of the Spirits that inhabit it, not to mention their annual Revels? Will the joy of celebration, community and madcap revelry be enough to deter the Duke from his plan? The battle is joined and just as the outcome seems apparent, there is another knock at the door… more

2013 Program

Director's Notes

2012 - Celestial Fools

For this year's Christmas show, California Revels reached back over two decades of production history to put a true gem back on display. A return to a show that premiered in 1991, the Celestial Fools demonstrated the evolutionary quality of a Revels performance. While the basic structure remained intact, the music and locale were substantially different from the original, and of course, the major performers made the production their own while winning the audiences' hearts.

We were truly fortunate to enlist the services of Jeff Raz, Tristan Cunningham, and Mahsa Matin, as the Sun, Star and Moon fools respectively, as well as James Galileo, who played the role of Death. Juliana Graffagna, Brigit Boyle, and Leslie Bonnet comprised the True Life Trio, with Dan Auvil on drums.

The show was set in the town of Prosecco, on the shores of the Adriatic in 1520. As a gateway to the Hapsburg Empire, the village Solstice Celebration reflected the cultural influences of the surrounding peoples. Musical numbers included the haunting Georgian hymn Shen Khar Venakhi, an inspiring Ave Maris Stella (with shooting stars), and rousing Bulgarian tune Ne Sedi Djemo which was danced by the adult chorus in an exciting staging by Jeri Reed.

Once again, Shira Kammen contributed arrangements and compositions. Her setting of the Catalonian What Shall We Bring to the Child was quite glorious and her Balkan-influenced O Fortuna was the highest point of a highlight-filled show.

The Program

More photos and a blog entry by Cari Ferraro

2011 - Arthurian

The California Revels took great pleasure in creating and presenting our first Christmas Revels to be set in the Arthurian realm. The premise: as the Solstice approached in the court of King Arthur, the legendary king summoned his lords, ladies, knights and knaves to Camelot. There they passed the long winter evenings regaling each other with song, dance, feasting, and tales of their fantastical exploits.

Imbued with the music of the fourteenth and fifteen centuries (with a few anachronistic additions, of course) the production wove the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into the celebrations of the season. Once again, the program introduced new arrangements by our Associate Musical Director, Shira Kammen, including a calendar song, Months of the Year, and a lively rendering of King Arthur's Sons.

Highlights of the show included a mummers play, King Pellinore and the Questing Beast, performed by members of the children's chorus; A jousting contest involving audience members; and a display of sleight-of-hand magic by Merln, the court magician. The Arthurian Revels welcomed back Robert Sicular and Susan Rode-Morris as King Arthur and Queen Guenevere; James Galileo as Sir Gawain; Diana Rowan as the harp-playing Lady Bercilak; and introduced the wonderful magician, Kim Silverman in the audience-pleasing role of Merlin.

The Program

2010 - Irish Emigrant

For our Twenty-fifth Anniversary production, we chose to revisit one of our most popular and touching shows. It was set in 1906, at the port of Queenstown in County Cork, Ireland. This was the time and place of one of the peaks in emigration from Ireland and the British Isles to America. In our story, it is Christmas day and the Caledonia, the ship upon which the emigrants hope to embark, has been delayed by foul weather. Forced by circumstance to spend their Yuletide together on the wharf, emigrants from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales celebrate the season by performing the songs, dances and rituals with which each group identifies.

Shay Black returned in his role of the “Water Master” who hosts the festivities, and a wealth of musicians, both amateur and professional, graced the cast of this show. We featured Shira Kammen on fiddle, Diana Rowan on harp, Robin Petrie on hammer dulcimer, Tim Harte on bodhrain, and Cathy Chilcott playing Irish flute. Together with Kevin Carr, who played Uilleann pipes (and almost everything else), they formed our Ballybeg Band.

These Celtic players were ably supported by talented instrumentalists from the adult chorus who constituted an impressive session band. Dancers from the Anne McBride school of Irish dance enlivened the proceedings, as did a Strawboys mummers' play, and a story theatre presentation of the Irish folk tale, The Soul Cages. Musical directors, Fred Goff and Shira Kammen (whose arrangements of Shul a Run and The Selkie Song respectively were high points in the show) led a chorus noteworthy for its musical qualities and authentic pronunciation of Gaelic languages.

