Clare Hardin started as a Revels Kid in elementary school, and then later in high school. She has grown into an intern extraordinaire and current volunteer. The following is a guest post about her experience in the Washington Revels community, and why she thinks your kids would love to revels with us.
Hi, I’m Clare, and I’ve been a “reveler” since I was born. Here’s some of my story.
My mom had already been to a few Washington Revels events because she knew Greg Lewis (Executive Director) and his wife Susan (Company Manager) who both sang with The Choral Arts Society of Washington. I guess that’s how we were introduced — and, my family has been involved since then. My dad was invited to be Music Director for the Christmas Revels in 1999 and 2000. I attended my first May Revels when I was two or three, watching my big sisters perform with the other kids. I’m sure I was waving a tiny ribbon stick to “welcome in the May-O.”
All three Hardin sisters participated in May Revels as soon as we were old enough. My memories are happy ones of the cobbled path in front of the Washington National Cathedral, of dancing in hand-held circles, of cotton candy and repetitive verses of “The Rattlin’ Bog” that were somehow still fun after the 12th time. All three of us were also in the Children’s Chorus for several Christmas Revels productions — I performed in the 2006 and 2007 shows.
My first Christmas Revels was in 2006 — the theme was “Early American.” I remember sitting around a pretend fire near Native American storyteller we knew as Dovie (Apache storyteller Dovie Thomason), in awe and feeling lucky I was chosen to be in that particular scene.
I remember being endlessly excited because I got the solo in “Morning Star,” and then nervous and embarrassed when during the first Lisner rehearsal, Music Director Betsy Fulford noticed that I was singing off-key. We were absolutely NOT allowed to eat in costume, except the clementines and goldfish in the kid’s Green Room. I got to tell my teachers that I was in a “big, important production” so I had to get my homework for “tech week” in advance. Staying up past 11pm was a big deal, and I got to do it every night for a show I loved.
Those productions were fantastic, but the thing about Revels is that the shows themselves aren’t the most important part — it’s the people and the community that matters. That community — my second family — raised me. They taught me values of acceptance, togetherness, cultural awareness, teamwork, respect, and more. To be a Revels Kid is a privilege, and I don’t know who I’d be without it.
Fresher memories come from my four years as a teen in the Christmas Revels — they have been an integral part of my story. For a teenager dealing with the ups and downs of high school, Washington Revels was a refuge. It was a place where it didn’t matter if I had a bad day, if I didn’t feel like smiling. I would say that there is a sort of radical acceptance within the Washington Revels community, and you never have to ask for support — it was always there waiting for you. Though many people in my life outside the Washington Revels community knew about my Revels world, it still felt like a separate entity. It was my little bubble of kindness — where a 17-year old could laugh and sing alongside a 57-year old like they were best friends, where I learned to sing in 10 different languages, and more. Truly, there is no performing arts experience like it. There is no experience, in general, like it.
If your child or teen gets a chance to be a Revels Kid, they should do it. Take part in an After-School Workshop. Audition as a child or teen for The Christmas Revels (each year during the weekend after Labor Day). Even if all you can do is come to a performance — do it! No matter who you are, you will be welcome. You will be loved. You will be valued. There is nothing more important than our community.
A group of four- and five-year olds are marching down the hallway, waving ribbon sticks and singing an old traditional tune about apples. A dragon is resting on a nearby table while a volunteer sews one of its ears. Six teens are heading upstairs to rehearse with bells tied around their ankles, adding whimsy and celebration to the already joyful scene. And in the parking lot, a group of volunteers are leafing through a songbook choosing songs to share at the evening’s Community Sing.
This is just an ordinary autumn day at Washington Revels, a 35-year old cultural institution dedicated to celebrating cultural traditions through music, dance, storytelling, drama and more.
There’s something for everyone — after-school workshops for PreK-8th grade, opportunities for children and teens to perform on stage, and family activities ranging from Community Sings, Pub Sings, concerts and parades, plus workshops (in music, dance and traditional crafts) – over 120 events each year. It’s a place where intergenerational interactions are a part of daily activities, a place where a family is invited to share in the joys of singing and community, and a place where traditions are honored, shared and created.
And it’s the place where ages-old winter holiday traditions are recreated and reshaped every winter, and then performed at Lisner Auditorium in DC to over 10,000 people over two weekends in December. The Christmas Revels is the organization’s biggest annual event, and one that draws all ages and cultures from well beyond the DC area, and then encourages them to dance in the aisles (literally!) during the show. It’s easy to see why families make this event part of their annual holiday celebration.
