Welcome Yule & Happy Holidays from the Portland Revels!

The Winter Solstice has past and we are now speeding our way toward the sun and light of the Summer Solstice!

We are thrilled to have completed the run of the fantastic Christmas Revels show, Christmas in Old Europeat the Scottish Rite in Portland. We would like to thank all that attended this year’s show and those that might think to attend the Christmas Revels next year. Thanks too to the many volunteers that help stage the production including the cast, creative team, backstage crew, production team, musicians, ushers, food service staff, amongst many others!

Please check back in with us though the upcoming year as we share the various happenings the Portland Revels plans in 2014!

Our first offering of the new year are the upcoming ViVoce concerts on Saturday, January 18th (7:30 PM) and Sunday, January 19th (4:30PM). Details of the concerts are provided on the ViVoce website.

Continuing later in January 2014 on Sunday the 26th, we host the annual Robert Burns Pub Sing, a date close to his actual birthday of January 25, 1789. Come join in parts of the festivities of the Burns Supper  and sing along in honor of Robert Burns!

While winter has just begun, relish any snippets of sun through the next months, and think to celebrate the seasons with the Portland Revels!

The Shortest Day

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere, down the centuries of the snow-white world,
Came people singing, dancing, To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them Echoing, behind us – listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land,
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we here, now,
This year, and every year.

Welcome Yule!

Susan Cooper

We’ve begun our journey back to the longest day as of 9:13 AM PST! In honor of the days becoming longer, we provide a pictorial image of those next six months with the photos below. These are solargraphs, a time-lapse image of the sun’s path though the sky, as captured though a pinhole camera. The lower paths are the sun’s arc on the winter solstice while the top paths are images on the summer solstice. These photographs were imaged over the span of six months.


Visegrad Group PDX Children’s Choirs Sing!

On Sunday, December 8th, in the spirit of community, three native language schools who are members of the Visegrad Group PDX:

sang in the ballroom before the matinee performance of A Christmas in Old Europe. The Portland Revels was happy to host this group of lovely choirs and their directors!

They each sang two songs in their respective native languages followed by an American Christmas song “Up on the Housetop.”

Some of the same choirs will also be performing at 12:10 on Saturday, Dec. 14th in the ballroom, including:

Please join us there to see and hear these great choirs sing!

We pass along some images of their concert! Stay tuned for more pictures from this Saturday’s show!


Make it a date!

  • Start with the children’s choir concert at 12 PM

  • Get a snack in the ballroom while perusing the great Revels-related gifts

  • Complete your visit by attending the Christmas Revels matinee show!

Starting on Saturday, December 14, there will be only four more shows!

Executive Director – Debby Garman …Prague Astronomical Clocks !…

These days Portland Revels has so many wonderful community programs going on year-round that it’s a constant staff press of planning and event presentation. Especially challenging and FUN is searching for and identifying experts to present the rich cultural information offered at our Salons. I hope you will partake of one of our salons if you haven’t already done so!

One of the staff tasks I most enjoy is the annual quest to find delightful and thematically relevant gifts for our gift boutique store at the theatre. This year the quest began with a wonderful spring trip to Europe to see a brand-new grandson. As long as we had crossed the Atlantic, I wanted to visit the Astronomical Clock in Prague, which was one of scriptwriter Gray Eubank’s inspirations for this year’s show story. Prague was really fun, and the clock was simply amazing. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world – and the oldest one still working! The clock has a mechanical process that takes place on the hour and draws huge crowds to see it in action. There were many tourist goodies based on the clock and I was inspired to see if we couldn’t present some Prague clocks for sale at our gift store. I succeeded in finding a supplier located in Prague, and you’ll be able to shop from our selection of special clock imports in December.

Prague clock

Scriptwriter Gray mentioned that another influence on his creative script process was a delightful book he read as a child. That book is “The Wonder Clock,” written and illustrated by Howard Pyle. We discovered that the book was recently reprinted and will have copies for sale at the gift store.

In addition, our team of staff shoppers has located stunning and whimsical fair trade Revels-perfect Christmas ornaments and toy suppliers in Thailand and Mexico. The gift store will offer books, calendars, greeting cards, as well as party jewelry and cool personal holiday gifts for every shopper’s budget. Be sure to visit us to take a look!

