Sunday night I was waiting in line at the grocery store and felt on my fingers for my rings. Except I don’t wear rings. Those are part of my costume. After nine straight days of rehearsal and performance, it’s odd to return to the real world.
When I left the theater after our last show of the first weekend of Christmas Revels performances, my carpool-mate and I both needed groceries. We walked into Trader Joe’s and I said, “Whoa, people who aren’t in Revels.” It was a little overwhelming to be in a brightly-lit space full of people buying food. No adorable children were dancing with eggplants or anything.
After I’d started writing this, Meghan Siritzky, a member of the teen chorus, put in a special request via Facebook for a blog post about surviving Revels withdrawal. I don’t really get Revels withdrawal anymore – the fact that it keeps coming around every year helps. And, honestly, I’m relieved to have four whole days when I can pay attention to my neglected work and I don’t have to put on makeup or remember my lyrics.
But it’s nice to know that I’ll be back in Andalusia Friday night, for the start of our final five performances.
It’s finally here! We auditioned in May, we started rehearsing in September, and we’ve been at Lisner Auditorium every night this week. Last night, we had a rehearsal with a practice audience. This afternoon is our opening night. (Yeah, I know. But “opening matinee” sounds silly.)
In case you’re reading this and don’t already know what I look like, I thought I’d help you out. Friends who’ve known me for years have trouble finding me on stage with no glasses and with my hair covered. Plus there are something like 80 people on the stage.
So, look for the one in white and come say hi to me after the show. Actually, there are at least two of us in white, but you can say hi to anybody you want.
Let me quote for you an excerpt from a conversation between me and my dear friend Cheryl, who I met through Revels but hasn’t been in the Christmas show in a few years, due to an unnatural preoccupation with such things as “raising small children” and “not failing her classes.”
Me: My whole costume fits on one hanger this year.
If there is one thing I have learned from Revels about people in olden times, it is that they wore a lot of clothes. In 2004, my first year, I was utterly flummoxed by the clothes they handed me at dress parade. I mean, I didn’t even know what order they were supposed to go on. It turned out to be a white shift thing, like a slip, with a long lavender robe over it, then a white aprony thing over that.
I was a medieval cook’s assistant that year, but aprons have been a common theme; last year, for 19th century England, I wore an apron over my dress, which I believe came from a store that specializes in clothes for Civil War re-enactors. That was a particularly complicated year for costumes. There’s the dress and apron and a petticoat, which is three hangers right there. Then the second part of the show started outdoors, so at intermission, everyone had to put on outerwear – I had a cloak and a bonnet and gloves. In 2005, when we reveled Scandinavian-style, I wore a petticoat, an absolutely massive black skirt, a blouse, and a bodice. I wasn’t in the 2009 Italian Renaissance show, but it involved a lot of tying laces.
This year my costume is exactly one piece. It’s pretty, it’s as comfortable as a nightgown, and it goes on in about 15 seconds. The massive strip of snaps up the back is a hassle, but it’s a hassle for the wardrobe volunteers, not for me. I’ve never had such an easy time getting dressed.
Wearing a costume helps me inhabit the show. I feel like a different person. It’s not acting. I have no idea how to act. I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag. When I’m standing on stage having a conversation with the person next to me, and it looks like I’m acting, I’m actually just talking to the person next to me. I’m told that standing around on stage looking like myself works for Revels, so I keep doing it.
But the way the fabric feels and moves and takes up space helps me be a version of myself in 19th century Quebec, or Elizabethan England, or whatever. If I don’t stand tall in this year’s costume, it looks and feels weird. The big swirly skirt I wore in the Scandinavian show connected me with some old-fashioned sense of womanliness that contributed to how I walked and moved, and it was perfect for dancing a schottische.
In this modern life, my body is probably very little like that of my characters in all these different shows. I never milk cows or carry buckets of water and I sit hunched over a computer all day. But at least the clothes push my look – and feel – in the right direction.
There are a lot of things I like about Revels. The community. The singing. The costumes. The ribbon sticks. Here’s something I don’t like: makeup. My goodness, stage makeup does not feel nice. And it doesn’t look so nice, either, up close.
That’s ok, because stage makeup isn’t meant to be seen up close. It has to be so heavy because of the bright stage lights. They cut right through the top layer of skin, I am told, and leave you looking like a ghost. That’s why the foundation has to be super-thick, so the light will bounce off of the makeup and go back to the audience’s eyes. Basically, so we’ll look human.
Stage makeup probably doesn’t look so bad if it’s put on by an expert. But the person who puts on my stage makeup is, for the most part, me. And I am most emphatically not a makeup expert. Fortunately, Revels is prepared for people like me. Signs are posted with the steps in makeup application, from face-washing to blush. Volunteers are on hand to do eyes and anything else we can’t figure out on our own, and middle-school-aged girls apply powder.
This year there’s a new addition to my makeup kit: False eyelashes. Yipe. I have actually worn false eyelashes once before, for the only show I ever did in college. (I was a Hot Box Doll in Guys & Dolls, and no, I will not be sharing photographs.) I think I must have put the eyelashes on myself then, but last night I just could not figure out how to do it. So a volunteer agreed to glue them on, reluctantly – she’d never put on false eyelashes before. I said I was ok with being at the bottom end of her learning curve.
The result: the false eyelashes landed way above my real eyelash line, like emaciated caterpillars who had lost their way, and my upper eyelids were glued partway open. The volunteer and I got sort of a collective case of the giggles. She wiped off the excess glue and sent me to rehearsal with functional, if slightly goofy, eyelids. Practice makes perfect, right?
Susan Gaeta is the vocalist/guitarist in Trio Sefardi, one of the two specialist music groups performing in this year’s Christmas Revels. Susan is an important member of a new generation of musicians who are exploring the rich and varied traditions of Sephardic music.
Originally from Connecticut, where her grandfather played clarinet in a Klezmer band and acted in Yiddish theater productions, Susan lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for eight years, where she performed classic jazz and traditional Argentine folk songs. After moving back to the United States, Susan continued her explorations in jazz, and has toured extensively with legendary Sephardic singer Flory Jagoda, a National Heritage Fellow.
She also sang with Colors of the Flame, a trio of musicians dedicated to preserving Sephardic songs. In 2002, Susan was selected to participate in The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities “Master-Apprentice” program. Her recording, From Her Nona’s Drawer, includes Susan’s interpretations of a dozen songs from the repertoire of Flory Jagoda.
In this year’s Christmas Revels, Susan will not only sing Sephardic music, but she will also be featured in several Spanish pieces, including the song that the Sevillanas is danced to, Algo se muere en el alma, cuando un amigo se va (or, “El adios”).