The Christmas Revels Journey, Part 1

A post by Roberta Gasbarre, Artistic Director
October 30, 2018

Artistic Director Roberta Gasbarre

Hello from mid-way through our Elizabethan Revels process (or should I say, “Progress”)! This is always my most favorite time of the Fall. Everyone is cast and in rehearsal — Adult, Teen and Children’s Choruses — and all are learning the beautiful, rousing and fun musical pieces we will share with you in December. This is some really exquisite music we are singing, and the chorus already sounds terrific. I think of the music as the “glue” that holds our play together and moves us forward, company and audience experiencing the event in real theatrical time. In our earliest rehearsals, we only sing — no blocking (that is, assigning stage directions) until we’ve devoted almost a month to focusing on the notes, the words and the harmonies of these songs.

Just two weeks ago (on October 14) we began blocking the large group songs from Part 1, which help set up this year’s delightful plot! Grouped in families of adult, teen and child cast members, we citizens of Norwich (a town about 113 miles from London) enter at the top of the show to look for Will Kemp — or Kempe, depending on who is spelling it. He is Morris dancing from London to Norwich: an actual historical event that is still referred to as his “Nine Daies Wonder,” although in actuality it took him several weeks, since he often stopped with some of the cheering crowds who fêted and housed him along the way.

Will Kemp and his Rude Mechanicals.

As we continue blocking, we will learn that Queen Elizabeth I will visit for the Winter Solstice on her “Queen’s Progress” through her kingdom, and that her brother, the supercilious Lord Chamberlain, has a bone to pick with Kemp, who he fired from Shakespeare’s company for clowning around one too many times. While we wait for Her Majesty, we will make a wager and lift a glass at the Reindeer Inn.

Of course, there will be a “Monarch of Misrule” chosen from our fine audience, and we will mangle some Shakespeare to great hilarity. Elizabeth Gloriana arrives with grace and honor, and is eager to celebrate the Yule with her subjects — and to see a play by some “Rude Mechanicals,” borrowed from one of Shakespeare’s most rollicking comedies (and, in our Revels world, directed by Will Kemp himself, who has one night to wrangle some rustic mummers into an acting troupe).

Can he do it? Will he do it? Who does he meet in the moonlit garden on a most magical night? Ah, only Part 2 will tell…

A Stage Family singing together.

My process as Director of Revels’ 100-person cast is to keep a light hand on the wheel of our fall journey — to sketch out what might happen on stage, to assign families and familial and friendly relationships to everyone who will “trod the boards,” as Kemp would say it. Veterans of our production know to enjoy the fluidity of the stage directions and the “self-motivation” that makes the staging look so natural and unforced in performance. Our first and most important stage direction is to “find your families!” We teach that to all, and the flow of the scenes takes on the feel of a vibrant village whose residents have authentic relationships with each other, and also with our audiences at Lisner Auditorium. There truly is no “fourth wall’ separating us from the people in the seats — you will be the natural extension of this onstage community. Not only can’t we wait to meet you, we need you!

Our excellent acting ensemble is made up of a combination of skilled professionals (and long-time Revelers) and chorus members — it is important to our mission of community arts to draw from each.

This year Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell, Katrina Van Duyn and Danny Pushkin join a half-dozen adults, teens and children from the choruses to “speak the play trippingly.” (Learn all about our guest artists and ensembles here.) We have read and tweaked the script and will continue to do so — but most of the Fall belongs to the chorus, and­ we will not truly block the spoken scenes until later this November.

By the time you read this, we will have just had our first all-day weekend rehearsal, during which we all come together — children, teens and adults — to work our way through the first half of the show. It is a joyous process, and hard work. It’s taking a bit longer than “Nine Daies,” but we are making our way toward you — have you gotten your tickets yet?

I’ll write again later in the season to let you know how it is going… until then, enjoy the turning of the leaves and brisk breezes. It finally feels like Christmas Revels weather!

Warm regards to everyone at your house,

Roberta

Learn more about the 2018 Christmas Revels: an Elizabethan Winter Celebration

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Caper Like a Wild Morisco: Morris Dancing and Revels
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Revisiting an Article by Mary Swope: The Christmas Revels, 1997
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Making the Sausage: just what goes into a Christmas Revels?
A blog post by Colin K. Bills, Production Manager

The Adventures of Reveler Mike Matheson!
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Marking the Shortest Day of the Year
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