A Christmas Revels story: Returning to the stage after three decades
It’s never too late to rediscover your passions. I speak from experience. Next week I will play the role of Noni, a 14th-century Italian comedian, in the 44th annual production of the Christmas Revels at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.
The last time I was on stage, I had braces. It was the spring of 1988, and I played Liesl in our eighth-grade class’s rendition of “The Sound of Music.” As a kid, I loved nothing more than standing in front of an audience, whether acting or singing. But these interests didn’t survive early adulthood. By the time I graduated college, I could barely bring myself to speak in front of a group.
I’ve met other members of the Christmas Revels cast with similar stories. Many of us have returned to something we once loved — music and theater, after a 10-, 20-, or even 30-year hiatus. That’s what’s so wonderful about Christmas Revels. Every year the show brings together an eclectic mix of amateurs and professionals, of all ages and backgrounds, to lead the Upper Valley community in a festive celebration of the winter solstice.
Some of us have spent a lifetime on stage, while others are just starting out.
My daughter participated in Christmas Revels last year, as part of the children’s chorus. Being new to the Upper Valley, neither of us knew what to expect when we signed on. Every week I dropped her off at the Hopkins Center for rehearsals and hoped for the best.
During performance week, I finally realized what was happening: My 12-year-old daughter was having a life-changing experience, whether she knew it or not.
I helped out backstage during two of the performances. Before each show, Artistic Director Nils Friedland led the cast in a series of warm-ups as they stood in a circle holding hands. Watching from the sidelines, I thought of the things we parents do to help our children grow. We tote them to soccer practice, sign them up for art classes, and send them to summer camp. In all of these scenarios, our kids are with kids their own age, under the tutelage of one or two trusted adults.
Christmas Revels isn’t like that. Nine-year-olds stand shoulder to shoulder with college-age students and retirees—all equally vital to the success of the show. It is a collaborative, cross-generational experience— something that is increasingly difficult to find in today’s world.
I knew, standing there in the warm-up room, that we had stumbled upon something pretty special. I felt happy that my daughter was part of this unique community of singers, dancers, and actors. But I was also a little envious; I wanted to be part of it, too.
To test the waters, I joined in with the chorus as they warmed up. It had been a long time, but thankfully the memory of singing—really singing—started to come back. With each note, I felt a piece of myself, buried deep within, begin to stir.
When this year’s auditions came around, I decided to give it a whirl. I thought it would be fun to sing with a group again, and I liked the idea of sharing the experience with my daughter. (As it turns out, we’re one of eight parent-child pairs in this year’s show.)
For a lark, I also tried out for a speaking role. It was a little scary, I have to admit, holding a script for the first time in too many years. But I channeled my 13-year-old self, and thankfully, she showed up. I ended up having so much fun during the audition, I didn’t want it to end.
This fall Christmas Revels has given me the opportunity to dig deep and resurrect a part of myself that had long gone missing.
It has also provided a unique, shared experience for me and my teenage daughter. With so many things in life pulling us in opposite directions, I am so grateful for the chance to come together on stage. We’ve enjoyed our weekly commutes to Hanover, even on cold and snowy nights. We’ve both made new friends and have stretched ourselves in exciting (and surprising) ways.
My heart is full as I think of the many, many people who make Christmas Revels possible. It is truly a labor of love for all involved, from the hard-working production team to our dedicated volunteers and donors.
Being part of the Revels community has touched my life in untold ways. I hope you find an equal amount of joy and inspiration in the story and music we are about to share.
If you haven’t yet made plans to join us, tickets are still available at https://hop.dartmouth.edu, or by calling 603-646-2422. Performances take place Thursday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Dec. 16.
Amanda Kuhnert lives in Woodstock, Vt., and writes regularly on her website ourmerryway.com.