Director's Note
The Program

2009 - Alpine Bavarian

After more than two decades of wandering about the world's cultures, California Revels finally visited the cradle of so many of our contemporary holiday customs. Arguably the most “Christmassy” of our winter Revels, this show found a special place in the hearts of many audience members, especially those of German or Austrian extraction.

There was no story as such. Rather the material was organized along the structure of the calendar of feasts and celebrations that mark the German observance of the Solstice. Robert Sicular was outstanding as Sankt Nikolaus who, accompanied by James Galileo as his sidekick Knecht Ruprecht, led the audience through the seasonal lore and legends. James Zimmerman and the Almenrausch Shuhplattlers lent a note of Bavarian authenticity to the proceedings, as did the Alpine yodel song Chlausezäuerli.

Mention must be made of the children's chorus and young performers as well. They ably performed the Legend of Sankt Nikolaus and provided the fierce Perchten - a triumph of evocative costuming by Revels Artistic Associate, Callie Floor. Among the choral highlights of this show were renditions of Lo, How A Rose, Resonet In Laudibus, and probably the most daring piece of music yet heard on our Scottish Rite stage, the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It was a chance to feature Bass-baritone Wendell Brooks as well as the many talented instrumentalists in the ranks of the adult chorus. As the chorale built and the audience joined in, it became an unforgettable Revels moment.

The Program
Director's Note

2008 - The King and the Fool

The King and the Fool, as this show is known, is an allegory set in the palace of a mythical medieval English King. The jolly seasonal festivities are interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious guest, the Black Knight, with whom the King must do single combat. After handing over his badge of office to his Fool, the King confronts the Knight and is vanquished. A long season of darkness ensues, only to be lifted by the chanting of the children as they celebrate the Yuletide turning of the seasons. The King returns, order is restored and the Mummers enter to delight the crowd with the story of St. George and the Dragon.

This show was a revival of a production we first presented in 1995. It had several significant differences, most notably the framing device of a storybook being read to a group of Victorian children which contained the narrative of the plot line. Several songs were replaced with new arrangements by Shira Kammen. There was a hapless Dragon who made repeated false entrances at the enthusiastic behest of one of the children, and a sixteen foot tall Black Knight Puppet, created by Annie Hallet. Geoff Hoyle reprized his role of The Fool, including his famous Dance of Death, performed with an animated skeleton. David Parr was the King. Other featured performers included Chris Caswell and Shira Kammen.

The Program

Song Lyrics

Director's Note

2007 - The Songcatcher

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a tremendous revival of interest in English folklore. “Songcatchers” such as Cecil Sharpe wandered the English and even Appalachian countryside, recording songs, stories dances and folk customs in as “pure” a form as they could find. In this show, we follow an imaginary songcatcher, S. Allgood, as he encounters the people of rural England and attempts to document their customs before they vanish forever.

Among many striking moments in this show were Wendell Brook's rendition of a very somber Kentish John Barleycorn and the hypnotic arrangement of Nottamun Town created by Shira Kammen. Bobby Wineapple portrayed the bespectacled Samuel Allgood, and Geoff Hoyle was nearly everybody else, turning in hilarious characterizations of an elderly country Parson, A wiley Innkeeper, A dour Lowland Scot, a music hall comedian, and even a truculent old woman whose pig won't go over the stile. Other high points in this production were an enactment of the children's story, The Buried Moon, narrated by Jan Hetherington, and much dancing featuring luminaries from throughout the Bay Area English traditional dance community.

Director's Note

The Program

2006 - Quebecois

The setting for this Revels was the town of Trois Rivieres during the era of the voyageurs. The French Canadian folk story of the Chasse Gallerie or flying canoe propelled the action. In a story more familiar to American audiences as The Devil and Daniel Webster, Satan tempts a group of lonely fur trappers with the promise of a return home in time for the New Year's festivities,but demands their mortal souls as payment. The return is made by means of a magical flying canoe, but when the devil attempts to collect, he is challenged to a clog dancing contest in which he is badly over-matched by the local champion. A mummer-like folk play in which a Loup Garou or werewolf substituted for the dragon rounded out the festivities.

