By Linda Dillman
Years ago, baked potatoes flew through the air during a production of the Canal Winchester High School Madrigal Dinner.
While food is no longer routinely tossed between tables, audience interaction remains an integral part of the annual production, which takes place on Feb. 16 and 17 at Canal Winchester High School, 300 Washington St.
Featured on stage this year is “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” which tells the tale of Sir John Falstaff and his decision to woo two of the richest (and married) ladies in town. The women do not take kindly to his advances and seek revenge by turning the knight a local fool.
While more than 100 student actors and crew members are involved, in addition to approximately 25 adult volunteers, audience members are also invited to join in the interactive fun.
“It really is one of the favorite elements for our students and the audience,” said Director Todd Phillips. “Audience members will often play smaller unnamed characters in Shakespeare’s stories. These characters may sometimes have a line or just may appear on stage as a spear carrier. The lines are sometimes given to the audience member on notecards, or our students will just ad lib with the audience member to get the reaction we need.”
Three decades ago, when the first madrigal was staged, Phillips said they looked for a unique approach to theatre by creating an atmosphere where the audience would feel they were part of the story, not just a passive observer.
“We also wanted to push our students to think of theater in a different manner and how they, as characters, need to create an entire environment and not just learn their lines,” said Phillips, who added he and his students discuss what type of person makes a great interactive audience member. “Some of the people chosen are well-known members of our community, but we always look for someone we know who will have fun in the moment. We do our best to avoid putting that person on the spot and making them feel embarrassed.”
In preparing for audience interaction, student actors are put through “what if” drills.
“Over 30 years, we’ve had a lot of great moments,” said Phillips. “Every time we use an audience member; it virtually always gets great applause and laughter. Possibly the most notable moment was about 20 years ago when we prepared two of our teachers for the interaction moment and rehearsed them so they could do a sword fight in the middle of the show.”
When tapped to be an audience “actor,” some patrons take advantage of the limelight.
“Administrators, coaches, and pastors alike all have experience in public speaking,” Phillips said. “Every time one of them is pulled into the show, they take advantage of the moment and we let them. It’s so much fun to see these people who are seemingly out of their element fall back on the skills they have worked so hard to develop.”
This February marks the 30th year Canal Winchester High School has presented the annual dinner. The Madrigal Dinner format consists of an interactive Shakespeare play, period music provided by solos, vocal ensembles, guitar ensembles, a Renaissance instrumental consort and English country dancing, along with a five-course meal.
Tickets are limited and now on sale now for the Feb. 16, 7 p.m. dinner show, $15, and the Sunday, Feb. 17, 2 p.m. luncheon show, $10. For tickets and show information, call 614-836-1448.