The primary presentation of each Revels company is The 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.”
December 1743: The Laird's neighbors gathered at his great manor-house to celebrate Hogmanay, or New Year's Eve. Tempers flared as the Clans converged, then subsided when the guests mingled, singing much-loved melodies, taking a cup together, dancing lively reels, and relating favorite stories. Suddenly, an unwelcome visitor appeared. Then, a mystery guest was revealed. Finally, a child's questions elicited a true understanding of the Yuletide. We followed the call to explore this ancient and beloved time and place!
See photos and download the program booklet on the 2022 Gallery page.
Every 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 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 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 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.