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Students participate in medieval play in Toronto and at Loyola

Loyola press release - May 17, 2010

In late May, students and faculty members from several universities in North America traveled to the University of Toronto to participate in “Chester 2010: Peril and Danger to Her Majesty,” a medieval dramatic festival and academic symposium dedicated to the group of mystery plays produced in Chester, England, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

John Sebastian, Ph.D., associate professor of medieval studies, and Artemis Preeshl, M.F.A., associate professor of theatre arts, traveled to “Chester 2010” with several Loyola University New Orleans students to perform a play from the Chester Cycle, “The Ascension,” on May 24.

During “Chester 2010,” 23 groups of experts and students performed a Catholic version of the complete Chester Cycle of 23 plays. The plays were staged on wagons moving from station to station along a performance route, as they did in historical Chester, England. The event took place during Pentecost, May 21-24.

In 1572, Christopher Goodman, a Protestant clergyman who objected to the cycle’s Catholic content, failed to prevent a performance of the Chester Cycle that he warned would cause ‘peril and danger to her majesty.’ The Chester 2010 performances, which enact the Christian story from Creation to Judgment, are based on Goodman’s description of those original performances. The performances will develop their own approach to the question of what made the Chester plays so dangerous that Goodman wanted them banned, which they eventually were in 1575.

For the rehearsal of this production, director Preeshl incorporated the Ignatian method of prayer, which she learned in the Jesuit Lenten Retreat under the spiritual direction of Judy Deshotel, Ph.D.

“Rehearsals commenced with viewing, or imagining, the action in the readings and Gospels of the day,” said Preeshl. “Then, cast members entered the scene by role playing, inspired by words or images. As a result, the postures and gestures created through role playing were integral in the staging of the production.”

Preeshl developed an allegorical approach to the medieval play. Set against the backdrop of the war between Catholic and Protestant royalty in England, actors not only take on the roles in the production but also important Catholic figures of the 16th century. For example, the actor playing Peter is costumed as Pope Pius V who excommunicated Queen Elizabeth.

“My concept for this production is to examine what offended the Protestant observer,” said Preeshl. “In this case, the allegory expressed in costume design considers the potential political impact made by the Tailor’s Guild who originally presented this Catholic play.”

Motivated by the research question of the conference, Sebastian presented a paper addressing the use of blood imagery in the play.

“Blood becomes the central image of this play, with the visual spectacle of a gory and bedraggled Jesus ascending to the Father, reinforced by repeated verbal and physical gestures to the bloody drops still emanating from fresh wounds,” said Sebastian. “In its iconography and approach to salvation, the Chester pageant offered late 16th century audiences a strikingly Catholic representation of the Ascension and one that, in its particularly bloody depiction of Jesus, must have reminded them of the many martyrdoms that characterized the reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I.”

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Sean Snyder at smsnyder@loyno.edu or call 504-861-5882.

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