Debby Garman

Debby G by David Kinder Nov 2013

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Children’s Director – Hillarie Hunt …13 Charmers!…

When you see the 2013 Christmas Revels show, keep a close eye out:  one of those 13 charming, impossibly talented children you see on stage might just be the next Broadway star – or world leader.

In addition to having lovely singing voices, stage presence, and all-around adorability, these kids have other mad skills – from sports to arts/crafts, and from politics to science to musical instruments (sometimes more than one!).

  • Aria is our resident poet who knits a very stylish hat in a matter of days. 
  • Brooklynn is quite the deep thinker, and both swims AND skis. 
  • Cullen wants to be an engineer, architect, lawyer, or physical therapist – hasn’t decided yet, and I suppose there’s still time. 
  • Ella plays three (that’s right, THREE) different instruments and loves marine science. 
  • Iona adores art of all kinds, but especially drawing, knitting – and the art of playing with friends. 
  • Liam is a lively but compassionate soccer player. 
  • Lila has a huge sense of humor under that quiet exterior. 
  • Madison (Cullen’s younger sister) plays piano at Level 4 and wants to be a pop star and a physical therapist. 
  • Malena is a very good student at school and is, in her words, “very creative in my own way”. 
  • Matthew performs in the Portland Boys Choir as well as Revels and plays the piano. 
  • Molly is a very confident public speaker and enjoys playing soccer. 
  • Sahalie is giving to Revels, in her own words, “my voice, my smile and my good spirit” (they’re all good). 
  • Sophie is a self-professed “craze-amazing reader” who is in her fifth Revels cast, plays piano, and aspires to the Senate one day.
2013 Christmas Revels Children's Chorus

inner ring – Iona, Lila, Aria, Molly, Liam, Brooklyn — outer ring – Ella, Sahalie, Sophie, Matty, Malena, Madison, Hillarie, Cullen, Matthew

This is a deep bench, wouldn’t you agree?

And it’s a good thing, too, because these wonderful children need to hold their own with the likes of Burl Ross, Ithica Tell, Eric Stern, and the rest of the adult Revels cast.  These kids bring freshness and energy and a major “awww…” factor to an already sparkling production full of incredible talent.

So bring your lovely children to see our lovely children!!  Better yet, bring the whole darn family.  I promise you that everyone – even your Scrooge-y Uncle Bob – will be drawn in by the music, comedy, spectacle, and sheer joy that is the 2013 Christmas Revels show.



Bday 51 Girl

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Portland Revels Founder – Dick Lewis …19 Years of Bringing Back the Light…

In this year’s Christmas Revels, we’ll be singing “Bogoroditse Deva.”  Say, what?  Ain’t that Russian?  It sure is.  And we’ll also be singing in Bulgarian, Czech, Georgian, Serbian, Croatian, Romanian, Polish, Latin, and, oh yes, English.  It will be beautiful, like no Revels yet and maybe the best. 

The Christmas Revels began in a kind of English solstice variety hour spirit, a professionally staged performance of time-honored winter solstice and Christmas songs, stories, dances, and laughs.  It was pretty much in the best English medieval tradition.  And we might have continued with that each year.  But we didn’t.  As appealing as all that medieval stuff was (and we’ve gone back to it from time to time over the past 19 years), what appealed even more was to find the seasonal song, dance, and theater from many different cultures.

Why?  Because the deep, human hope for and confidence in the renewal of life at the turning of the year has mattered to many different kinds of people.  And many different cultures have sung about it, composed about it, danced about it, laughed about it.  And in all those places, they’ve made the light come back.

This is the 19th year, then, since that never-to-be-forgotten Christmas Revels opening at Lincoln Hall Theater on December 8, 1995, and since then, English, French, Scottish, Spanish, Irish, Scandinavian, and Italian Revels have delighted Portland audiences.  There were 1,500 who came to that first year’s performances; now, more than 6,500 attend.  And I can’t help thinking that part of the reason is that we keep finding new cultural ways to welcome back the light.

Dick Lewis

Dick Lewis 2013

From The Christmas Revels 2003 – An Italian Renaissance

Music From the Show – Christmas in Old Europe

The Christmas Revels show, A Christmas in Old Europe, restarts, Thursday, Dec. 12th!

