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How to Plan a Madrigal Dinner

Entertaining Lords, Ladies, Peasants
Entertainment plays a big part in any madrigal dinner, and singing, comedy and drama are all common.
Entertainment plays a big part in any madrigal dinner, and singing, comedy and drama are all common.
Photo by and courtesy of Melinda Ellington.

After deciding on how many or what kinds of elements you want to include in your madrigal dinner, you can choose the scripts, directors, actors and musicians. Most choir or band directors can adapt music for the event and train wandering mistrals to thread music through the audience as part of the atmosphere, but drama and comedy may require buying a script or writing one specific for the dinner. Some theatrical companies offer a number of madrigal dinner scripts with dramatic, comic and religious themes, and many are available online. If leading a creative bunch of volunteers, it may be easy and fun to draw up an original script or plan for improvising the event with actors moving in and out of the audience throughout the dinner.

Court jesters often serve as hosts to keep the re-creation moving from pre-show to dinner and after-dinner entertainment, and other performers such as jugglers or roving musicians can mingle through the feast, too.

Music may include traditional holiday songs or madrigals from the 16th and 17th centuries. Some traditional choices are "Wassail Song," "Silent Night" and the "Twelve Days of Christmas," but dozens of others would work well. Instruments like the flute, harpsichord, violin, oboe, mandolin and harp, and singing either a cappella or with musical accompaniment, are true to the original dinners.

Dramatic entertainment might include a longer or more elaborately staged play or a number of short pieces, or vignettes, scattered throughout the dinner and with some audience give and take. Comedy is another option, and an emphasis on bawdy or teasing jokes and play-acting lends itself naturally to the Renaissance setting.

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