All three floors of the Revels’ Silver Spring building are ready for family activities. There’s a bright studio space for workshops and rehearsals, there are shelves and nooks filled with costumes, props, books and CDs, and tucked around the edges you’ll find colorful banners, a couple of dragons, a hobby horse, some jester hats and a Maypole. It’s a place where holidays and special days are celebrated and handed down to future generations, and a place always ready to create the shared joy of community.
Kids and families refer to themselves as “Revelers” and might be heard saying “I’m reveling.” It’s what Washington Revels offers — a chance to revel in music, dance, drama, cultures, traditions and community. The Washington Post calls the DC-area Revelers “…one hundred of Washington’s most literate merrymakers, from kindergartners to senior citizens…” and notes that Washington Revels can create “…a celebration to make even the most incorrigible Grinch grin.”
A guest post by Cate Hagman, former staff member and current volunteer for Washington Revels.
So a dragon, a hobby horse, and a jester walk into Takoma Park…
It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it becomes reality each 4th of July when Washington Revels steps out and sings out at the Takoma Park Independence Day Parade. Whether the temperatures are in the 70s (this year) or inching towards the 100-degree mark (2012), several dozen revelers of all ages can be relied upon to sing, play, and march their way through a community institution, and share a few centuries-old traditions in the process.
That’s where the hobby horse comes in, bounding across the parade route and bowing to delighted onlookers, while marching musicians (accordionist, fiddler et al) play merry tunes, a jester cavorts, and the women, men, and children of Washington Revels sing songs of simpler eras, “Country Life” being a particular favorite.
I like to rise when the sun she rises early in the morning.
I like to hear them small birds singing merrily upon their laylums.
And it’s hurrah for the life of a country boy
And to ramble in the new-mown hay.
The parade or procession is an essential element within Washington Revels’ seasonal celebrations, whether it’s the merry march across the grounds of Washington National Cathedral to celebrate springtime (May Revels) or through the Maryland suburbs at summer’s end (the Kensington Labor Day Parade), and it fits beautifully into the Washington Revels mission, bringing joy, celebrating tradition, and building relationships within the community and the region.
Of course it also affords a pressure-free, family-friendly way for revelers of all generations and talents both to perform and to connect with new audiences.
So if you see a jester gamboling through your neighborhood or a dragon peeping over a hedge, stay calm. They’ll no doubt be accompanied by a jubilant but peaceful army that includes preschoolers and septuagenarians, teens and soccer moms, all on the march for community, tradition, and celebration.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
~ Oscar Wilde
Down through the “centuries of the snow white world”, masks have been used for revels and rituals of all sorts. Masking is always a transformative act, whether it be children cavorting at Halloween or for an ancient ceremony among indigenous cultures. Masking does more than just cover the face and provide an altered appearance. When the archetype of the mask is clear to both performer and audience, the metaphors and meaning are accessible, then an act of sacred theater occurs. It is an exchange of ideas between the masked person and the viewer. Masks are a form of story telling within themselves. By evoking imagery either of localized cultures, or from the greater depths of the human psyche, the masks provides everyone a doorway into the story, removing the human form and substituting a metaphor in their place.
The art of Christmas Mumming and Revels has a long tradition with masks. The various small plays and pantomimes that are enacted this time of year in European and other cultures are rich with them. The Christmas Revels in particular have used masks since the early days. In the props archives of the many Revels troupes around the country there are numerous examples of fierce dragons, barnyard animals, and dancing fools with grotesque features, all telling some small part of the solstice story.
Masks are playing a special part in this year’s Washington, D.C., Christmas Revels. My wife and I are full time professional mask makers. We are honored to be part of the production, as maskers, and I as a principal performer in the role of the King. The initial offer to participate wasn’t directly about our mask work, but our artistic careers are rather entangled, and we immediately offered our craft to the show. It is a monumental undertaking reflective of the ambitions that Revels reaches for every year. Dozens of our pieces will be in the show on chorus and principals, and examples of many will be available in the show’s gift shop.
Without spilling too much of the magic, a mysterious woodland queen and her court might need masks to veil their true nature, or perhaps the masks are actually that, and the true mask is the human face we find most familiar? Faery glamour can be like that. Either one, masks were needed. So we thought to share a glimpse of our creation process.
