Revel-ution – Five Years of Song and Celebrating Solstice at Santa Barbara Revels

In its five-year existence, Santa Barbara Revels have traveled as far away as Bavaria (on stage at least), to explore the multi-faceted and multi-cultural worlds of winter solstice celebrations. This year, they plan to bring it on home with a trip to America’s Deep South and the Appalachia. Santa Barbara Revels puts a secular spin on the holiday season, celebrating the turning of the year, December 21, the day with the shortest amount of daylight.

No matter what the culture or religion, the day has been celebrated for good reason: the sun begins to come back into our lives, and warmth is around the corner. The event, featuring 70 dancers, musicians, and singers, comes to the Lobero this weekend for three shows.

David Bazemore Photos
David Bazemore Photos
Susan Keller has been president of Revels since the beginning. There are ten Revels organizations in the nation, the oldest going back 40 years. Their shared library of scripts provide a wealth of ideas and information for Ms. Keller and her group, meaning each year has a different theme.

This year, there’s a through line narrative of a “song catcher” in the tradition of Harry Smith and Cecil Sharp journeying to the South to record ancient traditions. Henry Brown plays the lead role, Matt Tavianini plays the “local rube” and Ms. Keller herself plays a “schoolmarm”. Ms. Keller has cast 18 children in the chorus, and believes that in a town that is 65 percent Latino, that fact should be represented too. The chorus starts rehearsing for Revels in September, every Monday night. And as opening night gets closer, there’s a lot to squeeze into a little amount of time.

“I started Revels for the younger people,” Ms. Keller says. She relates a story about her son, who got a chance in high school to join an adult, professional production and just “grew up” over the course of the project. At the same time, Ms. Keller was helping out on a production of “The Sound of Music” and working with the child actors reminded her of school and the best part of theater. “It was a reminder of how theater is inclusive and collaborative.”

Ms. Keller saw her first Revels show in 2005 and was impressed with the loyalty of the audience. She sat next to a very matronly woman who proclaimed “Christmas would not be Christmas without the Revels!” The woman later brought her on stage to dance, and this inclusivity won Ms. Keller over and gave her the spark to start Santa Barbara’s own version.

“Times of seasonal change are historically times when communities have got together,” Ms. Keller points out. “And it brings people together in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily do and that’s something I want to promote.”

Ms. Keller’s hope for Revels is to bring a show in the future that truly reflects the local community, bringing in our traditions and history. That’s the goal, she says, perhaps for 2014.

“Some people ask how we can relate, as Americans, to Revels when it’s ‘English’ ” she says. “But now I’ve brought it back home now they’re saying ‘Oh, but the European songs are much more glamorous and sexier.’ You never know what people are going to respond to.”

Her friends in Oakland have suggested a campaign slogan that will satisfy everybody, she says. “It will read: Not The Nutcracker.”

Santa Barbara Revels
When: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sat. 2:30 Sun.
Where: Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido
Cost: $13.50 – $68
Information: 963-0761 or

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