Festive ‘fanfayr’ for all

Wright State’s Madrigal Dinner brings the 1500s to the holidays

By Katrina Eresman

Photo: Wright State’s Madrigal Dinners take place Dec. 10-13 at the Dayton campus; photo: courtesy of Wright State University

Imagine an evening where you can say goodbye to routines of the present era and be swept away to 1578. The Wright State Madrigal Dinner offers this very service. Since 1983, the Student Union (then called the University Center), the Department of Music and multiple groups outside of Wright State have worked to prepare this renaissance feast and entertainment for each December.
“We start working in the summer,” says Eric Corbitt, executive producer of the dinners. “The singers typically start when classes start. The actors and dancers will pick up and join somewhere in mid to late September. We’re working on it a little bit every day until we get to the first week of December when we start actual rehearsals in the space. … It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun.”
This year will be Eric’s ninth Madrigal Dinner. Since its start, groups like the Tudor Rose Company (who teaches renaissance dances to students) and Wind in the Woods Early Music Ensemble have joined in to make the dinner grander and more accurate to the times.
The evening starts with a gathering outside of the hall, where guests are greeted with hot cider and eggnog by the performers.
“Every individual actor at the Madrigal Dinners has a character,” says Tori Adams, a music student at WSU.
Each student is responsible for creating their own persona, along with a small sideshow they can use to interact with guests one-on-one in between courses and main performances. Adams’ character goes by the name of Florence Folythot, “because all my thoughts are folly, of course,” she says in a British accent.
Another music student, Parisa Samavati, poses as a travelling Spanish minstrel.
“Spain and England were enemies at the time,” says Samavati, “so I’m posing as this Spanish spy. … I walk around with a Spanish accent and I’m doing this sort of gypsy-esque persona.”
After a bit of mingling, the cast ushers the audience into the main hall, where they are introduced to the Lord and Lady of the house and the Lord and Lady of Misrule, and are soon served a medieval feast. Each course of the meal is accompanied by a piece of madrigal music.
“We have everything from a welcome to a prayer, which is just beautiful, and a lot of music that … tells the guests what’s going on,” explains Adams. “‘Bringing in the Boar’s Head,’ ‘Having the Figgy Pudding,’ etc.”
The choir director also selects a new set of traditional songs for each year.
“We do a selection of madrigals which are specific to this time,” Adams says. “It’s the style of music that actually would have been enjoyed at parties like this.”
The Christmas concert wouldn’t be complete without some seasonal selections. The cast performs both 16th century carols, as well as some familiar favorites. Some of the latter call for audience participation.
“We lead the audience in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’” Corbitt says, “which we turn into a little bit of a competition to see how spirited they can be. The success of that typically depends on how much wine has been consumed over the course of the evening.”
Whether the charm of a sing-along, the good service or the good cause, both audience and performers tend to return after their first dinner.
“What drew me to it the most is the opportunity to perform a lot of a cappella music without it being popular music,” says Adams. “We’re doing all this renaissance music that has this life and story to it, and combining that with costume, you really get to be a character of this time.”
Adams was drawn to the dinner as soon as she heard of it her freshman year. A couple of years later, she got into the dinner and now, going into her third year, she’s practically an expert.
“This [experience] inspired me to keep all my stuff and take care of the new [performers],” she says. “You’ve got to be there to tell them, ‘It’s okay, you’re not weird, you’re having a good time, you’re in this character, and you’re awesome.’ It’s a cool confidence builder to step into this character and be successful in an atmosphere like that.”
The “stuff” Adams mentions includes helpful notes given to the cast each year by the Tudor Rose Company, who in addition to teaching renaissance dance, also helps coach students on the manners and speech of the time.
For instance, don’t say “don’t.”
“In the language of the times, there are no contractions,” explains Adams. “You don’t say the word ‘can’t,’ it’s ‘cannot.’”
Attendees also get their fair share of guidelines. The program includes a few “Rules of Etyquett” from the 16th century. Some of these are harmonious with today’s manners, like the request that guests avoid picking their teeth at the table. Others are less instinctual. For instance, “Gueysts myst never leave bones on the table; allways hyde them under the chayres.”
“Gueysts” are always welcome to come in costume, to sing along and to interact with the cast members.
“Try the figgy pudding and don’t be afraid to talk to your characters,” Adams advises. “Just don’t hesitate to have a good time and interact with the people that are there.”

Wright State’s Madrigal Dinners take place Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 10-12 from 7-10 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 13 from 5-8 p.m. at the Dayton Campus’ Student Union Apollo Room, 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy. in Dayton. Admission is $35-50. For tickets and more information, please call 937.775.5544 or visit wright.edu/events/madrigal.

Reach DCP editor Katrina Eresman at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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