Pierre Chartrand from Quebec, Canada was the featured guest performer. His brilliant clogging was pitted against the considerable skills of the Devil, played by Kalia Kliban. Audiences were taken by the gloriously rousing chorales sung in Quebecios French, and greatly amused by the flying canoe sequence, enacted by a variety of puppets. There was a children's story, The Handsome Stranger, featuring James Galileo, which echoed the larger theme of outwitting the Devil. This show, created by Revels in Cambridge MA, has played in numerous Revels cities and is a popular favorite.

Director's Note

2005 - Return to Haddon Hall

This was our 20th anniversary production and so we decided to return to our California Revels roots by revisiting our inaugural show. It is a production that rests more on the stories told by a place than on conventional narration. Like the earlier version of this show, we presented an eclectic mixture of songs and dances that might have occurred within the confines of the Haddon Hall estate over the course of centuries.

Ensemble Alcatraz was the featured performing group, and lead singer Susan Rode Morris was a dazzling soloist throughout the show. Highlights included a rousing calendar counting Dilly song, and a John Barleycorn that featured the children's chorus as a waving field of grain - both arranged by Shira Kammen. The children brought down the house with their energetic rendition of The Twelve days of Christmas. Callie Floor's sumptuous costuming rendered the show in deep jewel tones, and her transformative dragon outfit for the story of The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh can still be viewed at the California Revels booth whenever we appear at a festival or Street Fair.

Director's Note

Show Poster

The Program

2004 - Scottish

It had been twelve years since we performed a Christmas Revels located in Scotland. This time we chose an 18th century setting and although the show, like its 1992 predecessor was in the musical pastiche style, many of the songs were different. For instance, the second act opened with a lovely additive waltz number danced to the tune Dark Isle. This very traditional-sounding song, played in our performance by twenty members of the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers, is actually a piece composed in the early 1960's by Ian McLachan. It has become a standard of the Scottish traditional repertoire and serves to illustrate how the notion of tradition is a dynamic one, and is constantly evolving.

Kevin Carr returned to Revels for this show, playing fiddle, pipe, whistle, and telling stories. He was joined by Susan Rode Morris on lead vocals, Shira Kammen on fiddle and Chris Caswell, who basically picked up and played any instrument that Kevin set down. The Piedmont Highland Dancers garnered much enthusiastic applause for their flinging and step dancing. The chorus joined with Susan Rode Morris on Rorate and the stirring Caw The Yaws, which have become staples of the Solstice Ensemble's repertoire. Bobby Weinapple delivered a sterling recitation of Robert Burns' To A Haggis, and Kevin Carr and the children's chorus enacted the legend of the Giant with the Golden Hair. A strange, but thoroughly Scottish Galoshin's Mummers play rounded out the festivities.

This was to be, sadly, the last opportunity to hear our beloved founder, Lisby Mayer perform her annual recitation of The Shortest Day, as she passed away on the following New Year's Day.

Director's Note

The Program

2003 - Elizabethan

One of the most visually opulent and complex productions ever undertaken by California Revels was the 2003 Elizabethan show. Shakespearean comedian Will Kemp's self-promoting “Nine Day's Wonders” served as the basis for the action. In this broadside, Kemp documents how he won a bet by Morris dancing all the way from London to Norwich in just nine days. We shifted Kemp's calendar a bit to the Yuletide season and had him arriving in Norwich just in time to encounter Queen Elizabeth as her court made its progress through that region. A subplot involving mild chicanery by a humorless Master of Revels, a mummers play, mirrored in the second act by an elaborate court masque, and lots of music and dance - both courtly and country - made for a lavish spectacle.

