A glimpse into the magic of madrigal

Nicole Mitchell 

Daniel Craig flipped a coin to decide which of three students would have an extra speaking part during the opening toast ceremony of the Madrigal Feaste.

The associate professor of music pointed to a student in the middle of the room.

A voice cried out from the choir: “How did he call it?” The students seemed confused about how a coin toss could determine a tiebreaker between three people.

The exchange took place Nov. 12 during the first scripted rehearsal for USI’s 49th annual Madrigal Feaste — two weeks and three days before opening night.

The USI Chamber Choir rehearsed music all semester in preparation for their holiday performance. But auditions for the main speaking parts didn’t take place until the first week of November.

The history of USI Madrigals

The Madrigal Feaste tradition at USI started in 1969 under the direction of David Deeg. The original performance featured the university’s core singing group, the Mid-America Singers.

“This was a group of 16 singers,” Craig said. “And we have grown now to a cast of over 50.”

The USI Chamber Choir grew out of the Mid-America Singers and kept the Madrigal tradition alive.

Craig described the event as a reenactment of a Renaissance feaste. The dinner takes place in the fictitious O’Brian Manor Hall off the west coast of Ireland.

Each performance includes a five-course meal, two processional dances and a concert by the USI Chamber Choir.

“The Madrigal Feaste is the oldest tradition on this campus,” he said. “It is an event that this community has embraced for all of these years and continues to come back to.”

The rehearsals

Craig asked the three Jesters, Dacie Lindner, Clifford Gerrian and Eleanor Conley, to read a line in the script for last-minute auditions during the first scripted rehearsal.

“Do cut your bread, do not cut the cheese,” Lindner said, then blew into her arm making a farting noise.

Lindner won that one.

Craig requested volunteers for the next line in the script.

Two hands shot up. They belonged to two women in the front row who made eye contact with each other. Craig gestured for one of the students to begin, but she hesitated.

“I don’t want to compete with Taylor,” the student said. “She’s my friend.”

Craig rolled his eyes and smiled.

“Compete with Taylor,” he said. Both students spoke the line, and Craig didn’t choose Taylor.

Noah Theriac, who portrays Lord O’Connor in this year’s event, sat outside Carter Hall Nov. 28 waiting for dress rehearsal to begin.

The senior theatre arts major said this was his fifth semester singing in the Chamber Choir. He has participated in four Madrigal Feastes and played the role of King the last two.

“When people come to the Madrigal Feaste, it’s the perfect opportunity to just let their lives go for a minute and be somewhere else,” he said. “I absolutely love giving people that opportunity as a theatre major.”

Kyle Burgess, playing the role of Town Crier, walked out of the dressing room and spun around. His shoeless white tights, velvet purple coat and puffy yellow hat looked out of place in the University Center hallway.

Nicole Mitchell

Theriac pointed to Burgess and smiled.

“That mustache is fake by the way,” he said. “He’s been taking a makeup class. He did a really good job.”

The cast lined up, two-by-two, in front of the first set of doors to Carter Hall.

Burgess announced, “Hear ye, hear ye!” and the pairs proceeded inside.

Feaste Liaison Clarissa Burt helped the Pages, Sam Devoy and Darian Melton, center a boar’s head on a red wooden carrier.

The junior gender studies and Spanish double major said the boar’s head, named Herkimer, appears in the performance every year.

Burt explained that she was the liaison this year because she couldn’t fit the Chamber Choir class into her schedule. She said her favorite part of Madrigal is the nostalgic feeling she gets which helps her focus on the holiday season.

“I’m coming back to Chamber Choir next year,” she said. “I just can’t stay away I guess. I love it too much.”

The Feaste

The 2018 Madrigal Feaste soldout tickets to all four performances last weekend.

The doors to Carter Hall — or rather, O’Brian Hall — opened at 12:30 p.m. on the last performance day of 2018.

Cast members ushered guests into the Hall, and Dillon Betz, portraying the role of Lord Chamberlain, announced their arrival. The cast shouted a loud welcome of “WASSAIL!” to each one.

Wassail is a medieval word with Germanic roots that means “to your health.” The word is used throughout the entirety of the performance, but its meaning changes depending on the situation.

Sometimes wassail is used as a greeting. Other times it’s used at the end of a toast. It’s also the name of a non-alcoholic cider drink that has become a favorite tradition among the guests.

Evansville resident Darron Albin said the wassail is the best part of the event.

Albin, his twin brother Randy and their mother Sue have attended the Feaste for the last seven years. This year, they brought along a fourth guest, first-timer Christy Ragsdale.

Randy Albin said he comes back each year for the in-character cast. He said his family likes supporting the music program fundraiser that keeps the tradition alive.

“I can see it’s fun for them too,” Randy said. “They’re having a blast.”

The cast members and Craig floated around the room and interacted with guests throughout the entire performance, and in-between courses.

Nicole Mitchell 

The four serving wenches, Gretta Claywell, Angelia Warren, Selina Shires and Rebekah Gardner, carried around red lipstick for kissing bald men on the head, and everyone else on the cheek.

They re-applied the color each time to make the lip prints stick.

The Jesters skipped, tumbled and ran around the room, oohing and aahing over the bread pudding.

Eleanor Conley, Jester number three, leaned on Darron and Sue Albin to admire their desserts. Her pink and green sleeved arms rested on their shoulders, and her pigtails dangled around.

Conley asked Sue if her leopard print dress jacket was still alive.

June Frederking said she wasn’t sure which part of the meal was her favorite because she hadn’t tried the bread pudding yet.

“This is it,” she said, after taking one bite.

The Evansville resident and her husband Ed have been regular attendees of the event for many years. She said coming to the events on campus keeps you young.

“The only problem is, whenever the kids graduate you don’t see them anymore,” she said. “And it’s kind of hard. Everyone goes in different directions, but that’s the way life is.”

The cast members lined both sides of the hallway.

The choir sang Feliz Navidad, tears fell from their cheeks and they waved goodbye to the guests.