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If there’s one word that could define the Washington Revels, it’s community. “We want to make it a welcoming place for everybody to come with their families and friends,” says Roberta Gasbarre, the group’s artistic director. Certainly, the organization has become a tradition in her family, and she singles out her daughter’s experience to highlight its welcoming nature.
“My daughter, who is 35 and now living in Boston, is [transgender], came up through Revels, and was totally accepted as part of the community all the way through Revels,” she says. “We really are, and always have been, a place where people find community no matter who they are.”
That sense of community is one key distinction Gasbarre highlights compared with other organizations. “Are we a community theater? I think we’re a community-based theater,” Gasbarre says. “Some people argue with the word theater…. That’s why I call ourselves a performance community. We come together as community to perform together.
“Especially around this time of year, people seek some sort of meaning, and oftentimes the modern holiday celebrations just don’t give that meaning,” she continues. “But at the Christmas Revels, it’s the simple things that kind of make people feel the spirit of the seasonal celebrations, whatever you’re actually celebrating. This year we get to celebrate all sorts of things, including Hanukkah and the idea of the solstice, and we all come together from wherever we’re from, vastly different backgrounds, but by the end of the evening we feel this kind of unity of community because we’ve sung together. We reveled together, if you will.”
This year’s multicultural Christmas Revels show is called “Celestial Fools” and features “a troupe of traveling players who introduce themselves as the sun, the moon, and the stars” to a group of peasants whose village they stumble upon. “The kind of meta-story is the way that Eastern arts and culture infused and enlightened the Western world.” These traveling players join the 100-person chorus plus brass quintet and traditional band at Lisner Auditorium, where there’s never a dull moment. “Even our intermissions are a party,” Gasbarre says, noting that the show’s musical ensembles set up to play holiday music in the lobby between acts.
Although the Christmas Revels is the flagship production, the Washington Revels puts on shows and engages in other activities throughout the year, ranging from a Madrigal group to an African-American acapella group. And there are plenty of opportunities even if, like Gasbarre, you don’t sing.
“I don’t sing, and they want me not to sing,” she says. “But if you don’t sing, come craft with us, come walk in the parades with us. Bring children and do nature walks. We really do have activities for everybody.”
The Christmas Revels perform Celestial Fools over the next two weekends beginning Saturday, Dec. 7, at 2 and 7:30 p.m., at GW Lisner, The George Washington University, 730 21st St. NW. Tickets are $17 to $65. Call 202-994-6851 or visit www.revelsdc.org.
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