madrigal feaste

Ashland University's Madrigal Feaste is the longest running event of its type in the area.

ASHLAND -- If describing the scene at Ashland University's 44th annual Madrigal Feaste Wednesday evening, someone might say: The delightfully entertaining dinner theatre was a superfluously stupendous and traditional, yet surprising spectacle, a remarkable rarity and pretty fly for a college out of Ashland, Ohio. 

The unique, interactive performance held every fall at Ashland University features students from the Ashland University Department of Music, who act as a royal court, a theatrical troupe, butlers and wenches from Elizabethan England and is the longest running event of its type in the area. 

"The royal court is essentially hosting a party for the audience, and there are servers and entertainers (who add to the experience)," said Dr. Rowland Blackley, Ashland University's musical director and production supervisor. "It's set in Elizabethan England, but we do some things that aran't done in Elizabethan England, like we have a king."

The actors and actresses would also incorporate slang words into their dialogue and make references to modern things like Disney Plus, Fantasy Football and Starbucks. This often had the audience laughing. 

Ashland resident Marty Lee, who had attended once before, remembers her first experience at the event fondly and came back this year along with nearly a dozen family members. 

"The food was good, and the entertainment was outstanding. All the humor in the performance was really well done," Lee said of her first experience.

The festivities begin with the announcing of the royal court, played by members of a university choir. Each introduction included at least three or more adjectives, it seemed. They would later sing songs -- some with and others without the audience.

Prior to dinner the group featured several holiday favorites and other English traditional hymns to announce a toast and the arrival of a boar's head, which was once an important part of Medieval and Renaissance Christmas feasts. As the royal court held up their glasses for a toast, audience members joined in with the old Anglo-Saxon drinking pledge meaning, "Be in good health." 

"Wassail," they cheered in unison. 

Following dinner, the court would perform the music the event is named for, the madrigals.

"Madrigals are a type of music from the 1600s," Blackley said. "It sounds very formalized for us today, but back then it was the pop music for the wealthy."

Similar to popular music today, many of the madrigals focus on love. There's traditional love between two people, unrequited love and love that never should have happened. 

Preparation for the event begin in summer for Blackley and continues into the school year with bi-weekly rehearsals for the students in the royal court. He choices a student who organizes the "players," or the theatrical group. They write a play for after the madrigals and rehearse separately. 

He says when the tickets go on sale more than a third are sold within the first day. The shows on Friday and Saturday fill up the quickest, but all shows from Nov. 20 to 24th were sold out this year by the time of the performances -- per usual. 

"I think people like the variety of entertainment," Blackley said.

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