We work almost exclusively in leather and paint, ornamenting sometimes with glass or semi-precious beads. Our work is very sculptural and textural, reflecting our backgrounds in similar arts. We start with vegetable-tanned cowhides, and the first step, but an important one to us, is a hand-applied texture. We suede each hide, using wire brushes, to give a heavy nap to the surface. This is done to provide a depth to the finished piece that amplifies our dry brushing paint techniques.
Each design starts as a sketch to visualize how the mask will look on the face. Drawing the finished idea first gives us a goal to aim for, though we work loosely and let our long acquired experience guide us. Initial patterns are built from our template library giving a uniformity to fit and wearability. We know that if the final mask is not comfortable or is overly restrictive to movement and vision, then the wearer won’t enjoy the experience. We like to say that “If you can eat. drink and party in it, it’s a success!”
As so many of our works are nature- and leaf-inspired we often gather leaves directly in autumn for patterns. We joke about it, saying we don’t work that hard and that Mother Nature makes the patterns, but really it’s all in good humor. It’s taken years of experience to find the right leaves and the forms we like as well as how to alter them to work in leather. Additionally, the paint finishes while inspired by leaves in autumn’s glory, feathers of an owl, or a butterfly’s wing are carefully thought out and detailed in surprising ways. Still it is a joy to work in partnership with the environment this way. To say that we are “working” when walking in the woods and observing the natural world is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of our craft and art.
When the design and pattern templates are ready, we trace them onto the prepared leather. The masks are cut out and soaked in a white glue-based stiffener. This is necessary as we work in “split” leather which has had its tooling surface removed, allowing us to achieve the textured surface we prefer. The saturated “flat” is removed and dried for a short time on fans. The consistency is akin to clay, which, considering that potters use the term “leather hard,” seems appropriate. At this point the glue has not fully cured, and the leather is malleable and holds the form it is placed in.
That form is achieved in several ways. We don’t use any molds, but we do use a face casting. We are lucky in that my wife’s face has naturally symmetrical and “classical” features. In the early days of our careers we took many measurements and did considerable research on human features and we were delighted to discover that her face casting would fit an incredibly wide range of faces. The vast bulk of our work is done on a series of castings of her face and they fit from the very young and small to the very large, very well. However, occasionally, specifically for performers, we find that a custom casting will be in order. This was the case for this year’s Revels and the Woodland Queen, played by Gwen Grastorf.
A note on face and life casting: This ancient art form is a deeply related craft to masking. We are honored to know one of the contemporary masters of this ancient art. Ann Curtis of Masquerade Life Casting is one of only a few that still practices it wholly as a skill within itself. Once done on dignitaries and heads of state, it is hardly known today. Though she has taught us the rudimentary forms, she far exceeds us in expertise. So whenever the Maryland Renaissance Festival is going on, as we both have booths there, we send any of our custom castings to her skilled hands. It was she who cast our queen. See more of Ann’s mastery at www.lifecasting.net
The mold is done with plaster bandages, such as is used for medical casts of limbs, directly on the face. Once set, it is easily removed and ready for casting. This is then filled with mix of hydrostone cement. A solid positive is achieved and this we traditionally spray in a high-gloss gold to preserve the surface and provide us a working form. We only need the shape of the nose bridge, brows, and cheekbones, but a full face casting is usually in order for posterity.
Having face form ready, we do initial scribing and sculpting of leaves, etc., in the flat and then lay the flat over the face, working it down onto the features. Careful attention is paid around the eyes and mouth to make sure a range of motion is maintained. Any additional sculptural attachments are glued on as we make the mask and the form is placed aside to set up. Once it will hold its shape, we check it again for fit and comfort on our faces. Then it’s removed from the form and dried on fans overnight.
The next step is, in many ways our favorite, the painting. We are primarily painters and are both trained as faux finishers. We bring all of that to our studio bench and more. We work in artist-grade acrylics. The mask is base coated in usually only one of three colors, green, white, or black, depending on our desired finish. Then begins the process of building up layers of color. We often work in the technique known as “dry brushing” using brushes dried of most of their paint. This lays highlights that are then built up, bringing out details. We achieve iridescent and shimmer effects using “interference” paints. These have tiny flecks of titanium coated mica as a pigment base. These refract light in different wavelengths and, when mixed with standard colors, create amazing fantasy elements. Once the painting process is done, it dries overnight on fans again, to cure the paint. Then they are signed, and a final coating of clear sealant is applied to protect the finish.
