Joining The Revelry

Have you ever danced in the aisles during a theatrical performance? If not, you haven't experienced some of the best interactive theater around: the Revels.

Audience participation is key to seasonal shows produced by the Revels, a nonprofit group formed in Cambridge, Mass., by music teacher John Langstaff and his daughter, Carol, in 1971. Best known for Christmastime celebrations of the winter solstice, including traditional and ritual folk dances, carols, and drama, the Revels also perform year round. And its delightful mix of professional and amateur musicians, dancers, mimes, and storytellers, both adults and children, entertains audiences in 10 US cities.

I didn't have a clue about any of this until my husband, a longtime fan, asked if I would mind if he made a cameo appearance in a Revels show the day after our wedding. As you can imagine, I wasn't thrilled with the idea. Not wanting to be a spoilsport, though, I acquiesced.

So after I put away my antique wedding dress and finished packing for our honeymoon to Alaska, I put on a dancing skirt and straw hat, and off we went to the midsummer show.

Since then, I've been to more Revels productions than I can count. Tomorrow we'll be going again, this time to Boston's "Sea Revels," a musical celebration of spring featuring sailors' work songs from the 19th century, ballads and rituals from English fishing villages, and Caribbean-style carnival processions. If you live in Washington, D.C., or Tacoma, Wash., you, too, could welcome spring with the Revels this weekend.

In this age of multimillion-dollar movies with eye-popping special effects, the Revels' simpler brand of entertainment is refreshing. It connects us with ancient folk traditions of other cultures and reminds us about the loveliness of the changing seasons.

As Langstaff puts it, "Through the Revels we can come in touch with ritual, once an integral part of our lives, now lost in commercialism."

A sense of community is also key to every Revels production. Onstage for example, children play street games while their "parents" look on. And audience members can't help but feel unified while singing rounds of "Nobis Pachem" or joining hands and circling the hall to the tune of "Lord of the Dance."

In case you can't tell by now, I've been won over. This just might happen to you, too. If you go to a production, bring your best singing voice and wear your dancing shoes. It could be the start of a new family ritual.

* Revels groups are located in Cambridge, Mass.; Washington, D.C.; Hanover, N.H.; Portland, Ore.; Philadelphia; Houston; Minneapolis/ St. Paul; New York; Tacoma, Wash.; and San Francisco. To learn more, look up the organization's Web site at or send an e-mail to

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