Although it's 2020, Canal Winchester High School will take visitors back to the late 1500s during its 31st annual Madrigal Dinner on Saturday, Feb. 15, and Sunday, Feb. 16.

As usual, the dinner will feature a Shakespeare production by the students, and this year's will be "Much Ado About Nothing."

Designed for an audience of 200, the show is held in the school's cafeteria. This allows not only space for diners to sit and eat but also a uniquely interactive viewing experience where viewers seem to be in the middle of the play itself.

"When the cafeteria was originally built in the '90s, it was actually designed to be an auditorium, as well," said Todd Phillips, a Canal Winchester music teacher who has directed all the Madrigal Dinner productions. There is a stage that we use, but we'll also be setting up other platforms, and students will be walking through the aisles. We use the space thoroughly, including all four corners."

The dinner's immersiveness is what makes it distinctive, and it starts with the students actors, according to Phillips.

For the production, between the play's cast and musical accompaniment, more than 100 high schoolers will be in costume.

"One of the benefits of putting on the Madrigal Dinner for three decades is you amass a ton of costumes," Phillips said.

The event also features a specific format.

Between each act, guests are served food and entertained with live performances from the Canal Winchester Choir. Phillips said the music selected will share themes with "Much Ado About Nothing."

A group of student musicians referred to as the Renaissance Consort will accompany vocal pieces with soprano, alto and baritone recorders, instruments often used in the late 1500s.

Perhaps the most original feature of the event is its use of audience participation.

Phillips said Shakespeare often included characters with few to no speaking parts in his plays.

These cast members will serve a critical role, however. They will approach audience members during the performance and ask for their assistance in future scenes to perform small onstage roles.

"It's great fun for the students, and it puts them in an interesting situation they can learn from, as they have to learn how to control the situation and ad lib when it's called for," Phillips said.

Audience members also will be immersed in the production through the event's menu, which is prepared each year by the district's food-services department.

"The menu always goes along with the theme of the play, so this year, we're serving an Italian meal," said Tammy Heading, director of dining services for the district. "Mr Phillips and I work together. I study the play to make sure the menu is right. We try to up our game every year, and it's something I really enjoy doing."

Cost is $15 for the Feb. 15 performance and $10 for Feb. 16.

For more information, call 614-920-2680 or email CWHSDrama@gmail.com. If the dinner portion of the event is sold out, $5 tickets may be purchased that do not include food, and these viewers will be seated along the walls of the cafeteria.

Musical performances and dancing will take place 45 minutes before showtime for each performance.

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