Sunday, October 21 , 2018, 8:53 am | A Few Clouds 57º

 
 
 
 

Preview: Reveling in Tradition with the Santa Barbara Revels

Susan Keller is founder and artistic director of Santa Barbara Revels and is stage director of the current production, The Christmas Revels, An Irish Celebration of the Winter Solstice, taking place this weekend at the Lobero Theatre, with 2:30 p.m. matinees each day and an evening show at 7:30 on Saturday.

Meredith McMinn has been with SB Revels for the past three years and has a leading role in this production. In addition, she's been acting as dialect coach, helping cast members with their Irish accents.

Adam Phillips joins the ensemble this year as music director.

Each took time from their busy rehearsal schedules to share their thoughts on what makes Revels special.

Justine Sutton: With each year’s Revels show portraying a different era and culture, how is this year’s show different from past productions?

Susan Keller: This year, I'm pleased to see the next generation of revelers getting involved. Matt Tavianini has been assisting me as stage director this year, and he's poised to take the reins next year. Adam Phillips is our new music director, and he's done a fabulous job, finding and arranging many beautiful musical numbers, getting top notch instrumentalists to play with us, and preparing our wonderful Solstice Singers. Sarah Eglin is new to our Children's Chorus this year, and she has pulled together an energetic group from seven different schools. We also have amazing dancers from the Claddagh School of Irish Dance coming in as guest artists. They are so talented, and it's such a pleasure to see them dance.

Meredith McMinn: Every year is different, of course, with a different script and a different culture being showcased. This script has more realistic characters than those of the previous few years and much that's rather poignant. I'm partial to things Irish, but I think the emigrant experience is something that most people can relate to, even if they were born right here, because almost all of us have had the experience of leaving something behind to embark on something new. So there's some nostalgia and some excitement and some pure fun--just what you want in the holiday season!

Perhaps the biggest difference this year is in personnel, particularly Adam Phillips as musical director. He came into the first get-together, even before chorus rehearsals began, with the sheet music of the songs we were going to sing and he got recordings to us early on, too, which helped tremendously to learn them. He's also done beautiful arrangements of songs. The caliber of the singing is especially high, and music rehearsals have been a joy.

J.S.: So you’re the new kid on the Revels block this year. How is that for you?

Adam Phillips: I really enjoy the Revels presentation because it involves so many different people and showcases their different strengths. There is music and dance, pageantry and acting, all while striving for a high degree of authenticity. It is a great program for the holidays because it always has a common thread but is different each year. So it can be a tradition with a fun familiarity, without being a carbon copy of the year before.

Revels is perfect for me because it comprises a lot of what I love to do. I get to make music with a lovely chorus, select and arrange music for voice and instruments, and I get to sing and play guitar and mandolin. What more could I ask for?

J.S.: How is Revels different from other Christmas/winter holiday celebrations or performances?

M.M.: Most holiday shows or events are one thing or another — there are dance performances (chiefly The Nutcracker), choral concerts, plays that are either traditional (assorted versions of A Christmas Carol) or contemporary, concerts and recitals by children for families, shows by adults for children and their families, and at some special events there may be storytelling or sing-alongs. Revels has it all. Each year is a different script, but there are always some traditional Revels elements — including some audience participation — and each year's theme brings to life traditions of a different culture, at least some of which may be new to all of us.

Most notably, though, what sets Revels apart and brings people back year after year is the sense of community it engenders. It brings together people of all ages and a wide range of backgrounds, on the stage and in the audience. Total strangers sing and dance together and share in the celebration of the turning of the seasons. Long before they leave the theater, they no longer feel like strangers to one another. Revels may be the only thing outside of a disaster that has such a broad unifying effect — without the pain! I think the slogan Susan came up with, "Join us and be joyous!," perfectly captures what Revels is all about.

For tickets, call 805.963.0761 or click here.

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.

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