That’s it. You’re ready for Revelry. Care is simple. We encourage our prospective mummers to hang their masks by two points to preserve the shape, not leave it in direct sunlight for extended days, and not crush it or deform it. Other than that, the masks are durable, wearable and usable. Some of our masks see very hard wear and use. Performers wear our work while juggling fire, acting on stage and street, singing, celebrating and performing foolery, in all kinds of weather. They don’t like an oversoaking, but some rain, sweat, or moisture doesn’t harm mask or finish. Like a pair of shoes they tend to get more comfortable with wear.
For the Christmas Revels this year we created several unique designs for stage and sales: the Woodland Queen’s mask and crowns, custom-designed, as well as the matching crown and mask of the Green King. The Woodland Court wears four designs, inspired by the elemental powers of their people. Editions of these, along with the snowflakes as worn by the snowdrop children, will be available at the merchandise table for the shows. We also created matching accessories and Christmas ornaments reflecting the ivy and oak themes of the story as well as some unique editions of our wintry themes.
Masking as an art form and career is a strange and fascinating path in life. It is all imagination, and fable and “Faery Glamour.” Yet it is very real in the emotions it evokes in people. We have seen people moved to tears by the imagery we’ve created, but their feelings are really for that of the natural world. It is like giving voice to story and sight to trees. It is a type of magic, to reach back into the depths of time, bring up forms that excite the imagination and spirit, and give real meaning through them. It is an honor and a responsibility. These are people’s dreams we are touching, and those are special indeed.
“Artists are magical helpers. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives.”
– Joseph Campbell
“Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
When the Washington Revels asked my wife and me to be part of their 2015 production, me as a principal performer and us both as mask makers and “tradition bearers,” we were delighted and honored to say the least. However, I was also extremely taken with the responsibility of conveying the artistic aesthetic known as the “Mythic Arts” to the Washington Revels community. This article is a small attempt to introduce you all to the threads of that form, and from its tangled weave we hope to bring a whole cloth to your understanding. Any myth-conceptions or mything-links are entirely the accident of this writer.
The term, Mythic Arts, was coined in the 1980s, but the ideas of it stretch into our neolithic ancestry. The very beginnings of human culture are the myths of our hunter-gathering forebearers, and it is firmly upon this foundation that the modern Mythic Arts imagery is built. The stories that our distant grandparents told to call the animals to the hunt, explain the natural world, and keep the dark at bay are the table upon which our feast of fairy tales and fables is laid. Indeed, when thinking on the traditions that Revels represents, and the spirit of Jack Langstaff’s vision, I realized we are bearing traditions to a home they already live in.
From this distant time, we receive the transmission of these stories and imagery. They have continually influenced human thought and in some ways all our civilizations are mythic of one form or another. If we start to draw upon too many of these threads, the fabric of what I am trying to convey may become untangled. Therefore, instead of exploring the rootings of these ancient tales we will allow them to lie fertile in our imaginations and stay more within the modern era. There are, however, in the not so distant past some important influences that we must consider. First there is the impact of the Pre-Raphaelites and their offspring. It would be impossible to detail their contribution to the arts as a whole in so brief a space. Their attention to natural details, story, romantic imagery, realistic form and pose, and the very capturing of light and life was revolutionary and controversial in its time, and they remained outliers in the arts community for many years.
The direct inheritance of the Pre-Raphaelites impacted the Art Nouveau and Symbolist styles, influenced advertising, storytelling and illustration. This met with the Arts and Crafts revivals of the late 19th century and together a somewhat perfect storm of elegance in line and form in many artistic disciplines came about. Most all of this was to be discarded by Modernism and Expressionism of the 20th century and the nature-derived myths and romantic styles would be quietly tucked away, awaiting a future age. One can hardly understand the modern revival of interest in myth and fairy tale without considering the similar growth of the late 19th and early 20th century fairy tale books and illustrators. The advent of publishing truly for popular culture had reached a period where stories could be told with lush artworks to excite the imagination. The drawings of famed illustrators, such as Arthur Rackham, H.J. Ford, Walter Crane and others, were joined with collections of the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. The collection and preservation of such stories had come to be more respected in academic circles, and without the efforts of these early mythologists and folklorists, and the popularity of their publishing as story’s for children, we would have lost many of them into the mist of time.
