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‘Welcome Yule’ performances to explore history of midwinter celebrations

  • The cast of “Welcome Yule: A Midwinter Celebration,” shown outside of the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls, will perform three shows on Dec. 7, 8 and 9. Contributed photo


Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 21, 2018

As the shortest day of the year approaches on Dec. 21, a group of Pioneer Valley residents are already looking forward to the sun’s return through “Welcome Yule: A Midwinter Celebration.”

For 34 years, the cast of “Welcome Yule” has been reveling in the return of the sun and the reawakening of the year. In celebration, the cast of adults and children, supported by a troupe of faithful volunteers, puts on a lively show of music, dance, song and story.

“Welcome Yule: A Midwinter Celebration” will be performed at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls on Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Dec. 9, at 2 p.m.

Whately resident Jinny Mason, who has performed with “Welcome Yule” since 1990, said the show is less like a musical or play, and more like a pageant.

“One thing follows another. It’s really just a collection of different forms of entertainment,” she explained. “Maybe we could be in some big castle and this could be how the king would be entertained!”

Leverett resident Jed Proujansky, who has directed the show off and on for the past 10 years, said it highlights the enduring traditions that people from numerous cultures have greeted the solstice with throughout the ages. Citizens of the mythical village in the production explore the long history of those celebrations through songs and stories.

“There is boisterous singing right from the opening number that the audience can sing along with,” Mason said, noting that the numbers are also humorous. “We laugh hysterically as we’re writing them, so we hope people watching will laugh hysterically, too.”

The village tavern is the focal point of merriment as the cast travels back in time to the early Middle Ages with the eerie Abbots Bromley horn dance. Inspiration for this year’s community dance comes from the Basques of northern Spain. Both molly and sword dances will be performed.

“It’s the holiday time but this is a non-Christian celebration,” said Proujansky, who is directing this year’s performance as well. “We do have Christian songs in there, but it’s not exclusively that. It’s really much broader and more inclusive.”

Material for the program is drawn largely from the British folk tradition, although the traditions of other countries are explored as well. Many of the songs, once unfamiliar to “Welcome Yule” audiences, have become well-known carols as people return year after year to start their midwinter festivities with the annual performances, which are geared toward raising spirits during the time of year with the least amount of sunlight.

“It’s very geared toward pepping us up and making us feel better,” Mason said. “The idea is always to get us through the winter and get us realizing that spring is going to come. This year, we somehow felt like we needed it more, with all the disasters going on in the world. We wanted to make sure the show happened, to make sure people could rely on it.”

Mason and Proujansky agreed the show, which involves about 35 cast members, is very inclusive, involving children as young as 5 and seniors in their mid-70s. There are no tryouts or auditions.

“If you want to be in, you’ll be in and we’ll figure out how to work with the talents you have and include you,” Proujansky said. “And it’s not often you get those opportunities.”

Proujansky was first drawn to the show as an audience member, then his children and wife became involved as performers. He loved the music and sense of camaraderie among the cast, something he believes is transmitted to the audience, and perhaps will be amplified this year given stage extensions that will bring the performers 4 feet closer to the audience.

“The show embodies the voices of the community, and we’re singing and performing for our friends and neighbors,” he said. “That’s the experience we try to bring to the show.”

Tickets are $15 for adults, and $12 for children ages 5 to 16 years and seniors. For reservations and for more information, visit welcomeyule.org or email info@welcomeyule.org.