My Second Family, A Bubble of Kindness

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.

Dovie Thomason with Clare Hardin in the 2006 Christmas Revels.

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.”

Clare as the May Queen  in the 2014 May Revels at the Washington National Cathedral.

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.

Clare with Dovie Thomason in the 2006 Christmas Revels.
From left to right: Umoja Rufaro, Keith Moore, Dovie Thomason, and Clare Hardin in the 2006 Christmas Revels.

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.

Clare in the 2013 Teen Chorus in our Balkan Christmas Revels.
Clare (on right) with Terry Winslow and Aryn Geier in the 2013 Balkan Christmas Revels.

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.

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.

Greek and Bulgarian Salon Concerts

Lyuti Chushki plays as concertgoers dance.
Lyuti Chushki plays as concertgoers dance.  Photo by Margaret Loomis.

Twice over the last week the performance space at Washington Revels was filled with dance and exciting music. Friday night, the music was Greek; last night, it was music from Bulgaria.

The salon concerts are a chance for tradition-bearers in this year’s Christmas Revels to share a bit more of their music than they’ll get to play on our stage in December.

Last night, Tzvety Weiner, who has been valiantly teaching us Bulgarian songs all fall, joined her husband Bryndyn Weiner and her parents, Tanya Dosseva and Lyuben Dossev, to perform several songs (in this configuration, they are “Dossevi”).

Dossevi (with Bryndyn Wiener) performing at the Washington Revels Office
Dossevi (with Bryndyn Wiener) performing at the Washington Revels Office. Photo by Margaret Loomis.

Tzvety gives off an aura of good humor, and now that I have seen her mother, I can report that it’s inherited. Seeing the two of them singing together was a delight. After one particularly silly song–you didn’t have to understand Bulgarian to know that this song was funny–Tzvety announced that we’d witnessed a real accomplishment: the two of them getting through it without cracking up. Lyuben Dossev is a celebrated player of the kaval, a wooden shepherd’s flute, and this was the first time he and Tzvety had performed together–a real treat for us.

After a reception, the second half of the evening was about dancing. The band Lyuti Chushki, which includes Tzvety, played boisterous Bulgarian tunes while concert-goers joined hands and danced. Numbers varied a lot–on simpler dances, dozens of people were up and moving through the steps with varying levels of competence; in one dance, about half a dozen more experienced dancers sprang around the room.

Spyros Koliavasilis and Karpouzi Trio playing a Salon Concert on November 15, 2013.
Spyros Koliavasilis and Karpouzi Trio playing a Salon Concert on November 15, 2013. Photo by Greg Scholtz.

Last Friday, Spyros Koliavasilis and the Karpouzi Trio (Spyros with Len Newman and Margaret Loomis) gave a wonderful concert of Greek music, highlighting traditions from Asia Minor (most notably on the oud and kemane) as well as music from the Greek islands. Spyros plays and teaches 19 instruments and specializes in the authentic practice of traditional music spanning all of Greece.

We heard music played in many different modes. Much of the music was “microtonal”–music that contains intervals smaller than the conventional contemporary Western semitone (our 12-tone equal temperament). It was truly amazing! Margaret plays the santouri, a giant Greek dulcimer with a delightful sound, and her hammers were flying as she played this fascinating music. Len plays the laouto, a Greek version of the lute; that name comes from the Arabic word oud, meaning “wood.” The sound box of the Greek laouto is unusually large and creates a very resonant sound.

We’re all looking forward to hearing much more from these groups over the coming weeks.

Learn more about the 2013 Christmas Revels: Echoes of Thrace
View the Schedule of Performances and Purchase Tickets