A fascinating direct connection to this period and the Revels Tradition is the works of Andrew Lang. His “Color Fairy” books have become a fundamental storehouse of fairy tales. Meredith Langstaff, father of Jack Langstaff, founder of the Revels, was a collector of Lang’s works in books, manuscripts and personal papers. The exposure to these at an early age influenced Jack’s own storytelling, and though known among Revelers as the founder, he was also an acclaimed writer of books for children, winning many awards. Meredith Langstaff’s collection was later donated to Harvard University, where it still resides. These luminaries continue to deeply inspire many of the artists illustrating today both in the old stories and more modern twists. These artistic threads seemed to have been quietly tucked away. The ravages of the world wars and the global change that came after seemed to have left little time for fairy tales and romanticism. Still, small pockets of the mythic wood were nurtured and sheltered among the postwar meetings of the “Inklings,” in the writings of Tolkien and Lewis, among others. Elsewhere, fairy tales had come to be almost entirely a child’s genre.
“The association of children and fairy-stories is an accident of our domestic history. Fairy-stories have in the modern lettered world been relegated to the ‘nursery,’ as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the play-room, primarily because the adults do not want it, and do not mind if it is misused.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
It was the very works of Professor Tolkien that helped to bring them back out of the nursery again in the Western world. Tolkien’s popularity struck just at the time the world was indeed changing, and looking back to romanticism and myth to gave it solace in a troubled age. This was, of course, the late 1960s, and the burgeoning resurgence in all things mythic found fertile ground then. As well were the works of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Mostly unknown until the popular TV series in the late 1980s, “The Power of Myth,” Dr. Campbell’s work quietly influenced and was a guide to the mythic imagination for generations of filmmakers and creators. Indeed, the foundational series by George Lucas, “Star Wars,” was a direct reimagining of Campbell’s “mono-myth” told in “Hero with a Thousand Faces,” showing that myth and knights, brave heroes and rogue archetypes do not only live in ancient lands but in galaxies far, far away. Through these many rootings a generation was primed and fed on myth. Dr. Campbell called those youth who first saw Lucas’s films the “Star Wars Generation” and said that we might “re-mythologize the world”. By the middle 1980s the older kids of that generation were coming of age and beginning to create, and a world of mythopoesis was at their fingertips. Inspired writers, artists, and creators of all kinds were beginning to rediscover the stories of the past and find them relevant, and creating new stories that dipped from a common well of mythic imagination.
One key book that came of this time was the work of two illustrators, Brian Froud and Alan Lee. The book was called simply “Faeries,” and the two artists collaborated on a rich tapestry of imagery accompanying ancient tales and folklore of the “Good Folk.” Both artists went on to other influential work, but this key book serves as a touchstone of early Mythic Arts. I know that personally, I often say that it shaped my thinking and appreciation of illustration in important ways. It was an escape in imagery and was one of three similar books published at the time, the equally famous “Gnomes” and the less well-known “Giants”. Today there are many such titles on the shelves, and fantasy fans can find hundreds of options of similar inspiration. Yet at the time they were somewhat unique in their style and presentation, and many fans of the genre mark them as turning points.
There were many other books to come, and films too. Brian Froud, went on to make the signature film “The Dark Crystal” during which he met his wife, Wendy and they, together with their son Toby, helped create “Labyrinth.” Fantasy films were finding a new market, and a new way of telling stories. While the sword and sorcery style still had some relevance, it was clear that audience and filmmakers, fantasy fiction fans, and writers were reaching for something more.
The fans were creating their own tales at the time as well. Around many tables on late nights, quests were undertaken, ancient evils were being conquered, and brave heroes were finding a path through the dice and rules of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role playing. I find a deep personal relevance in this. It was D&D that gave me a shared community in my youth, and helped me find many others who loved the tales and wonder that I did. It is not a great leap to point out that around those early tables of gamers, many of our current stories, and even some of the technology and companies of today, were first seeded. I often wonder how different the world would be without that.
Into this came a voice of some influence. Terri Windling, a young writer, artist, and editor, recognized a growing community of fellow artists, all tied by a mutual love of myth, folklore, fairy tale and more. She helped coin and popularize the term “Mythic Arts” and was diligent in connecting the roots and threads of that diverse creative field. Together with fellow editor Ellen Datlow she recognized new and established writers touching on the genre, and through numerous anthologies and collections helped establish a true network of “Mythics.” In 1987 she co-created the Endicott Studio for the Mythic Arts in Boston and later a virtual “salon” and the accompanying Web magazine, Journal for the Mythic Arts. The lists of the early members of the studio reads like a who’s who of current creatives in fantasy and mythic fields: Holly Black, creator of the Spiderwick series; Brian and Wendy Froud, mentioned earlier; Charles de Lint, known for his urban fantasy work; Neil Gaiman, one of the most popular writers of today, creating works for print, movies, and television; Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, acclaimed writers and supports of the field in their own way; Charles Vess, illustrator and creative, who is responsible for this year’s Christmas Revels poster; the well-known Jane Yolen, an amazingly prolific writer and poet. All of these and more became a circle of friends inspiring each other, supporting works and projects, and fostering a love of imagination and wonder needed by so many. It’s no surprise that many today view Terri as the “Fairy Goddess Mother” of the Mythic Arts.