Get your tickets now as they are going fast!

Curious about the music in this year’s show? Below are links to snippets of the music you will hear on stage, sung by the groups as listed below.

Shto Mi-e Milo – Bulgarian – sung by the Yale Women’s Slavic Chorus

This Macedonian song says: How happy I would be to live in the village of Struga, where I would have a little shop, and I could sit in the window and watch the women go down to the well, with their many-colored pitchers, to laugh and talk with their friends.


How I would like it,
Like it and love it
In the town of Struga
To have a small shop.
Hurry, young Kalino
In the town of Struga
To have a small shop.

To sit at the window (shutters)
And watch the young girls
Of Struga go by
Hurry, young Kalino
Watch the young girls
Of Struga go by

When the water, they fetch the water
With their jugs,
Their colorful jugs
Hurry, young Kalino
With their jugs,
Their colorful jugs

At this spring, the cold spring
They find their friends
And there they gather,
Hurry, young Kalino
They find their friends
And there they gather

Kol’ Slaven Nash Gospod – Russian – sung by the New Haven Oratorio Chorus

A well-known Russian hymn by Dimitri Bortniansky (1753-1825)


How glorious our Lord is on Zion
The tongue cannot express.
He is great in heavens on the throne
In blades of grass, on earth he is great.
Oh, Lord, Thou art glorious everywhere,
At night, by day Thy shining is the same.

Nevijska Koleda (On a Good Christmas) – Croatian – sung by David Coffin and the Revels Chorus (Cambridge)

Koleda songs are sung by villagers processing from house to house, bestowing blessings on each household. This koleda is from the Croatian island of Pašman: May we have a good Christmas, with wealth, with plenty. After Christmas a New Year, with wealth, with plenty. All the best to our village!


May we have a good Christmas with wealth,
May we have a good Christmas with plenty,

After Christmas a New Year, with wealth,
After Christmas a New Year, with plenty,

For Christmas, Lord, with wealth,
For Christmas, Lord, with plenty,

I sing lovely songs;
There is a fine olive tree with birds sitting in it.

The 1st carries health and joy, with wealth,
The 1st carries health and joy, with plenty,

The 2nd carries grain and wheat, with wealth,
The 2nd carries grain and wheat, with plenty,

The 3rd carries grapevines and olives, …
The 3rd carries grapevines and olives, …

The one that carries grapevines and olives, …
The one that carries grapevines and olives, …

Landed in our vineyards, with wealth,
Landed in our vineyards, with plenty,

All the best to this our village! [2X]

Joc de Leagane – Romanian – sung by Dunava

A traditional Romanian cradle song, honoring midwives. I was caught by longing when my mother sang.


When my mother was rocking me
She was singing of longing

She was singing of longing and she cried,
“I’ve been caught by longing.”

Some grow old and die
Without knowing the good of longing

But I know I have carried it
Since my mother sang.

Ai lai lai lai lai lai la Ai lai lai lai lai lai la

Script Writer – Gray Eubank …the Onrush of Time…

The 2013 Portland Christmas Revels ‘Eastern Europe” script is the 8th Revels show I’ve had a hand in writing. I’m especially proud that Portland scripts Dick Lewis and I crafted have gone on to be adapted by the Revels in Cambridge, Oakland, and Washington D.C. among other Revels cities.

I believe a Revels script balances precariously between theatrical irrelevance and pompous sermon. These shows are about music and dancing and have been since the Revels inception in Cambridge, Massachusetts more than 40 years ago. The script is just a vehicle that gives the songs a ride for a couple of hours on a cold December night. It can’t be trivial, it’s a ride that must plunge us into the darkness of Winter and renew our hope in the coming Spring. Yet too heavy a hand on the keyboard and I’m preaching cliches about tradition and community and romanticizing ye goode olde days. The script has to be a simple story that takes us where we need to go and does so with very little dialog but a lot of heart and no sermons.


