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Madrigal Art Director
How did you get involved with decorating a madrigal?
The vocal music teacher, Carolyn Kellert, asked me to
design and create the sets for the madrigal dinner. It was my assignment
to transform the high school cafeteria into the medieval dining hall of
How do you make the room look authentic?
Since I have visited several castles in Europe, I was
familiar with some basic ideas for the interior. Stone walls, large heraldic
banners, drapery that spans the ceiling, torches for lighting, heavy wooden
doorways, wooden candelabras, and stained glass windows were all integral
parts of the design. I researched heraldic designs for the banners and
coats of arms for the table paintings that designate the different houses
(i.e. House of York, House of Windsor, etc.) Hung throughout the hall are
large drawings taken from woodcut prints of medieval scenes by Albrect
Durer. These are very detailed scenes of dancing, parades and other celebrations.
Many of the props are stage like props, but I think the feeling of the
castle is definitely there.
What materials do you use to decorate?
The large banners that hang along the sides and ceiling
drapery are made from felt as are the canopy and side banners for the stage
tables where the singers sit. The wooden candelabras that stand on the
floor in between the large heraldic banners were made by the wood shop
teacher. The boards that denote the various houses for the dinner tables
are simply masonite and acrylic paint. The large, stone “walls” are painted
on canvas with acrylic paint (photo shows an example). The woodcut drawings
are done with black marker on brown paper. The paper is stained with brown
watercolor washes and burnt along the edges to make them look old.
What is the easiest area to decorate?
The whole set up of the decorations is a process that
takes several teams of workers several hours. The room must be cleared
first so the ceiling drapery can be hung across the room. Then the large
heraldic banners can be hung along the sides of the room from the ceiling.
This usually takes one team of workers. The side and back walls of the
room are covered with rolls of plastic that is printed to look like black
marble. This helps the walls to recede in the dim lighting during the dinner.
The front and side stone walls of painted canvas are hung on frames built
behind the front banquet tables. The frame for the canopy over the singers'
tables is set up and the felt is stapled to it. Last, the drawings are
stuck to the back wall to finish the room off.
How do you recruit people to help?
The choir members are responsible for setting up the
decorations. However, in past years I have had some of my students and
art club members volunteer to help with the decorating.
What is the most difficult part of decorating for a
Initially, it was the hours spent creating the decorations.
The painting all needed to be done by one person so everything flowed.
Once the decorations were made and used they all had to be packed away
and stored properly so everything would be ready to go for the next year.
The actual set up is a matter of keeping everyone organized, making sure
they understand what their job is and then keeping them on task.
would you suggest to people taking on a similar task?
Keep detailed files on how everything is done. Make sure
there are students involved from year to year so they are familiar with
how it all goes together. Make sure all instructions for set up and take
down are written down and hung up where they can be easily referred to
as well as given verbally. Make sure you have a good place to store all
the decorations where no one else will get into them. Keep everything together!
Madrigal dinners are a lot of work but once you have
gone through it one or two times its does get easier as long as you stay
organized. The event itself is always so beautiful, a delightful evening
for sure! I think our vocal music teacher visited many madrigal dinners
and talked to a lot of other teachers who put them on before she started
planning ours. I think you can get a lot of good ideas from others as well
as adding your own once you see several different dinners.