On Wednesday, May 17th, David Nath’s documentary film, To Drive the Dark Away: A Vision of John Langstaff will hold its world premiere at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts. The film celebrates the life and work of John “Jack” Langstaff, the respected musician and educator who founded the Revels, a non-profit organization best known for its annual production of The Christmas Revels.
David Nath’s film is the result of extensive cooperation with Langstaff’s family, friends, associates, students, and even Langstaff himself. In the winter of 2004, when John Langstaff fell ill, Nath was asked by the Revels organization to conduct a series of interviews with him. “The intent was that they would be used for archival purposes in future productions and films about John Langstaff and Revels,” says Nath. Surprising everyone, Langstaff eventually recovered from his illness and the full-length feature documentary began to take shape. Since the project had already been started with the interviews, everyone involved felt that it was the perfect opportunity to take the film one step further. It did take time, however, to narrow the scope and focus of the film. The final product, a narrative story that focuses on John Langstaff and his impact as a teacher, singer, innovator, and of course, as the creator of the popular Christmas Revels, was only one of many approaches considered during the filmmaking process. Langstaff himself proved to be an unexpected source of help. “He provided us with lists, for example, of contacts at former schools at which he taught and studios at which he recorded, and was very interested in making sure no major subject was ignored or glossed-over,” Nath explains.
First produced in December of 1957 at New York’s Town Hall, The Christmas Revels is a unique theatrical concept that celebrates the winter solstice, incorporating traditional music, dance, and drama. The performances include the entire audience, and often involve guests singing—and dancing—alongside the cast. The communal aspect of The Christmas Revels was particularly important to Langstaff, as he believed that celebration unites people, no matter how diverse they are. In 1971, the group held its first performance at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass, where it has been staged ever since.
Described by friends as enthusiastic, charismatic, energetic, and passionate, John Langstaff passed away last December as he approached his 85th birthday. “He was, by far, the most charismatic man I had ever met, especially for an older man. (He was already 65 when I met him and he had the energy of two men half his age.) He loved his family, his extended family, and his Revels family. His grandchildren were the light of his life. He appreciated his fans,” says Alan Casso of Revels, Inc. He was so adored by his fans that over 1,000 people attended a public memorial service for him in March, and his long-time accompanist and musical partner Jerome Epstein is planning a memorial concert and roundtable discussion, to be held in New York City, for this September.
There will be two show times for To Drive the Dark Away when it opens on May 17th, one at 4 pm and one at 8 pm. A reception will take place in between the screenings at 6 pm at the nearby Whittemore-Robbins House. General admission is $30; admission to the film and reception is $75. To Drive the Dark Away is part of the Revels’ 35th Anniversary Celebration.