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Hospice of the EUP Madrigal Dinner plagued with unexpected drama, finishes victoriously

Swords clashed and crowds roared at DreamMakers Theatre during the 40th annual Hospice of the EUP Madrigal Dinner

It was back to the Renaissance period with swords clashing and crowds roaring at the 40th annual Hospice of the EUP Madrigal Dinner this past weekend inside DreamMakers Theatre, leading Friday with an uproar from many of the knights, lords, and ladies in attendance. 

Director Elise Beaudoin-Johnson was just as displeased when a boar’s head actor went ”rogue” to deliver some unscripted social and political “humor.” She posted the following to Facebook on Saturday morning:

“At last night’s Madrigal Dinner, comments and ‘jokes’ were made about the LGBTQ+ community, other cast members, and different political figures. These were not scripted comments and DO NOT reflect the views of madrigal or hospice. As a fundraiser for Hospice of the EUP our goal is to entertain and raise money for hospice not become a political outlet for our actors. We are deeply sorry to have offended anyone and changes will be made to maintain the welcoming atmosphere our Madrigal family works so hard to create.”

After making a few necessary adjustments, such as bidding farewell to the cast member in question, the show went as planned Saturday and Sunday night to sell out tickets.  

“The madrigal started as a way to fund hospice,” Beaudoin-Johnson said. “It is a Renaissance themed dinner and theatre. We sing, dance, and generally just make giant fools of ourselves for the guest's entertainment.”

This weekend’s show revolved around Sir Gawain, an infamous knight from King Arthur's Round Table, played by actor Keith Sciacci.

Ryan Mauer was casted as the Green Knight. Isiah Otten and Michael Gordon both played guards.

The knighting ceremony was performed by Joe Adams, Kathy Harris, and John Gilbert. He was accompanied by ASAO dancers, brother and sister duo, Jader and Jasmine. “Be Our Guest” was performed by Joe Adams and Amy Preville, featuring Sault High Poms. “Men In Tights” featured Ryan Maurer. 

Many more cast and crew members were involved in the Renaissance era production.

Prior to each show, a tax collector could be heard shouting at everyone to pay their hospice taxes.

“I push a chest with a bunch of gold chocolate coins,” said Rob Sampsonm celebrating his 20th madrigal dinner in Sault Ste. Marie.

His brother, Josh Sampson, has participated for 17 years. Their dad, Norm Sampson, played Father Christmas this year.  

“It’s a fun way to make a little extra funds for hospice,” said Sampson. “Every donation we collect goes to the center. Hospice helped my family out during a difficult time. My grandma had terminal cancer, and was passing away. It was a very hard time for us all. When she started hospice care, they took care of her for a whole year. Hospice gave a lot to our family. That is what has kept me involved over the years, even through the difficult times.”

Hospice of the EUP includes free services fully paid for by local donors. However, state mandated COVID restrictions canceled two whole years of madrigal dinner fundraisers.

“They thought the dinner was going to end because people needed breaks, and there was no one new to take it over,” said Beaudoin-Johnson, manager at Oh Crêpe and Coffee. “I was talking to Dan Harris. Instead of letting the event die, I thought about it… I'm off in the winters anyway because we're closed for the season, so it's the perfect thing for me to step in and facilitate.”

Apart from the unscripted “jokes” spoken on Friday night, everything went even better than anticipated.  

“I think everyone has done a really good job,” Beaudoin-Johnson said. “Everyone has worked very hard for the last several months to put this together. I'm just hoping that that overshadows the issues we had. We are a family. This is very much an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere.”

Prior to Beaudoin-Johnson's reign as director, Sampson made note of some safety concerns.

“I seriously considered walking away, but chose to stay,” he said. “You'll find that is what we often refer to as ‘The year we don't talk about...”

ASAO Dance Instructor Ashely Burger concurred with Sampson.

“Elise has completely turned it around,” said Burger. “She has done a phenomenal job making sure everything is done correctly and safely on this show.”

Beaudoin-Johnson took it upon herself to ensure everyone practiced sword dueling and other roles in advance. Practice was mandatory. Actors who traveled from Canada, down state, and the western UP were expected to partake. For some, this meant traveling a couple days in advance.

“I have had no safety concerns this year,” said Burger.    

Her only concern was that of Beaudoin-Johnson’s in regards to the “inappropriate” comments made on Friday. The ASAO Dance studio owner posted to social media after a boar’s head actor veered off-script:

“Tonight at the Madrigal Dinner, an actor went entirely off script. Many wildly inappropriate “jokes” were made as he rambled, deeply offending our dancers and parents. As this Hospice of the EUP fundraiser is an event we have co-sponsored, and marketed heavily, I deeply apologize. I would not ever participate in (or encourage attendance to) an event for our dancers that is not held to the Youth Protection Advocates in Dance Standards we use.

I read through early drafts of the script, attended Core Group and Administration meetings, and pushed for safer standards throughout the event planning process. The director, writer, and many veteran cast members were very supportive. Most cast members signed participation agreements that also outlined these concerns I had before agreeing to include our ASAO students. The Director and other sponsoring families were wonderfully accommodating with the schedule and backstage setup I required for our children.

We hope that our dance parents have faith in the family friendly, age-appropriate reputation we have developed, and recognize this actor’s decision to make these remarks was entirely out of our control. I feel confident that the Director of Madrigal will handle this issue appropriately and do not intend to pull out of the event at this time. I wish to honor the work our dancers have put into their routines for this show.

We will take all of the concerns parents have into sincere consideration before making any decisions for future participation in community events such as the Madrigal. Thank you to everyone that has expressed concerns and reached out to me thus far.”

Burger felt the post was necessary to protect herself and involved dance studuents.

“Elise heard my concerns, and she addressed them,” Burger concluded. 

Friday’s show raised over $350. The show on Saturday sold out at 400 tickets. Sunday sold out as well. The cost was $50 per ticket plus any additional donations made. A total has not yet been tallied.