Madrigal Feaste

Ashland University's Madrigal Feaste is the longest running event of its type in the area. This photo was taken in 2019.

ASHLAND — ’Tis the season for feasting.

The longest running Madrigal Feaste at Ashland University returns Dec. 1 to 5. This year marks the university’s 45th Elizabethan dinner where guests sit at large tables and are serenaded by student performers, singers and jesters.

This year would have marked the 46th year, but COVID-19 had other plans for the annual tradition. The university published a video of the performances instead of hosting the live dinner back in January.

Echoes from last year’s restrictions will be present in this year’s feast, as preparations began in August — when COVID-19 cases were experiencing a spike in the area.

Ron Blackley, Ashland University’s director of choral activities and the organizer for the Madrigal Feaste, said only three-quarters of the space will be filled as tables will be spread farther apart.

There will also be a slightly smaller group of singers, with 12 this year instead of 16.

“That allows us to distance them on the stage a little bit,” he said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

The university’s policy on indoor masking will remain for the event, but guests are able to de-mask for eating and drinking.

“We’re trusting people to use their best judgement at this point. There are mitigations in place, but we won’t go around and bonk people on the head. I’ll have too much to do,” he said, chuckling.

The festive atmosphere will remain unchanged, Blackley said.

“When you sit down, you might imagine you are in a place 400 years ago,” he said. “The whole thing is designed and moves toward that. It’s dinner theater, and you are the guests of the king and queen.”

A madrigal is a medieval short lyrical poem or a complex vocal piece developed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Blackley defines it as “pop music of the really wealthy of the 16th century.”

So, for those who haven’t been, the event will involve eating, drinking non-alcoholic wassail and jocular entertainment by Ashland University theater students. And here’s a fair warning: some of the acts will involve audience participation, as per tradition, Blackley said.

“Yeah — sometimes there is audience participation. And oftentimes audience members don't know they will be chosen,” he said.

As for the food menu, the university’s catering team will offer vegetable soup, a cashew nut salad, roast beef, potatoes and roasted vegetables. There’s also a flaming bread pudding — along with an assortment of small desserts. Guests will have a vegetarian option as well.

Doors open at 6 p.m., with entertainment starting at 6:30 p.m. The feaste usually wraps by 9 p.m., Blackley said.

Tickets, which vary in price from $19 to $30, are available for purchase online or at the university’s bookstore, located at 401 College Ave. Tickets are not available for purchase at the university box office.

Tickets have been on sale since Oct. 4, but there are still many available, Blackley said. Nevertheless, tickets must be purchased by 3 p.m. Nov. 24.

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