Dreamtime December: 3Q’s with Sudama
Dreamtime Continuum has been one of Santa Barbara’s most eclectic ensembles since Sudama Mark Kennedy first formed the group way back in 1994 as an outlet for his all-encompassing world music approach that he came by naturally as the son in a diplomatic family. The group underwent a few personnel changes over the years and the recording of seven albums, although many of the core members were intact from 2000 until about 2012 or so, when Dreamtime more or less went on hiatus in favor of Kennedy’s solo projects.
But solstices, both summer and winter, have always been the main calling of the Continuum, and with the winter one arriving this weekend, Kennedy congregated members old and new to put on an early show (6-8 pm) at SOhO on Saturday, December 22. Kennedy, who is also an intuitive healer and shaman who works with private clients and groups, dished on the upcoming dinnertime offering earlier this week.
Q. Dreamtime has largely been dormant in recent times, right?
A. Yes, we haven’t been active because many of the main people moved out of state, so I’ve been doing kirtans at private houses mostly these days. But a few of the core members are still around and I’ve been playing with guitarist Filippo Francini for the last couple of years, and he’s just amazing. It will be a bit different, but definitely still a Dreamtime show, where the music is about the groove and the healing.
What is it about solstice that works for you?
I’ve always liked these crossover times in seasons because there’s an energy that shifts too. December 22 is the first day when we’ve passed the darkest night of the year, and now each day gets longer. We’re emerging from total hibernation. Ancient people always had big celebrations on the solstice, wanting to affect the universe to bring bounty to the crops and the lands. And it’s also a full moon, a perfect astrological resonance to do this shamanic music, which has a healing intention. It’s the perfect day because the energy in the universe is already poised to be transformative and it’s also a good time to party because it’s celebrating the incoming light.
A dinner time show is a bit different for you.
Yes, it will be a shorter set, maybe 90 minutes to 2 hours only, something lighter and more kid-friendly for families. No big lights show like we had for my solo CD release party in July. But we’re just going to go for it. There will be music from the album, but also favorite Dreamtime songs interspersed like “Green Evolution,” “Winken, Blinken and Nod,” and “Your Heart Just Knows.” It will be more dreamy, lighter dinner stuff for the first hour and then after people finish their food and are ready to get up and move, we’ll play the reggae and funk, and the more groove part for the second set.
But really it’s all groove. I let the mystical mood of the evening wash through. I just feel it, connect to the audience and the band, and let it go off into the mystic, but it’s also controlled, not too out there. We just let the Dreamtime space come in and guide us. There’s a set list, but I also play by feel. Sensing the audience is the most important thing for the band leader to do. It’s always been my consideration as a healer to find the resonance that’s existing in the moment, attune to that and let it guide what we do.
Revels: Get your Irish Up
Like nearly all of Santa Barbara’s performing arts organizations, Santa Barbara Revels suffered some hardships during last year’s Thomas Fire, losing two of its planned four performances of its annual Christmas show to the smoke and ash and evacuations. The cancellations were even more painful because the 2017 show was the company’s first ever fully original effort, a Santa Barbara-based story penned by the company’s founder, Susan Keller, a longtime Montecito resident, to celebrate the local Revels’ 10-year anniversary.
Keller expects to revive that original story for 2019, but this December promises a revisiting of one of the most popular shows in the company canon: The Christmas Revels: An Irish Celebration of the Winter Solstice. The story features a topic that might be even more timely – a tale of immigrants on their way to America to search for a better life, in this case a group of Irish people in December 1907 as they journey to Ellis Island aboard the S.S. Furnessia out of Londonderry.
“We at Revels like to salute the fact that our country is made up of immigrants who all brought something that contributed to the richness and fullness of our country,” Keller said. “When the Irish first came to America, they weren’t very welcome either because they were different. But they all managed to thrive and prosper.”
Of course, politics doesn’t actually show up in the show, which is mainly a family-friendly holiday tale full of singing, dancing, and all around merriment, with plenty of audience participation and something for people of all ages and faiths to enjoy. With the Irish show taking place onboard ship, the people who have left behind friends, family, and familiar surroundings find a way to combine nostalgia with anticipation by bonding over sharing songs, stories, and seasonal traditions.
“It’s a wonderful way of dealing with the sadness of being away from their homeland and loved ones,” said Keller, who once again stage directs the show. “They each have their stories and traditions from different villages to share. They’re drawn together as a group even though they’re all headed to different destinations when they arrive.”
Keller has added a new romantic element to the story last presented at the Lobero four years ago, as a young man en route to the Bronx connects with a woman headed to Boston mid-sea. The character of the poet, a disillusioned cynic who is consoled but also challenged by a Mother Earth character, has also been updated with original elements from Keller. “In our new version he comes around to see how these people have pulled together to create something special among themselves. He becomes a little less cynical. We’ve also given the Welsh purser and British captain characters a bit more to do over the journey, being more protective of the passengers.”