Each year I look for another aspect of the returning light to let me write. Sometimes a folk fable will show me the way into a story, something as simple as the gnome characters of the Northlands script disgruntled with a lack of butter on their solstice porridge. Sometimes its the setting that haunts me as in the Ghosts of Haddon Hall. Often my penchant for magical realism gives me a storyline as it did in last years Appalachian Revels when a song stealer crept into a mountain community and tried to make off with the people’s songs. Or in the Spanish show where we rifled through the hidden treasure room until by waking each relic that held a song, dance or story we realized the culture itself was the treasure of Andalusian Spain.

Wandering through sources of music and architecture and stories of the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe this year I came across the picture of a medieval clock that first graced the town of Prague in the 1400s. Struggling with the construct of the show I came back to this clock again and again. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books “The Wonder Clock” with stories and illustrations by Howard Pyle. In that book each hour of the day presented a new story and with that memory I realized I had solved the dilemma of exploring a culture as diverse as that of the Slavs. It isn’t one story – it’s many stories. The clock can unify them and the onrush of time moves us through our journey.

From the clock also comes the crisis of the show. Its workings allow for the humor and darkness and timing of the play. It makes for a magic premise that will bring both the darkness and the hope for the future. But if I say anymore you’ll curse me for spoiling what happens when you see the show. Just wind it up and see where we go this year.


Gray Eubank

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Kukeri (K)ostume Designer – Barbara Millikan

Consummate character prop designer, Barbara Millikan, designed and built characters (kukeri‘s perhaps…?) for this year’s Christmas Revels production of A Christmas in Old Europe.

She has designed and worked on many of the character props for the Christmas Revels shows including the dragon from the 2011 show, The King and the Fool and the trolls from the A Visit to the Scandinavian Northlands in 2008 and has made the most complex dragons, trolls and sea monsters since 2003 for the Christmas Revels!


Barbara & The Trolls

Where do you begin making a character ‘costume’ for something like a kukeri (kuker- singular) should there be a need to make one? The three R’s come to mind – Research Research Research! – which included talking to lots of people as well as the requisite web searches.

Kukeri is traditional Bulgarian ritual to scare away evil spirits, with costumed men performing the ritual

says Wikipedia. Why do we need to scare away evil spirits in this day and age? Can’t think of a single reason…

Alright, you might then turn to photos identified by a certain stage director for the types of ‘potential’ characters he might be envisioning based upon the script written by the talented Gray Eubank (more about him and that script later). If you Google around you might find a few examples. Here are some potentials characters passed the designer:


Seems pretty sinister, huh? Actually, the costumes and characters are very inventive, showing that the people who really design and build these things are quite talented and imaginative. There are some general themes: masks; sheep’s bells; horns; fur-like adornment; tall, extended necks, etc… the list goes on and on.

Okay, then what next? That’s when artistic imagination kicks in and you, given a set of potential characters destined to fit into a certain stage play, produce drawings of those potential kukeri:

dragon kukeri

horned kukeri

mask kukeri

hairy kukeri

Pretty amazing images all on their own. We’ve progressed then from a simple idea to 2-D characters put to paper. So now we have the potential characters of

Dragon, Horned, Masked and ‘Tall Hairy’ Kukeri (gotta love that rhyming on the last one…)

You pass along those drawings, decisions are made and… voilà! You’ve got characters with descriptive names, body shapes and adornments. Now to come up with an implementation plan to realize the vision.

Barbara took off from there and using her past design experiences started the construction process for the character props. Likely the more complex part of the process was the headdresses and how to make them wearable, if someone were perhaps to go so far as to wear them on stage. She has provided a schematic of the dragon kukeri, one of the characters she (might have) designed for this years show.

kukeri schematic

In this awesome exploded construction view of the head one can see how all these disparate pieces come together to make something so seemingly real. Should one be of the inclination to build such a headdress the bare bones are there for the intrepid.

She was also generous enough with her process to show in-process photos of the dragon head model detailing the backbone and headrest.

Kukeri alpha

And from Barbara here’s a bit more detail about the stops and starts of their construction:

“Primary construction materials are a bike helmet with a plastic bowl over that and then lots of blue polyfill along with a camping pad cut, shaped and held together with gaffers tape, zip ties and/or hot melt glue. The fabric for the head was sewed and/or glued on. There are a few wing nuts for the inevitable, maladjusted bike helmet. The dragon’s jaw is also bolted, allowing for adjustment of the opening.”

