Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Christmas Revelers, from Theatre Royal, Barkerville

Amy Newman and The Christmas Revelers, presented to you by 
Newman and Wright Theatre Company, Theatre Royal, Barkerville

The Christmas Revelers, 2011; Amy, Chris, Brendan, Alison - Richard Wright photo

“What do you do in the off-season from Barkerville?”
At Theatre Royal, many people ask me this question. The answer?
 “I entertain at the holiday time with my a cappella caroling quartet, Amy Newman & the Christmas Revelers”.
For the past 12 years The Revelers have entertained such clients as Burnaby Village Museum, Grouse Mountain Resorts, Hart House Restaurant and Newport Village, to name a few. In addition, we perform at many retirement residences throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
The Revelers began in the year 2000 and since then, has employed 20 performers. In recent years this holiday work has been offered to Theatre Royal cast members. A season at the theatre in Barkerville is a wonderful way to audition prospective singers for the work at Christmas time.
Work for The Revelers begins as early as July, when I first begin putting out feelers to my singers from the previous year, to see if they wish to return. If all goes well, I won’t have to replace anyone. Happily for me, I only had one new singer join The Revelers for 2011.

Brendan, Amy and Alison at Theatre Royal, summer 2010 - Marcello Sequeira photo

Brendan - Richard Wright photo
It was a pleasure to invite talented singer/actor Brendan Bailey (from this past season’s Theatre Royal cast) into the fold. He joined our most excellent alumni member Alison Jenkins, who sang with The Revelers in 2009. These two, along with Vancouver singer/songwriter, Chris Harvey, (in his 3rd season of caroling) and me, became the Christmas Revelers of 2011. We also had another Reveler (and Theatre Royal alumni) “old-timer”, Nick Fontaine join us for a few gigs, when Chris was unavailable. With this crew on board, I knew I could look forward to a loyal, happy and hard-working team.

Nick - Photo by Amy Newman
Once I have the “cast” in place, it’s time to paste myself to my Mac and start contacting clients. Most of this work is done after Labour Day, when the season is winding down at Theatre Royal and I can devote extra time to this necessary part of the job. Once we finish our season at Theatre Royal at the end of September, I head down to the Coast for the fall and winter season.
I continue taking bookings through October (and into November as well), when most clients have made up their minds about whether or not they are able to hire us. None of our clients have ever declined to hire us due to our product. We bring a dynamic and exciting feel to our work and the entertainment we bring to audiences is energetic and full of fun, besides being lovely to listen to.

When November comes around, it’s time for the rehearsal process to begin. This year, as Brendan was the only new member, he had the most work to do, in learning all of the material: over 50 individual songs. With his customary skill and dedication, Brendan learned all of his parts in only a few weeks.

Chris - Richard Wright photo
He and Chris switched off being the bass, so this created a heavy workload for Chris, as well, who is usually the tenor of The Revelers. This year, he had to sing the bass parts for half the material we perform. What a challenge it was for him to re-learn material he already knew, but in a completely different voicing. Chris worked hard at becoming a bass man and succeeded beautifully.
Alison and I have known this material for a long time. And anything Alison doesn’t know she can sight-read like a shot, so our material is a snap for her. She even was the de-facto Musical Director for a couple of rehearsals, since she could run all of us through our parts (on brand new material) far easier than I could. (While I have many skills, sight-reading quickly is not one of them!) Alison is the most experienced choral singer of the group, having been in choirs since she was a child. That, along with her skills as a musician, makes her a highly valuable member of both The Revelers and our Theatre Royal troupe at Barkerville.

Alison - Richard Wright photo
I have a good deal of experience as both a soloist and in backing up others on harmony parts (which I often make up, as does Alison), so it made sense for Alison and me to switch back and forth between the soprano and alto parts in our music. This allows us both to play at being the harmony, back-girl and the soprano DIVA – which any self-respecting singer with even a touch of ego will jump at.
This group of performers made for a fun and happy rehearsal process, with lots of input from all, with regards to arrangements and voicings. Some of the songs we arrange ourselves, while others already exist in SATB (soprano/alto/tenor/bass) a cappella format.

We had our first booking in mid-November at GardenWorks, a wonderful garden centre in Burnaby. Our first job of the season is always particularly exciting – it is our first “show”. We find out if our material is working as it should; it is a chance to gauge audience reaction to our performance – in this case, it is the shoppers at GardenWorks who come to their Christmas Open House, who watch and listen to us as they move through the store. The Revelers have been performing at GardenWorks since the first year of the group’s formation. (I worked in the GardenWorks chain for many years – but that is another story.)

We perform all of our music a cappella, that is without accompaniment, so we are an easily transportable show for our clients. We dress in sumptuous 19th century costumes, which I design and in the case of the ladies’ pieces, construct as well.
“Where do you get such beautiful dresses?” someone asks after a gig.
“You cannot find gowns like this on the racks anywhere that I know of,” I answer. “So I make them myself.”

Amy - Richard Wright photo
Amy's Reveler's bodice.
Our main body of work begins at the end of November and continues until Christmas Eve. This year we had close to a full slate of bookings, which for The Revelers is anywhere from two to four hours of singing per day. We do not accept more work than this, as it is necessary to protect the singers voices.

