The primary presentation of each Revels company is The Christmas Revels: In Celebration of the Winter Solstice, a fully staged, elaborately costumed, full-length theatrical production that changes scripts, themes, and traditions from year to year. Uniquely, these performances include multiple elements: music, dance, and drama, as well as story-telling and seasonal rituals. While each show is unique, there are a number of recurring elements that help to tie the experience to the broader Revels tradition. All these facets combine with the special Revels hallmark of audience participation: getting people out of their seats to sing and dance.
Purposefully, our Revels casts are intergenerational, non-denominational and multi-ethnic; it is particularly important for us that—in a city like Santa Barbara—those who are onstage reflect and represent our community at large. Our cast of almost 70 actors, singers, dancers, and instrumentalists combines select volunteers with seasoned professionals, and the two groups inform and energize each other, to create moving drama, music of the highest caliber, and an atmosphere of magic and mystery. The National Endowment for the Arts called Revels a new form of musical theater. Charles Donelan of the Santa Barbara Independent described our production as “educational, traditional and simply fun.”
Joining the De la Guerra family and their many friends who have come from near and far for the celebration, Richard Henry Dana and his shipmates enjoy festivities in Santa Barbara for the wedding of the Comandante’s daughter, described in Dana’s classic book, Two Years Before the Mast. This event inspires a lively exchange of traditions in music, dance, and storytelling from the land and sea during the time of the Spanish Ranchos.
See photos and read the program booklet on the Gallery page.
The Christmas Revels is an exciting and heartwarming entertainment experience for every age and a favorite Santa Barbara holiday tradition created by and for our community for the past 13 years.
Every Christmas Revels performance includes a mummer’s play. This traditional enactment of death and rebirth finds its roots in primitive ceremonies held throughout Europe to mark important stages in the agricultural year. In a traditional mummer’s play a character is killed and is then resurrected (usually by a quack doctor). In the Christmas Revels, the play is representative of the character’s hope to “drive the dark away” and celebrate the Winter Solstice “the shortest day,” and the beginning of longer days and springtime rebirth to come.
One part of many winter Revels performances that captures the mystery of mid-winter celebration is the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, an age-old procession of 10 to 12 figures, six men carry sets of caribou horns, followed by a hobby horse, a man dressed as a woman, a boy with a bow and arrow, and a fool who periodically dings a small triangle. The Revels dance choreography was inspired by an all-day procession still done each September in the tiny town of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, England. The dance is serpentine and includes a figure in which lines of five dancers each approach and retire and cross and repeat, with some clashing of the horns.
At the conclusion of the first part of every Christmas Revels, the chorus and audience join in a serpentine song and dance, based on Sidney Carter’s song, “Lord of the Dance,” an adaptation of the Shaker song, “‘Tis a Gift To Be Simple.”
The song and dance is a brief experience of shared celebration and is, for many, the community high point of the show. Since Morris dancing has long been centrally connected to celebrations of the return of spring, this joining of audience and chorus is introduced by a unique Morris dance choreographed by Carol Langstaff in Cambridge in 1971 for the first Christmas Revels. The dance features steps taken from five village Morris traditions. They are danced by two dancers at stage center until the song ends and dancers and chorus members dance with the audience around the theater.