“There have been a number of us working very, very hard to bring myth and fairy tales into public consciousness, through fantasy literature and other media. I hope we’re succeeding in some small way.” ~ Terri Windling
These wanderers in the dark woods marked the trails for many to follow, as the younger generations of those times came of age and began creating their own stories. They knew the way amongst the forest of tales was opened to them. The creative people in films were paying more attention as well. Of special note is the important effect the “Lord of the Rings” films had on fan culture as whole, and the Mythic Arts in particular. Based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and inspired by the illustrative work of Alan Lee and fellow artist John Howe, they were a “sea change” on the world of fantasy and film. I view them as the “coming out party” for the Mythic Arts in a way. Suddenly the tales of Tolkien I had loved so much as a child were popular the world over again and the illustrators I admired were being discovered by new fans. In many ways the fan and creative communities can mark the day as transitioned by the films. There was before LotR, and after. Suddenly the conventions and gatherings were inundated with new fans and older ones returning. Being a “fantasy geek” was cool, and creative people were being paid attention to in new ways.
The coming years would see many new properties in film, comics, and art inspired by the Mythic Arts. Video games were well part of that. As the technology for graphics and computers increased, the images we could imagine through them became more and more complex. Indeed, the ability to visualize the old tales in new ways was sharpened by the skills of this very new technology. Millions of fantasy fans regularly engage in their wildest dreams via gaming and the art of the story is of vast importance to the genre.
Like the art movements of the past, but perhaps in a more subtle way, the Mythic Arts have fostered more than just illustration and film. The influences of the past progenitors of fairy tales and their modern caretakers continue to shape the arts of all kinds. In costuming, design, sculpture, music, and of course in theater, the gleam of a world half glimpsed can be seen. Festivals and events with either fairy tales as a central elements, or perhaps along the edges of things, continue to spring up. Indeed, in our own art forms as maskers and mummers, the vast bulk of our designs are drawn from legends both ancient and modern. The stories we tell in our craft are often instantly accessible, even without foreknowledge of the tales that might have inspired them. The simple understanding that the “Green Man” is a “Father Nature” spirit and plant elemental is graspable for children and seniors. Whether it be a knowledge of the metaphorical nature from a study of ancient traditions, or associations with comic book or movie characters, in many ways, the stories never change and the inherent form remains.
It’s been many years now since the turn of the new century and growth of Fantasy and Mythic Arts. The kids who experienced the LotR trilogy and Harry Potter as a fundamental part of childhood are creating their own myths and perhaps sharing those with children of their own. Despite more than a decade of global unrest and change or perhaps because of it, fantasy, myth, folklore, and fairy tale are more needed than ever. Countless films, television shows, books, comics and other media, has reached back into the depths of time and shown it to be relevant today. Connecting our interlinked global community with our deep ancestors around those ancient fires and in the torchlit caves. Reminding us that grand tales matter, that dragons can be conquered, that small things can make a great difference, and old myths can be imagined anew. The future is indeed now, but the past and the lore we tell to make sense of it still carries us through each moment in our personal journeys and indeed, into each season. Those tales carried by the way finders in the Mythic Arts are lights in the darkness, and can help us see that the path ahead is clear. By finding the tales that move us, and reveling in them, we can know the secret at the heart of the forest, and become our own lights of guidance.
“Myth must be kept alive. The people who can keep it alive are artists of one kind or another. The function of the artist is the mythologization of the environment and the world.” ~ Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers
“It’s not what we believe, it’s what we make believe!” ~ Billy Bardo, artisan, musician, and producer of the New York Faerie Festival
Here are a few guideposts along the way:
Endicott Studio and the Archives of the Journal of the Mythic Arts. www.endicott-studio.com/
Now folded, the studio was a nonprofit to encourage and support the Mythic Arts. They produced the Web journal, and issues would often focus on particular mythic topics. Drawing on artists, writers, and poets in the field, they are an excellent starting point to explore the mythic forest.
The Mythic Imagination Institute.www.mythicjourneys.org
The purpose of the Mythic Imagination Institute is to reunite people to the accumulated wisdom of humankind that lives in stories and mythology. An excellent documentary inspired by the Mythic Journeys conference is available. Learn more at: www.mythmovie.net
A guest post by Emilie Moore, Washington Revels Teaching Artist.