“It also requires a shop vac, lint rollers and a love of fake fur, so much that I look to be living in a house full of long-haired cats. The next part of the process is making adjustments so that things work and fit the wearer properly. In the first test run, they dropped more nuts and bolts than an Italian Ducati motorcycle. The bolt/nut assemblies were holding bells on a belt and they simply came loose or popped off the belt with movement. The nuts were replaced with lock nuts, the belt reinforced and things were moving again. For the next test, carpet tacks were used to hold part of the apparatus together. That didn’t work though and the carpet tacks were swapped out for sheetrock screws.”

kukeri beta

That is a start on how to make the headdress but there are still steps yet revealed to ‘flesh out’ the character costume…

One of the costume characters that might be appearing in this year’s production was the one on display at Carol Silverman’s excellent salon (Mumming in Bulgaria in the Context of Balkan Rituals) on November 10th. Here are some photos of parts of the character costume:



You’ll note there is fur of different types, horns, ears, bells, and… a person. Quite a bit to add still from the beginnings seen above. Barbara’s done a great job of showing a kukeri how-to!

Should you go to the show (and you should because you read all the way to the bottom!) you might just recognize one of these costume characters on stage. But who, or rather, what is inside???

Purchase your tickets today!

Associate Music Director – Betsy Branch …The Amazing Slow Downer…

One of my many jobs this year is to align music with the folk dances in the show. The dance captain, Jamie, has worked with the chorus to teach them the show dance steps.  But underneath all of their work has been a lot of work on the music.  For the Act 1 dance, the show’s clarinetist, Bill Tomczak, contacted his friend Tom, who was part of a Cambridge Revels show years back.  Tom sent Bill his transcription of traditional calusarii music.  Along with that, we are using music that Jamie learned from a Romanian choreographer. Then while poking around on YouTube, I found a different tune yet, one used in Romanian stick dances.  My transcription of that became the third tune in the dance.  It was fun to put together this unique set of Romanian dance tunes with Jamie and Bill.

For the Act 2 Bulgarian dance, the accompanying music is from a ridiculously fast recording Jamie gave me of a gaida, a Bulgarian bagpipe.  A gaida is a goat skin with pipes attached to it–it basically looks like an inflated goat while being played!


When she asked if we could learn this music, I of course said yes.  That committed me to hours of painstaking work transcribing this tune.  It nearly melted my brain.  Fortunately, I bought myself a computer program called the Amazing Slow Downer (it slows down recordings to any speed without changing the pitch), and thus I was able to complete the transcription (with help along the way from Bill and Eric Stern).  The Slow Downer saved my sanity!

One of my other behind-the-scenes jobs (and one of my greatest pleasures) is to write a brass overture which opens the show.  How lucky can I be—I get to take music out of my head, only to have it played by wonderful professional brass players.  A composer’s and arranger’s dream come true!

Hope to see many of you at a show—I’ll be the one fiddling, grinning, and being inspired by our incredible chorus.

Betsy B

October 2010 012

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Properties Designer – Andy Swinford …It Just Keeps Getting Better!…

As a properties designer, an important part of my job is to make sure that everything that is “used” onstage looks like it belongs there – in the time and place of the production, whatever that may be. My goal is to be invisible and have none of my props interrupt the flow or draw the audience’s attention from the story being told onstage.

Designing for Revels is a little different because we start with a time and a place firmly set in our minds, and then the Revels magic kicks in and things can get …. a little fluid. I just have to let the Revels magic flow over me and see where it takes me. Last year, I had a magical bag (times three) and Native American/African hybrid animal avatar masks taking flight and journeying to the Sun.

This year, I get to recreate the Russian crown jewels and help to bring a highly complex astrological clock alive onstage. It’s my second year designing for the Revels and it just keeps getting better! As a designer, the process can be challenging. It is hard to let go of the rules and all the cultural and period research and just design for this show, but also as a designer, it is so very, very rewarding. When it all comes together – the amazing music, brilliant set, inspired lighting, glorious costuming and my very own props all working in concert to pull our audience into the Revels world of the longest night and the shortest day – it truly is magic.

Andy Swinford

Andy Swinford

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