Every year, on my to-do list for early October is: Buy Revels Tickets.
If you are not already familiar with these wonderful festivals, well, it’s about time.
The Revels was first created for the New York stage in 1957 by musician, teacher, and author John Langstaff as a celebration of traditional seasonal music, dancing, and storytelling. But it was not simply a stage performance. Langstaff realized that many of us are starved for the connection to the seasons that was part of human beings’ lives for millennia but which for the modern plugged-in citizen has largely disappeared.
Our ancestors didn’t buy tickets to watch a harvest festival, or a planting ritual, or a plea to the gods for the return of sunlight; they MADE every festival, with its traditional songs, dances, foods, and tales, all of which grew naturally out of their lives and acknowledged the continual turning of the year with its growth, loss and rebirth, sorrows and joys.
So Langstaff’s Revels straddles worlds old and new, with professionals and amateurs working together, to create events simultaneously entertaining, educational and participatory, in which audience members watch and listen, laugh (and cry), sing, dance, and sometimes join those on stage to work out a skit or song.
After his initial New York show, and a Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas Masque (in which a young Dustin Hoffman played a dragon!), Langstaff presented a Revels in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the concept took off. Since then numerous Revels groups have formed around the country, with permanent staff members and lots of eager volunteers, to bring these celebrations to the public, usually one in spring or summer and one near the Winter Solstice.
Langstaff’s first Revels incorporated medieval music, but over the years the repertoire has expanded to include traditional seasonal celebrations from all over the world and from many historical periods. Our family has enjoyed the Revels of India, Russia, Scandinavia, French Canada (from which these sketches), Early America, Victorian and medieval England, Renaissance Italy, and the Celtic world, each with appropriately gorgeous, colorful and meticulously researched music, folklore, customs, sets, and costumes.
This year’s DC Revels is set in Thomas Hardy’s rural England. If, in the midst of this season of darkness, you wish to find light—as well as a couple of hours’ joyful immersion in another time and place—then you are in luck. We always go as part of a great big group (then continue our own Revels afterward with dinner and music), but we didn’t buy ALL the tickets. We left some for you.