Every year, in the week of the Library’s holiday party, staff members of the American Folklife Center put on a play based on ancient traditions, dressed up with a modern twist. Dressed in costumes that range from striking to silly, we sing, act, rhyme, and dance for other Library staff members and for members of the public.
Our performances are based on the ancient tradition of mumming, which has come down to our archive in the form of play scripts, songs, photos, and other items collected in the early twentieth century. The American Folklife Center’s archive boasts one of the largest collections of English Mummers’ Play texts in the world, in its James Madison Carpenter collection. These short 15-minute plays were traditionally performed in England, Ireland, the Caribbean, and other places at holiday time, as the Mummers went from house to house and pub to pub, collecting food, drink, and small change as a reward for their entertainment. The plays always involved a hero and a villain, and a theme of death and resurrection. Audiences are encouraged to cheer for their favorite characters, and boo their least favorite. There will also be an opportunity to sing along on the traditional English carol, “Gloucestershire Wassail.” In addition to the traditional elements, we introduce topical themes to our plays each year. This year’s play pits “Pop-Up St. George” against “Fake News” in a battle of Alternative Facts!
Usually, we post the play script and photos after the play, and we’ll do so again this year. But we thought we’d also announce here that for the general public, the best time to see the play is Wednesday, December 13, at 3:15 pm in the Great Hall of the Library’s Jefferson Building. We hope a few of you blog-readers can make it!