As a Washington Revels Teaching Artist having grown up in Revels, passing on Revels traditions to kids feels quite natural to me. Each workshop explores cultures and traditions through movement, song, and story– we get to play while we learn, and we grow and change along with the changes of the season. Revels emphasizes the significance of each season and its rituals, and as a Teaching Artist, I get to turn my focus to these things too.
As autumn arrives and summer bids us adieu, our Revels Kids workshops will be a journey– we will usher in the harvest and start to say goodbye to the sun. We’ll visit France, Germany, Poland and Russia before making our way westward to end in Ireland and Britain, experiencing Samhain in Ireland, St. Martin’s Day in Germany and Bonfire Night in Britain, among many other holidays and traditions. I’m excited to relive things I did as a child: constructing lanterns, pumpkin-carving, making “thankful heart” felt hand-warmers, creating harvest-inspired nature tables, and crafting watercolor stars and sun-catchers — just a few of the crafts that we will use to celebrate and honor autumn in many cultures. I’m just as excited for our weekly nature walks– they help us reconnect with mother earth.
I love experiencing traditions that I learned about as a child in Washington Revels through my Revels Kids eyes; I love witnessing that fascination and that thirst first hand. We sing songs and play games that were brought into my life because of Revels, and sharing these gifts with them brings me immense joy.
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?
Mollie, 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!”
Over 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.”
Mollie 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.
This article, written by former Executive Director Mary Swope eighteen years ago for the then-print newsletter Revelations, shows how some aspects of Revels are timeless. As we are deep in the middle of the upcoming 2015 show, we all appreciate seeing the overlap — Piffaro, a medieval castle, Mark Jaster, Roberta Gasbarre, Rosemary Pardee, Mary Gene Meyer and other aspects still bring endless spirit and energy to this year’s show, but we all also enjoy knowing how fully different the result will be than it was in 1997. How different? You’ll have to wait and see!
The Christmas Revels, 1997: An Article by Mary Swope
For a 15th season, the Washington Revels brings to Lisner Auditorium the ancient and joyous celebration of the year’s rebirth that surrounds the winter solstice. We return to the great Banqueting Hall of a medieval castle in England with a king, his court and the versatile and entertaining musicians of Piffaro, The Renaissance Band.
The court, including a Fool and sour-faced bailiff, is set to celebrate the season and the Feast of Fools with carefree merriment, secure in prosperity and power. What begins as a traditional challenge between the king and a stranger turns the destiny of the kingdom upside down.
The humble Fool, played by Mark Jaster, finds himself bearing the full weight of his king’s heavy crown. What happens remains to be seen, but along the way there is music, jesting and drama, including such Revels favorites as The Boar’s Head Carol and Lord of the Dance, and all are invited to join in the fun.
The evocative interpretation of the medieval Feast of Fools celebrates the Fool’s tradition association with the cycle of death and rebirth that lies at the heart of the Revels solstice festivities. At this dark season of the year, humanity counters natural and supernatural forces by turning to humor and an inversion of the everyday order of life.
Roberta Gasbarre will direct the cast, and Judith Harrison is back as Music Director. The Washington Revels is again fortunate to have the service of set and lighting designer Michael Philippi, who, with Miriam Hack, has designed the dramatic setting in which the story unfolds. The company will be gowned and wimpled, doubleted and hosed by the talented costume team headed by designer Rosemary Pardee and associate designer Emilie Long. Stage props created by Mary Eugenia Myer’s group will further evoke the magic of the solstice season.
The production interweaves the tale of the King and his Fool with song, dance, and a rich variety of instrumental music. From Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, come the dulcet tones of a recorder and lute, the squeal of medieval bagpipes, and the blare of a shawm and sackbut. From the musicians of The Solstice Brass, once again led by Robert Posten, sound forth trumpet fanfares and robust accompaniment to processional and carols. Belled and masked, the Foggy Bottom Morris Men appear in several guises, in wonderful wild dances with sticks and kerchiefs as well as the ritual sword dance during the traditional mummers play Saint George and the Dragon. An auditioned chorus – The Haddon Hall Wassailers and Playford Dances – will sing, dance and lead the audience in rounds, wassail songs and the ever-popular Twelve Days of Christmas.
