Medieval times come to Ashland University

Ingrid Schmidt

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Royal flags of purple and gold hang from the beautifully vaulted redwood ceiling.  The hall is filled with people, laughing, singing and eating family style at their round tables of ten.  The room smells of holiday foods.

On the stage the royal court sits at a long table covered in red pleated cloth.  Everyone is dressed in medieval garb.  

There is a king and a queen, the king in his green cape, and his glistening gold crown, the queen in her beautiful gown with white, puffy sleeves.  A band of jesters dressed in colorful peasant clothes run around the room making the audience laugh even harder.

The Madrigal Feaste has been a tradition at Ashland University for 41 years. It has remained one of the most popular performing arts events on campus, drawing in students, AU faculty, and community members.

The word “madrigal” refers to a piece of secular music from the renaissance era often with the theme of love, according to Rowland Blackley, choral director and AU music professor.

“It is highly traditionalized,” Blackley said.  “It is a very stylized show based in Renaissance England.”

The Ashland University Madrigal Feastes are presented in a dinner theatre style.  The audience feasts on roast beef and mashed potatoes, while the chamber singers, dressed in their medieval outfits sing.

The court sings madrigals, as well as Christmas carols, making the feasts into a holiday event according to Tricia Applegate, AU Performing Arts Coordinator.

“It feels like you’re stepping back in time,” Applegate said.  “It is great entertainment, and very traditional which is neat to see.”

The band of jesters puts on a student written and directed play each year during the event.  Andrea Disch, the lead jester this year, said it is an honor to be park of such an important Ashland University tradition.

“It really is something special.  There is something about it that is so warm and inviting,” Disch said.  “It’s a unique experience that I couldn’t picture going through my college career without.”

The event would not be complete without the food. The Madrigal Feaste features traditional foods, such as flaming plum pudding, wassail, and a boar’s head, Blackley said.

Such a unique experience can be fun for anyone looking for an escape from daily life according to Carlos Campo, Ashland University’s President.

“I think they are so popular because they appeal to such a broad audience,” Campo said.  “You don’t have to be a Shakespeare lover to go, you don’t have to love song or food to go, it’s young or old.  It’s one of those things that spans every race and culture.  It spans every age.”

Families, church groups, business groups, and students can all enjoy the event. According to Applegate, many of the attendees are “celebrating their holiday with this tradition.”

“When they play ‘Silent Night,’ it really gives you time to reflect on the holiday and what it really means,” Applegate said.

President Campo believes the Annual Madrigal Feaste gives a sense of tradition and community to the AU campus.

“We feel that any institution is known by its traditions and we are proud of the Madrigal Feaste,” Campo said.  “We think it’s one of the great traditions that people associate with Ashland.  It really pulls in the whole Ashland community, not just the campus community.”

The rich history of the event is another aspect that makes the Madrigal Feastes special Blackley said.

“Forty-one years ago Calvin Roger, the choral director at the time decided to bring back an event that happens years and years and years ago during the Renaissance era,” said Blackley.  “This is what they would do after dinner for entertainment before there was television, or radio, or even Netflix.”

The colorful costumes, traditional songs, and flaming plum pudding do more than just make money for the University, according to Applegate.

“It is unlike anything you will ever experience,” Applegate said.  “It gives you a sense of community and tradition, and that is very special.”

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