As always, all of the traditional elements of a winter solstice Revels show are present, including the mid-show Mummers play including the sword dance, and the audience joining in “The Lord of the Dance” to close out the first set by dancing down the aisles out into the Lobero lobby, and adding their voices to Christmas carols. The music itself gets an upgrade via second-year music director Erin McKibben, who performs and conducts a crack band and several choruses in songs, including “The Shores of Amerikay,” “Colcannon,” and “The Parting Glass,” sung as the passengers disembark from the ship.
“It’s just so much fun for everyone,” Keller said.
(The Christmas Revels: An Irish Celebration of the Winter Solstice performs at 2:30 & 7:30 pm Saturday, and 2:30 pm Sunday, December 22-23, at the Lobero. Tickets are $13-$50.)
Christmas Hosts Under a Lit Moon
Just as with Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Christmas ballet The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, the morality play based on the classic Charles Dickens’ novella, seems to show up in the Santa Barbara area every December. While the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura isn’t doing their full-throated original adaptation that proved very popular in recent years (in favor of the utterly astonishingly South Pacific, by the way, which should not be missed), community theater productions have taken place at the Alcazar Theatre in Carpinteria and via a truncated version from the new teen theater troupe Lights Up! just last Sunday at Center Stage.
This weekend, however, features perhaps the most original take on the miser-meets-redemption tale, as Lit Moon Theatre Company revisits its 10-year-old adaptation Humbug!, adapted and directed by company founder John Blondell as part of Lit Moon’s 25+1 anniversary celebration that culminates in January with a special reunion show (more on that next week). Refreshed and renewed for Christmas 2018, Humbug! miniaturizes some of the main physical characters through the use of dolls in a way that also maximizes the emotional impact via an intimate approach. Featuring Nina Sallinen as Scrooge, with company members Victoria Finlayson, Stanley Hoffman, Anna Telfer, and Chris Wagstaffe, Humbug! plays 7:30 pm Friday, 4 & 7:30 pm Saturday and 4 pm Sunday, December 21-23, at Lit Moon’s perennial home of Center Stage Theater. Tickets cost $23 general, $18 students, seniors, and children. Call (805) 963-0408 or visit www.centerstagetheater.org.
Blondell talked about the uniqueness of the show last weekend.
Q.Humbug!, of course, is based on A Christmas Carol, one of the best-known and most beloved holiday. How did you Lit Moon-ify it?
A. Let me put it this way: A friend of mine is playing Mr. Fezziwig (Scrooge’s kind-hearted old boss) in a production at the Guthrie Theater (in Minneapolis) right now. It’s very gorgeous, opulent, with a cast of thousands, a big wonderful, spectacular show. Our version is the exact opposite. It’s very simple, with just five actors, minimal costumes, and some objects. We zero in on the storytelling aspect of the Dickens novella. The actors all both play characters and narrators of the story. There are no big production numbers because we really focus in on the poetry and the simplicity of the story, and the austere beauty at the beginning and the emotional transformation that takes place.
I posted on my Facebook page that I really like both approaches. The spectacular production is terrific, but our version is about really seeing the simple human nature of the story, true chamber theater, presented up close the way we can in the Center Stage Theater. It puts the story in the imagination of the audience watching it.
The other thing that’s very different is that we have a woman playing Scrooge, which by its nature offers a different angle. The four other actors portray all the other characters. You get an opportunity to see the company members move in and out of the play, doing six, seven, or more characters, which is something we’ve done a lot in Lit Moon over the years.
Yes. Jim Connolly made these fabulous objects which are hard to describe, basically dolls that are made out of paper bags. They’re gorgeous and haunting with a poetic beauty. That’s very distinctive and unique. They’re not classical puppets, but they are objects, cross between a doll and a puppet, almost like a toy theater approach. The entire Cratchit family are these dolls that the actors move around.
Why make these sorts of choices, especially the dolls? It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the show, but I remember how disorienting and yet intimate it was to see the interplay between the live actors and the tiny dolls.
We conceived and developed the show when we had just come back from a European tour in 2007. That was in October, which is when we decided we wanted to do it. We started working on it in November, just in our house, sitting around the big country table in the kitchen. The table itself took on a form as the major scenic element, with everything happening around it. As we worked, the dolls developed from that premise of it being just a kitchen table show using objects to represent aspects of the story. The concept emerged from the rehearsal process itself.
You also have original music by Jim Connolly that is quite different.
All of the music is Christmas carols that have been de-formed, de-natured, rearranged, broken up, and put in different keys. So there’s an incredible haunting, almost disintegrating quality, having these gorgeous, very familiar Christmas carols put into a completely different musical context by Jim.
Why use fractured carols? What’s being said?
It came from a suggestion from Jim. The original story of A Christmas Carol is actually divided into sort of a musical form, a staff. I was thinking about how he structured it, and the title itself. I had seen it a lot of times and heard lots of traditional music, but never a production that used only carols. I liked the idea of focusing on that, the poetic concentration it gives, with both the beauty and familiarity but also something broken up and haunting, to echo the story.