The singing and speaking voice is an instrument of the human body and as such, is subject to fatigue. Too much singing/speaking can cause vocal fatigue and while some tiredness is to be expected over a month-long run, one must be vigilant in protecting the instrument. Because our performances are such high energy, I think of each booking as a show, so doing two or three shows a day is plenty.

As singers, we look upon sickness with a particular blend of fear and hatred. For most people, getting a cold is annoying and uncomfortable, but one (perhaps) takes a day or two off work and carries on. For singers performing this kind of work, there are generally no subs for us. If we get ill, we continue to perform.

Sickness did hit most of The Revelers this season, with varying degrees of discomfort for each of us. For me, I get a cold and it goes almost immediately to my throat. Everything swells up and I am often completely unable to sing. Obviously, this cannot happen when others are depending on me.

This year, I tried a home remedy that had worked in the fall at Theatre Royal when I was hit by a nasty virus. I went to bed each night with hot and cold compresses across my throat to assist in healing and keeping down swelling. (After all, the instrument is a muscle, so treat it is one.) In my case, the cold “compress” was actually a bag of frozen berries and the hot compress, an electric heating pad. I did 10/15 minutes each for a couple of hours every night during the worst period of the cold and it worked; I was able to sing. I may not have had my full range, but I had enough to pull my weight and make a good sound when necessary. It’s a tricky business, this.

The Christmas Revelers performed at many venues in 2011 for various clients. For example, one Saturday we began singing at 9:00 a.m. for a new event organized at Port Moody’s lovely outdoor mall, Newport Village. We were on site and ready to go as pancakes were flipped and toys were collected for distribution later on in the season. It was a wonderful event and we look forward to entertaining again there next year. Another event which is a great deal of fun for us, is the Hyack Christmas Parade of Lights in New Westminster. We entertained a huge crowd after the parade finished and the event was a wonderful success, as always.

It is always a joy to perform at Burnaby Village Museum. Because it reminds me so much of Barkerville (in miniature), it makes me feel as though I have come home – except that there is usually no snow. This year, the Village is celebrating 40 years as a heritage site and offered free admission for all visitors during their holiday celebrations. The streets were packed as The Revelers gave their all for the captive audience. One day, we simply took requests for our entire set; how delightful it was to see the looks on children’s faces as we sang and they interacted with us during our comic rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.

The Christmas Revelers at Burnaby Village Museum - Richard Wright photo

Another of our favourite locations to perform is at Grouse Mountain. Like Burnaby Village Museum, The Revelers have been a part of their seasonal entertainment for the past ten years. It is always such an experience to take the Skyride up to the Peak Chalet and sing in front of the fireplace or the stunning (and massive) Christmas tree and watch the faces of the families and their children as we perform favourites like “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” or “Jingle Bells”.
On our last performance date up at Grouse, a woman came up to us and said, “My son recognized you from Burnaby Village Museum. You were there last night, weren’t you?” We all couldn’t get over the fact that her little boy remembered us!

The Revelers at Grouse Mountain Resort - Richard Wright photo

Interspersed throughout the caroling season, The Revelers travel far and wide entertaining seniors. From our home base in East Vancouver, we drove out to Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and even Mission, as well as south to Surrey and Langley, in addition to the many retirement residences here in Vancouver, to perform for seniors.

Sometimes it’s a concert situation; other times we may entertain as roving carolers of old must have done, when a special holiday meal is celebrated. We always feel welcome when we perform for seniors, since they are the ones who grew up with the old-fashioned carols of Christmas which are our specialty. Tunes such as “Ding Dong Merrily on High”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” are always a hit. By the looks on their faces as they sing along with us, we know we have made a difference by bringing the sights and sounds of the season to them.

Out of all the venues and clients from 2011, perhaps my favourite performance of the year was the concert we did in Qualicum Beach at The Old Schoolhouse Art Centre. We were part of their winter season of performances and it took a whole day to do this gig what with the addition of the ferry travel in addition to the driving. It was the Revelers’ first road trip and we had a fabulous time. The concert went very well – all of us were really “on” and at the end the audience gave us a standing ovation. I thanked them saying, "Gee, I'm sorry we don't have an encore number. 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' was going to be it, but we didn't know if we would get an encore or not – so you've already had it!" They laughed at that as they finished clapping and it was a great end to a fun-filled, exciting event for us. 

We finished our last gig at 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. All were weary from a long month of work, but well satisfied with their work (and getting paid for it, helps) and the compliments we had received from so many people whose lives we had brightened with our songs of the season.

For more information on the Revelers click on the Christmas Entertainment on the Theatre Royal Home page.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas from Theatre Royal, Barkerville

Merry Christmas to all 

from the Theatre Royal Cast and Crew

Amy Newman
Richard Wright
Robert Ahad
Brendan Bailey
Danette Boucher
Ted Harrison
Alison Jenkins
Matt Quick

Monday, December 12, 2011

Barkerville, B.C., Victorian Christmas

  For images of Barkerville's Victorian Christmas go to:

For a photo album of Barkerville's Victorian Christmas go to:

Post just before is an explanation of a GoPro Hero cam on a pole on a horse.  Another way to get a different perspective, and one that needs some refinement next weekend.  Thanks to Glen and Maureen of Barnard's Express, Barkerville, for helping with this.