Revels is a contemporary series of American seasonal stage performances, initially given at Christmas time as the Christmas Revels at Town Hall in New York City in 1957, which involve singing, dancing, recitals, theatrics (usually as brief skits, often humorous), and usually some audience participation, all appropriate to the season. Performers are usually local, often non-professional, and frequently young.
The events were founded by John Langstaff as Christmas entertainments and the present organization, Revels, Inc., produces events in ten cities across the United States, including many others in the spring and summer in many locations.
Langstaff and his daughter Carol started producing "The Christmas Revels" again in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1971, at Harvard University's Sanders Theater, where it has frequently played to sold-out houses. Revels troupes are active across the United States, with four in the northeast region of the U.S.
The productions echoes English theatrical precedents of the 16th century and earlier. Professional singers, actors and musicians are mixed with talented amateurs and tradition-bearers, often brought in to share a culture's music, dance or ritual in an authentic manner. There is almost always a children's chorus, which performs songs and games from the period or location that the performance is focused on. Reviewers have especially mentioned the dance and the upbeat nature of the performance.
Each year's Christmas Revels draws upon a different era or culture's Christmas and winter solstice traditions. The 2008 Christmas Revels, in Cambridge, were based on music, songs, and dance inspired by writer Thomas Hardy's beloved Wessex. The earliest performances drew from medieval English traditions, one of which, the Mummers' Play is retained (albeit sometimes altered) no matter what time period or culture is being featured. Other traditions include ending every first half of the production with Sydney Carter's "Lord of the Dance" hymn. After the last verse, at the Cambridge Revels, the audience is encouraged to dance, along with the cast, into the lobby of Memorial Hall, the venue of the performances of the Christmas Revels in Cambridge. There is often audience singing in the performance. Author Susan Cooper wrote a poem for the Christmas Revels production that is recited near the end of each performance.
The annual event has been moved to many other American cities, and there exist songbooks, production guides, and commercial recordings to assist those unfamiliar with ancient folk music and dancing. The recordings often include noted performers in the folk tradition that is being featured, such as appalachian dulcimer player and singer Jean Ritchie, who appeared on the Appalachian Revels album.
Until his death in 2005, Langstaff, assisted by members of his family, led or assisted several of the Revels organizations in various cities. Langstaff's ability to "get it done" as well as his teaching and performing style, was admired by children's television producer Jonathan Meath, who was a tenor on two of their CD albums entitled Welcome Yule and Victorian Revels.
There are now ten independent Revels organizations across the country.
- Anna Kisselgoff (December 16, 1990). "Review/Dance; 'The Christmas Revels' Are a Mirthsome Affair". The New York Times.
- Anna Kisselgoff (December 15, 1991). "Review/Dance; 'The Christmas Revels,' Now With a Gaelic Accent". The New York Times.
- Vonnie Carts-Powell (December 2004). "Christmas Revels". Green Man Review.
- Tom Ashbrook (host)). The Christmas Revels (Audio) (Radio) (in English). Boston: WBUR. Retrieved July 5, 2009.
- "The Shortest Day" http://www.thelostland.com/shortest.htm