A Journey Back to My Revels Roots

A Guest Post by Patrick Malone

Attending The Christmas Revels each year with my family was probably my very favorite tradition. I remember vividly riding from our home in McLean, over Key Bridge, past the sparkling December lights of M Street, and stepping into the warm glow of Lisner Auditorium.  Attending the Revels was more a part of our holiday ritual than anything else, and the final notes of the Sussex Mummers Carol would reverberate within me for the rest of the season. The rest of the year, even.

Patrick with his two boys at a music class.
Patrick with his two boys at a music class.

In 2013, I lost both my parents, my father in April and my mother in August. I was not a child when this happened, and I cannot overstate the empathy I feel for those who lose their parents as children or teenagers. But, I can say that even as a grown man with a wife and child of my own, the sense of loss I felt was immense. I struggled.   The hardest part of that first year was the waves of grief that would roll over me during the happiest moments – my son’s first words and steps, Thanksgiving, the news my second son was on the way – because my parents were not there to share it. I withdrew.  I missed Revels that year. It was, simply, too much.

Patrick on stage in the 2014 Irish Christmas Revels.

The following spring, I received a note from Susan Lewis encouraging me to audition for that year’s Christmas Revels. “Just wanted you to see the theme of this year’s December production: Irish!!” she wrote, knowing the proper way to sell an idea to someone named Patrick Morland Malone. I had toyed with the idea of auditioning before, but had always found a reason not to. But here, I decided, I would take my first step toward reclaiming the joy in my life. I auditioned. I got in. I smiled

Over the next months of rehearsal, I was embraced, often literally, by the members of a group that I had only known from the outside, but which now held me close as one of their own. I found myself staggered by the talent, compassion, empathy and, above all, sense of community present in every single Reveler I met. Those who have sung in groups know that it is a powerful experience, allowing you to be both an individual and part of something greater than yourself at the same time. I have never had that feeling more than in the rehearsals for, and on the stage of, the Christmas Revels.

My wife told me, only a few weeks ago, that from the time of my parents’ deaths until the time I joined The Christmas Revels, I had seemed a shadow of myself, quieter, sadder, and that it was only when I threw myself into the rehearsals and performance that I became my old self again. That’s hard to hear, but absolutely true. All along, the right answer was never to withdraw from joy, but to fully hold it in my heart.

Patrick (center, left) with actors and chorus in a scene from the 2014 show.

I learned that I am a Reveler. I was always a Reveler. And I will always be a Reveler. I emerged from my shortest day as promise wakened, caroled, feasted, gave thanks, and dearly loved my friends. I am immensely, and will remain eternally, grateful for the opportunity.

Patrick Malone was a member of the Adult Chorus in the 2014 Irish Christmas Revels. We eagerly await his return to the show when his littlest is out of diapers!

What’s Going on Down There? The Costume Shop in Summer

Costumes assembled on a rack in the Washington Revels shop
Costumes assembled on a rack in the Washington Revels shop

It’s July. It’s 85 degrees outside in a hazy, sluggish world full of Nature’s brightest greens, yellows and oranges. Of course no one is thinking about Christmas and December, right?

Wrong. In the busy and cool basement of Washington Revels, the costume team is scurrying around with a pace that suggests we might be on stage any moment now. There are different colors going on down here—gold, deep reds and blues, a patterned purple, some browns and tans. Summer doesn’t live down here, where actions and thoughts are populated by a Solstice celebration that is three and a half months away.

There’s antique lace zooming past to the left, and a rainbow of thread colors heading by on the right. Here’s something that looks like fabric leaves, there’s something that looks like part of a kingly robe, and then something that looks like…a placemat?

IMG_0061Mollie, the Associate Costume Designer, mumbles through the pin in her mouth “I had no idea what to expect here, and it has been remarkable. I came from college theater. Rosemary Pardee [the head Costume Designer] said I should come to Revels and I said: What’s Revels? I had no idea. Now I get it. It’s community, it’s family, it’s joyful, it’s creative—it’s really special. Every day I come to work and think— my friends would be jealous of me– I don’t work, I play! I throw things on a form, I paint things, I go home—it doesn’t feel like a job because I’m having so much fun.”

Mollie says Revels, and costuming for Revels, is about rethinking, repurposing, and renewing. “I’ve used materials I wouldn’t have considered before. It’s a good metaphor for Revels— we’re engaging in a nonconventional exploration of traditional things to create something new. Whether costume or performance or song, it engages your mind and your brain in a new way, while still feeling oddly familiar.”

The placemat is under discussion on Mollie’s right. She eyeballs it, raises an eyebrow, and then looks triumphant. “Just try this. Put this on your head.” Sigh. “I know it’s a placemat, but just try it!”

IMG_4887Over the last month the costume shop has been populated with volunteers who stop by regularly, as well as those who seem to live there. Lois, who started as a volunteer, worked on sets, ran the Wednesday-Night Work Parties, made hand-crafted merchandise, and did plenty of other things for “ages.” She then joined Revels staff as Costumier, and has been in the costume shop exclusively now for over ten years. Janice, who started volunteering at Revels in the 80’s, says she loves to be there because it’s completely outside of what she does anywhere else in her life. Lois agrees. “I love it– sewing is one of the things I love to do more than anything else—it satisfies a lot of my need to be creative. The fact that it’s different than what you’re doing all day at your job has tremendous appeal.”

IMG_4879Mollie and Lois both love the problem solving. “It’s kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle,” says Mollie. “I have to make things fit, there are insane pieces and you have to figure out how they can go together. You say—hey, look at this fabric no one remembers– I found it in a bin in the back, and I think it might exactly fix this mess I’m in.”

Lois agrees. “It’s an exciting challenge trying to solve some of these problems– like this one right here,” she says, pointing to a complex-looking swath of material draped over a dress form. Lois suddenly appears to be her own age and a little girl all at once. She sighs. “It makes me think of my mother – who taught me to sew. Sewing was a place she could solve problems – like not enough fabric, or a hard to match pattern— she knew how to work around it. I feel like I’m channeling my mother—I think she’d be proud of me.”

All the costume volunteers agree– they solve the puzzles and fix the problems, and then appreciate seeing their work under lights for two weekends in December. “You work hard before the show,” says Lois, “and then the show is up on stage and you are still working hard, and suddenly there’s this moment– you pause and look out at the magic on stage and a costume swirls by you under a light, and you look at it and realize: I did that. That’s really moving.”

You’ll see the handiwork of Rosemary, Mollie, Lois, Robbie, Cecily, Rachel, Janice, Mike, Willa (and so many others) when it shimmers under the lights this December.