Geoff Hoyle played the role of Kemp, and brought down the house in the climax of the masque as he stitched together a comic quilt of Shakespearean death lines. Bobby Weinapple was his nemesis as the Master of Revels, and Andrew Hurteau shone, both as the befuddled master of the West Haddock Mummers, and as the hero in the court masque. Our Queen Elizabeth was the splendid Deborah Doyle, renowned for the playing the role in numerous Renaissance Faires. Among the musical and dance highlights of the production were Buffins, danced by our teen girls, a grand Morris processional, and a lovely ensemble arrangement of One Yeir Begins sung by Jenny Jackson, Jonathon Moon and Bobby Weinapple, with lutenist Yair Evnine accompanying.

Rehearsing with Geoff Hoyle

Director's Note

2002 - Galician

Puppets pipes and processions characterized this show. The first act documented the journey of pilgrims leaving a French cathedral in the 16th Century and walking the Via Santiago to Campostella, the purported resting place of the Apostle James. Drawing heavily in the Codex Calixtinus, an early tavelogue, we told the story of the legend of Santiago using giant puppets and also normal sized characters with giant heads - the gigantes and cabezudos of Spanish street theatre.

Once the pilgrims had arrived at their destination, the second act was given over to a festival celebration featuring all of the many cultures that blended in this northwestern region of the Iberian peninsula. We were able to feature everything from Flamenco dancing to a Sephardic lament. Audiences also got to experience the unusual pleasures of the txalaparta, a sort of Galician folk xylophone played by Pam Swann and Shira Kammen. Kevin Carr was a featured performer, fingering his gaita - the Galitian iteration of the ubiquitous bagpipe. Susan Rode Morris shone in several lovely vocals, including Os Reis do Corel and Nadal de Luintra, which emphasized the Celtic roots of this wonderfully musical culture.

Director's Note

2001 - Irish Emigrant

This premiere production of our Irish show still stands as the most well-attended Christmas Revels in California history. Set at the wharf side in Queenstown, County Cork in 1906, the premise of the show was that a storm delay had stranded a group of travelers en route from Ireland and the British Isles to Boston, USA. To amuse themselves over the Christmas holiday, they dust off the songs, dances and rituals of their home districts. The party goes on until interrupted by the arrival of the SS Caledonia, at which point the merriment of celebration gives way to the poignancy of leave-taking.

Shay Black of the illustrious Black Family Singers was our tradition-bearer. He sang, played banjo, and acted in both the Soul Catcher story and the Strawboys mummers' play. Other featured performers included Kevin Carr, Pam Swann, and the Anne McBride step dancers. A special feature of this show was a guest appearance by Patrick Ball. A renowned Celtic harpist and storyteller, Patrick performed a portion of his one-man show based upon the life of the blind harper Turlough O'Carolan.

The final moment of the show, where the chorus exits to board the ship singing the moving Banchnoic Eirann Oigh brought tears to many eyes as the audience saw their own ancestors portrayed by the Revels chorus. It was a show that touched many hearts in the most difficult of times.

Director's Note

2000 - Black Madonna

In an intriguing overlay of legends and icons, the Black Madonna show combined high comedy, storytelling and psychological insight. Starting with the classic story of the “Clown of God”, California Revels founder Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer explored a new theme of searching and self-discovery as a young orphaned juggler ranges far from his Italian home, drawn by the elusive image of the mother goddess.

Among the stars of this production were a series of statues that recreated depictions of the Madonna and other goddess figures found throughout Europe and Asia. Sculpted by set designer Peter Crompton and puppet maker Annie Hallett, these processional figures were a haunting element of the story.

Renee Collins portrayed the juggler while Revels favorites Geoff Hoyle and Joan Mankin were his adoptive parents. Along with the talented Stephanie Thompson, and Joe Krienke (props designers as well as performers) they comprised a Commedia team that toured Europe and created the central premise of the show.

The musical selections were eclectic as they were drawn from many locales, but featured a core of Italian songs, including the lively El Grillo and the lovely and moving Ave, Maris Stella. There was much dancing and Krista Keim clogged an animated La Befana. Instrumental support came from an all-star group that included percussionist Peter Maund, piper Sean Folsom, harpist Cheryl Ann Fulton and singer Jennie Bemesderfer.

