The pigs are roasting, the wassail is heating, the royal court is rehearsing … yes, the Renaissance Madrigal Dinners are about to make their biennial reappearance at Detroit Lakes High School next week.
Once every two years, the DLHS music and theater departments join forces to create a holiday extravaganza unlike any other to be found in the lakes area — yet when the tradition first began in 1988, it was an annual event.
"We did it every year for a while," said Madrigal Dinner artistic director Kathryn Larson, "but it's been every other year for a long time now."
Though the scheduling has changed slightly, the basic premise behind the event has remained virtually unchanged since inception, she added.
"Most people who come to the madrigal expect that tradition," she explained, noting that it is centered on a five-course medieval feast, prepared this year by caterer Pam Skarie and her staff.
From the moment they walk in the door of the DLHS multi-purpose room, madrigal guests are transported back 500 years into the past, inside a medieval castle known as Deep Manor.
“We transform the multi-purpose room into a castle, with medieval banners and even a castle turret,” Larson said.
Beggars and jesters mingle with the guests, who are almost immediately treated to a cup of wassail — i.e., a nonalcoholic version of hot apple cider — for toasting with the royal court, before sitting down to an elaborate feast including salad, wild rice soup, vegetables, potatoes, roast pork loin and "a delicious dessert," Larson said, adding that some items on the menu had still to be finalized.
Each costume is carefully fitted and accessorized to give the participants as authentic a look as possible, especially since several cast members interact directly with the guests prior to, during and after the meal, offering yuletide greetings in both word and song.
Each course of the meal is also announced in song, and once the feast is over, the Royal Court — which is comprised of the high school's Laker Singers — will invite their guests to enjoy a theatrical skit and holiday concert.
“It’s an immersive experience,” said Mark Everson, the show’s assistant director, who described it as "Renaissance dinner theater."
In fact, he noted, the skit is the only part of the evening's festivities that doesn't necessarily adhere strictly to the medieval theme.
"We've modernized the skit somewhat over the years, but always with a bit of medieval flair," Larson added.
Everson said that the skit always incorporates a bit of current pop culture, and has sometimes included some political humor as well — though they have opted to steer away from politics in recent years, Larson noted.
"We've also gone more toward sketch comedy than scripted," Everson added, though of course there is plenty of rehearsal and preparation involved in creating the finished product.
Some past characters included in the skit performance have included Michael Jackson, Dr. Evil, Ricky Martin, Jesse Ventura, Ross Perot, the "Dancing With the Stars" judges, Nemo (of "Finding Nemo" fame), Barney the Dinosaur, and "the entire 'Lord of the Rings' cast," just to name a few, Everson said.
After the skit comes the holiday concert, featuring small and large group song selections, a Madrigal Brass performance and much more.
The overall intent, Larson explained, is “to provide an environment for people to reflect on the spirit of the season — peace, goodwill, love, compassion and kindness.”
If you go
What: Detroit Lakes High School's Renaissance Madrigal Dinners
When: Monday, Dec. 16, and Thursday, Dec. 19. Seating starts at 5:45 p.m., with the meal to be served at 6:30.
Where: Detroit Lakes High School Multi-Purpose Room
How much: Tickets are $40 each, and may be purchased at the customer service counter inside Detroit Lakes' Central Market. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and there will be none available at the door.