Children, as always, play a special role in The Christmas Revels. This year’s Piney Branch Children, selected by an audition from Janney Elementary school, a public school in the Tenleytown section of the District, will sing There Was a Pig Went Out to Dig and other Revels favorites. These youngsters will be featured also at other moments in the story, in roles both dramatic and humorous, much to the delight of children in the audience. Janney music teacher Judith Block, who has produced many of the productions of the local Children’s Summer Musical Theatre Workshop, will direct. For young and old alike, it’s sure to be a joyous celebration.
It’s not my son’s birthday today, but there are 40 people singing a birthday song to him (and to two other people). My son is turning 9. One of the other people is turning 41, and the other is turning 73. The song isn’t the traditional “Happy Birthday” song. There are many people harmonizing, and there’s accompaniment on a half dozen ukuleles. Sound like a good quirky story?
Something just like it happens every month at Washington Revels-Carpe Diem monthly Community Sing– birthday songs celebrate all the people who have a birthday that month. My son is glowing. It’s May, and his birthday isn’t for another week, but he has been gleefully anticipating it all month, since the word “May” to him means, “my birthday month.”
Since Revels is founded on the significance of seasonal and traditional celebrations, the idea of a birthday month isn’t just a childish notion—it is the idea that each month brings its own expressions of the season and its own traditions to be honored and celebrated. May is a good month to be a kid growing up in the Revels world, whether it’s your birthday or not. May is the time for May Day and Maypole dances, and singing in the May. For my son and his three siblings, the meanings they’ve come to associate with “May” are just part of their logical understanding of the world. Kids have a natural instinct toward rhythms, so seasons, traditions, holidays, and special days are just a way they’ve learned to navigate the world.
For us adults, we may be relearning it. Our natural rhythms get overshadowed by outside forces. April means taxes. Halloween means managing the sudden surge of sugar in the house. Christmas means long To Do lists. But Revels is about recalling and reliving the natural and historical meanings of the seasons and the months. May is a good month to be an adult in the Revels world too—an excuse to wear a flower crown and to sing hundreds-year old songs that remind us to glance up from our cell phones and notice the blooming heather (well, okay, blooming lilacs, since we aren’t in England).
Whatever month your birthday is, it’s a great month to be a kid or an adult in the Revels world. For as far back as we know, humans have been inventing reasons to mark time by rituals and celebrations. From Revels, my children are learning how to understand their small world and the big world– through new and old routines, through natural and human determiners, and in today’s beautifully interracial society, through the varied traditions of humans from around the globe.
What Revels offers to all of us, parents and children, happens many times in every month: it’s the building of a moral compass, a value system, and a joyful map of humanity. If we carry that map with us every day in school or work, to the grocery store or the doctor’s waiting room, or to family celebrations, we will find the Revels joy will serve us well there.
May and birthdays are only the beginning of a discussion about how Revels grows healthy children. It’s a conversation we can have year round.
This is the first in a series of exploring what it means to parent children in the Revels World.
This was a cold winter in Washington. The new climate reality, for now at least, seems to be cold air masses that get stuck over the region, dumping down snow and ice and bringing cold winds—nothing that would impress your average Canadian or Bostonian, but cold for us mid-Atlantic types. I was not the only Reveler who fell on the ice around the end of February and developed a very bad attitude about winter.
By the middle of March, we were all desperate for crocuses. My neighborhood’s most reliable field of crocuses was dug up in mid-February, as a local vacant lot began its transition into apartments. When I finally spotted some, open in a neighbor’s yard, I was thrilled. Spring might actually come.
You might think that things like the end of winter and the beginning of spring would get less exciting as I get older. Winter does end every year, or it has for the last 40 years in a row, anyway. But somehow the transitions seem more miraculous every year. The crocuses! The forsythia! And soon it will be ridiculously hot! And a few months after that, I bet the leaves that are just unfurling now will surprise me by turning red and orange and brown again. And then the snow will fall and the world will be white, and that will be amazing too. And so it goes, better and better every year.
A few weekends ago I went on a hike through the woods near the Revels office. My parents had been out a few days before and heard frogs. I went with them on a Sunday afternoon to see if we could spot the frogs again.
No luck – it may have been too cold that day – but they’d been busy; the week’s rains had filled temporary spring pools that were stocked with clear, gelatinous clumps of frog eggs.
By the first weekend in May those tadpoles should be well out of their eggs and the Arctic blast should have blasted their last gasps. We’ve already started rehearsing for the Revels community’s celebration of spring, the May Revels. We’ll sing and we’ll dance: Winter is gone! Spring is here! Pick up your ribbons! Let’s dance around the Maypole!