2000 Program.

1999 - Nordic

It's hard to think of a Revels that involved as quite as many tradition bearers as this celebration of Scandinavian yuletide customs. The show began with a puppetry reenactment of the Nordic creation myth of the Water Mother, and then followed with stories from the Kalevala narrated by Harry Siitonen.

Our featured players included an ensemble of Kirelian folk singer/dancers led by the charismatic Sacha Bykadorof, who also played the role of Väinämöinen. There was a substantial amount of dancing, much of it provided by Karin Brennesvik and Tom Lovely whose breathtaking leaps punctuated the Halling dance. We also had the Nordahl Grieg Dancers, led by Mikkel Thompson and Karin Brennesvik plus our own Golden Ring Morris dancing the Pappa Stour sword dance. Ruth Sylte and David Gordon performed vocals. Specialty instrumentalists included Leif Alpsjø on the nikkelharpe and Toby Weinberg on the hardingfele,

Many northland countries provided the musical repertoire. The songs ranged from the rollicking Olafur Lilyuros to the haunting Draumkvedet (Dreamsong) and Hymn to St. Magnus, to the majestic Drowning of Olaf Trygvason. Teens and children acted out the always popular Three Billy Goats Gruff. Overall, this Nordic show provided a heady blend of yule celebrations from both familiar and more remote sources.

1998 - The Wizard and the Fool

This was a very interesting show, both in performance and in its role in Revels history. Set in Renaissance Italy, the narrative presented a crude folk fool (played by Jack Langstaff) whose rough magic stood in stark contrast to the mechanical brilliance of a da Vincian wizard. Employing song, dance, ritual, and not a little poetry, the action depicted technology gradually overshadowing magic in the people's imagination. A defining moment came in the form of an eclipse - a relentless and fearsome natural event that the wizard's science was powerless to prevent. It was by joining voices and reasserting the power of human community that this Revels resolved the divide between the two forms of magic.

The show was notable in that it marked the final appearance of Revels founder Jack Langstaff in a Christmas Revels. The cast also included Renee Collins as Jack's assistant fool, and Joe Vincent Parks as the Wizard. There were several recorded soundscapes used in the show, produced by James LeBrecht and using special, room-shaking speakers. Among the voices performing Renaissance era poetry in these sound collages were actors Sandy Armstrong, and the venerable Hume Cronyn. There were a number of special effects employed, including a complex eclipse sequence, Jack Langstaff singing Nottamun Towne to an amplified heartbeat, and the ceremonial arrival of the wizard in a lighter-than-air craft, a moment which is still wryly recalled as simply “the blimp”.

Renee Collins and the children's chorus were featured in a sorcerer's apprentice type of number in which the fool's fool discovered the alchemist's laboratory and began turning everything in sight into gold. The configuration of the stage was also remarkable and included an eleven course maze.

Director's Note

1997 - Breton

1996 - Victorian English

1995 - The King and The Fool

1994 - Mesoamerican

1993 - Appalachian

1992 - Scottish

1991 - Celestial Fools

This year marked several “firsts” for the Revels. It was the first time we shared a set as well as a show concept with Cambridge; it was the first time the lovely and evocative “Traveller's Prayer” was sung in a Revels; and it was the first time our dear and brilliant performer, Geoff Hoyle made an appearance. Geoff was joined by his son, Dan, and Revels veteran Renee Collins to make up the trio of Celestial Fools. Together, they led the audience on a metaphorical journey to retrieve the light after it had been stolen away by Death.

Memorable numbers included the moving song Poslan as well as a hilarious recounting of Tales of the Nazruddin. This latter number marked the first large-scale infusion of live animals into a Revels. A monkey, a parrot and large snake along with three hens and Hershey the goat made life backstage especially interesting. Also interesting was a dry ice fog bank that briefly appeared onstage during the Ship of Fools sequence before moving off and suffusing the main floor audience with perhaps more atmosphere than was anticipated.

The script for the show was written by Cambridge Artistic Director Paddy Swanson and Marguerite Fishman choreographed.

1990 - Russian - American

1989 - Norman French

1988 - Spanish Medieval

1987 - Celtic

1986 - Haddon Hall