Ushering in the light: ‘Welcome Yule’ to present pre-recorded holiday show this weekend

  • Fred Momaney of Welcome Yule! and a character rehearse.Dec. 1, 2016. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

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    Cast members in the upcoming production, "Welcome Yule" at rehearsal at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls Sunday, December 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

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    Cast members from the upcoming production, "Welcome Yule" rehearse at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls Sunday, December 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Cast members from “Welcome Yule” rehearse at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls. Matt Burkhartt

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    Cast members from the upcoming production, "Welcome Yule" rehearse at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls Sunday, December 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

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    Above and below, cast members "Welcome Yule" rehearse at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls ahead of a previous performance. STAFF FILE PHOTOS

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    The children cast in the upcoming production, "Welcome Yule," rehearse a scene at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls Sunday, December 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt The children cast in the upcoming production, “Welcome Yule,” rehearse a scene at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls. Matt Burkhartt

  • Fred Momaney, of Greenfield, tells children a story during a past “Welcome Yule” performance. Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/10/2020 8:29:18 AM
Modified: 12/10/2020 8:29:08 AM

As the calendar turns toward the new year, darkness is invading the region, creeping down old country roads, obscuring rolling farm fields and shrouding the pale December moon in an inky aura. This season of darkness (which will continue its slow impediment on daylight through Winter Solstice, Dec. 21) feels like a physical representation of the psychological siege inflicted on society by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the cold end-of-year darkness feels especially oppressive. It’s the perfect time for “Welcome Yule,” a locally produced holiday pageant that annually honors the intertwining of darkness and light. Under normal circumstances, the performance would be hosted in-person by the Shea Theater in Turners Falls.

Of course, 2020 has proven to be anything but normal.

“When the board got together in early summer, as (we) do every year to plan, the board said, ‘We can’t do it,’” recalled Jinny Mason, of Whately, one of the performance’s organizers. Among other obstacles posed by the pandemic, it wasn’t possible for participants to rehearse together. Usually, the pageant features 30-plus costumed musicians, dancers, storytellers and actors performing skits and songs based on folk tales and legends, dances, and songs that are drawn primarily from the British Isles (among other yule-time traditions).

While social distancing mandates made a large in-person show impossible, Mason said, “Jed Proujansky (a board member) said, ‘We have to do it.’” The board had to adapt to the 2020 show: “I invented a new word — we are having a co-video show this year.”

The finished pageant, “Welcome Yule; A Virtual Midwinter Celebration,” will be presented in pre-recorded digital format this weekend via the Shea Theater’s website, Performances will be streamed Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Mason noted the holiday show is usually held in-person on the same weekend each year. A sliding scale donation of at least $5 is requested to view the performance online.

“This year, our storyline revolves around the times,” she said. “What you see in the video is friendship, happiness and fun — people are craving that — and that’s a good thing for these dark times.”

While a reflection of 2020, the digital format also provides an opportunity for fans of the annual December pageant to witness how performances have changed and progressed since its inception 36 years ago. Recordings made decades apart are seamlessly spliced together with modern home-videos made this year to create a seamless — albeit uniquely 2020 — show.

“We have archival footage of the last 30 years,” she said. “We (Proujansky, Joan Deely, Mason and her husband, Allen McArdle) literally watched — I certainly did, and I believe the others did, too — every hour of every show since 1991.”

The video was edited together by McArdle and Daniel Keller. A presiding theme that can be sensed throughout, despite the unusual circumstances, is joy. The upbeat show feels particularly relevant this year.

Poems are read in front of seasonally decorated hearths; plays are acted out over Zoom; songs are harmonized from living room couches; others perform together in cafes wearing masks. Not even a pandemic can damper the spirits of the performers and the excitement of past performances is actively felt in the present.

“There are some really good new pieces and we did have one woman whose family used to be in the show, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, they immigrated to Catalonia (a region in Spain) and they still wanted to participate,” she said, referencing a traditional 16th century Catalonian carol, "Cold December," sung by Liz Castro and Anna Cabre. “People (recorded) in their houses. One group was not potted so they stood six feet apart in a field. We have one group inside, they were all masked, and they did a wonderful job of singing.”

Among many new selections this year, Andy Tarr and Ed Smith perform a poem written by Susan Cooper titled "Shortest Day"; Saralinda and Morgan Lobrose, Dan Frank and Jess Emery perform "Rag Dance Song"; Rita Reinke and Eric Johnson perform "Boar's Head Carol," which was first published in 1521. According to the program, a boar's head was traditionally presented "to great acclaim" at Yuletide feasts in early England, honoring the hunting season. Elsewhere in the show, Kate Richardson, Alden Booth and Lissa Greenough perform a traditional English tune, "Copper Family Christmas," by way of wishing viewers a happy new year.

For Mason, who immigrated to New England from Northampton, England when she was 18, this year’s Welcome Yule show marks nearly three decades of performing.

“When I married my husband, Al McArdle, he was involved in dancing and singing. He took me along, and we’re still dancing and singing 30-something years,” she said. The passion and love for the arts exhibited by Mason and the many other performers — both past and present — featured in this year’s “Welcome Yule” is a welcome balm amid this busy and dark holiday season, which comes during a particularly difficult year.

“Things like ‘Welcome Yule’ are very important — we talk to people who see the show every year, and they were so happy to hear that they could still watch it,” Mason said. “The spark it gives the performers and the audience when the curtains open and we all rush onto the stage. We’re excited — we’re as excited as you are.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at

How to connect

For more information, visit To purchase tickets for shows on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, visit Attendees are asked to make sure to include an email address when tickets are purchased. After donating, attendees will receive the performance viewing link via email on the day of the performance with detailed information. Any technical questions should be directed to the program coordinator of the Shea Theater Arts Center at


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