Mount Aloysius College’s Cosgrave Center will be transformed into a medieval castle’s great hall when the 35th annual Madrigal Feaste unfolds in Cresson.

This trip to the Middle Ages of England will be held at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3 and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 4.

The madrigal is as much a show as a dinner, featuring actors and performers from Mount Aloysius’ student body and alumni and the local community.

Beth Grafton of Indiana sang in the madrigal when she was a Mount Aloysius student in the mid-1970s, and now her daughter, also a Mount student, is in her fourth year of singing with the madrigal.

In 1987, Grafton and her husband, Dirk, a professor at the Mount, returned to the madrigal as the lord and the lady of the manor.

“I came back,” Grafton said. “It’s an amazing event and an incredible legacy. I’ve come full circle, and it’s been an awesome experience.”

Grafton and her husband still attend the madrigal and enjoy being observers.

She prefers the more low-key role, but would never think of not attending the madrigal.

“The minute we hear about tickets coming out, we get them,” Grafton said. “It sells out quickly.”

Grafton knows what an enormous undertaking decorating for the madrigal is because nothing can be done ahead of time since the school’s dining hall is used to stage the historical event.

“It’s always an excellent show,” Grafton said. “Even ‘nonbelievers’ enjoy it. We’re never bored. They’re good about pacing. The entertainment flows together, and they’re alert and astute.”

Madrigal performances center on the jesters, headed by Lord Hazzah, played by Scott Studdard of Altoona, and the Lady of Misrule, played by Michelle McGowan of Altoona.

“I’m the one who runs the madrigal,” said McGowan, who has been with the madrigal for 34 years. “I’m kind of a glorified stage manager.”

McGowan said the free-flowing style of the madrigal can only be rehearsed so much. Performers have to be good with improvisation.

“You have to really trust people,” McGowan said. “I guess you could say this is improvisational and interactive.”

Audience participation is encouraged as Studdard and McGowan lead the audience in songs and dances, such as “Wench Toss” and “The 12 Days of Madrigal,” in which audience members are urged to jump to their feet and shout and spin their napkins in the air – a kind of medieval “Terrible Towel.”

McGowan said if someone went to all three nights of the madrigal, they would see different shows, depending on the response of the audience.

As in previous years, there will be a play within a play, but McGowan said this year’s choice hasn’t been decided.

Songs change every year, and this year all vocal arrangements will be new.

The word madrigal has more to do with singing than eating.

It refers to a song or short poem set to music and is written for four to six voices.

This type of music was developed in Italy in the 16th century and was popular in England in the 16th and early 17th centuries.

The Mount’s madrigal is a Christmas feast, where the lord and the lady of the manor invite the general public, or vassals, to the manor for dinner.

This year, the lord and the lady of the manor will be played by James Dugan of Altoona and Janet Bergamaschi of Ashville.

McGowan said some Renaissance dinners are more straitlaced, such as a formal state dinner, while others, such as the madrigal at the Mount, are more like a Renaissance fair, with plenty carrying on going on.

“With the free form, it’s harder,” McGowan said. “There’s definitely a script, but you work with it loosely.”

More than 100 volunteers are involved in the madrigal, including the Sisters of Mercy, who act as hostesses and seat the guests.

Everyone is in costume, including the "wenches” who serve the food.

The menu will include authentic dishes such as wassayle, salad greens, English scones, prime rib, horseradish sauce, roasted apple fare, roasted vegetables and potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, spiced tea and cheddar cheese bits.

“There’s nothing on the menu that’s foreign,” Grafton said. “It’s all common food and very well done.”

Vegetarian dinners are available, but this request must be indicated at the time of reservation.

With entertainment, the nine-course meal can take almost three hours to consume.

About 285 people can attend each performance, but seating is limited because of the show’s popularity.

Table assignments will be based on date of paid reservations, and no refunds will be given after Nov. 11.

Those who wish to travel back in time can register for the madrigal by calling 886-6319 or online at www.mtaloy.edu/madrigal.htm.

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