If your holiday entertainment nut is feeling a bit cracked, try celebrating with the California Revels this weekend and next at the Scottish Rite Center on Lake Merritt in Oakland.
Though not affiliated with the Masons, the Revels have been presented there for the last 28 years. Longtime artistic director David Parr says, “We really like being there. It’s a ritual space and our core audience has made a ritual of visiting us year after year to see the new editions.”
Also appealing is the amphitheater-style venue. “Everyone is constantly seeing other audience members as well as the players, so it adds to a sense of community that is a really important aspect of the Revels.”
Though it’s called the Christmas Revels, Parr suggests that the naming is “really just a condescension to the fact that the performances take place during what people traditionally call the Christmas season.”
He describes it as more of a winter solstice celebration. “The real grist for our mill is the traditional way that people all through history and in different regions of the world have found to celebrate the turning of the year. In some countries and cultures, that it Christmas.” The time and place whose traditions are celebrated change from year to year. This year it is 1930s America. Once selected, Parr says, “We celebrate the turning of the year in that vernacular, using their songs, their dances and customs, their folk tales.”
So what exactly is a Revels experience? It’s not a play. Not a musical revue. Not a concert. Definitely not a Dickens Fair. “Our bête noir has always been to describe a Revels without using the word not,” jokes Parr.
Instead he offers the word celebration. “It involves components of the things we are not including concertized singing, audience participation, little folk dramas and mummers plays, story theater and more. There’s always a through line, but it falls short of a real plot. It’s more of a premise for action.”
The action involves different groups of overlapping and interacting artists including an adult chorus of 40, a children’s chorus, a group of teen actors and a group of artists Parr calls “tradition bearers” who either come from or are deeply immersed in the culture being celebrated each year. “They bring an authenticity that you would not get just writing a script and putting out a casting call.”
Back at the “What is it?” question, Parr suggests, “It really is a bit of meta theater in the sense that we are celebrating the traditions of other and we are a tradition ourselves because part of our audience come back year after year and make it their tradition.”
IF YOU GO
Christmas Revels: An American Journey
Presented by California Revels
Where: Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 1 and 5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundas; closes Dec. 21
Tickets: $20 to $60
Contact: (510) 452-9334, www. californiarevels.org