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Loyola students and faculty perform at early drama festival in Toronto

Loyola press release - June 11, 2015

Eight female students and their professors explore themes of fame and virtue, gender issues in performance of traditional court masque

On Friday, eight students and their professors from Loyola University New Orleans headed to Toronto to perform a traditional court masque in an early drama festival that draws participation by medieval and Renaissance scholars, actors, and students from across the continent.

Recent Loyola alumna Alex Kennon stars in "Masque of Queens" at the 2015 Early Drama Festival in Toronto.

“The court masque is an occasional entertainment, limited to a particular historical moment, which is why we don’t see it performed today. But I think it is still a very important form because of the issues that it raises – issues of order and disorder, the gendering of virtue, women in performance, and the longevity of great poetry,” said Hillary Eklund, assistant professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans. “It’s an immersive experience in a genre that students don’t usually have access to, apart from an occasional Shakespeare play or maybe a drama course.”

Loyola students and faculty performed Ben Jonson’sMasque of Queens” at the 2015 Festival of Early Drama in Toronto. The performance kicked off the three-day festival. The opening gala performance by Loyola students and faculty was followed by a celebratory reception.

In “Masque of Queens,” a court entertainment from 1609, a coven of witches convenes to summon their goddess and spread disorder and vice through the world. Their plans are foiled by the appearance of Heroic Virtue and Fame, who usher in a parade of famous queens from history and legend. The queens are celebrated for their ability to restore order, while the witches are banished from the earth.

The festival included productions presented by 15 medieval and renaissance theatre troupes from across North America. Joining the festival this year were university theatre companies from New Orleans to Indiana, as well as the University of Western Ontario, Brock, and McMaster Universities and others across Ontario.

Conference organizers invited John Sebastian, associate professor of English and director of the common curriculum at Loyola, to return to the festival this year. In 2010, Sebastian and Artemis Preeshl, associate professor of theatre arts, collaborated in presenting the medieval Chester “Ascension” play to audiences at the University of Toronto.

The professors and students collaborated on last week’s performance of “The Masque of Queens.” The play also featured period music recorded by Loyola musicians and artwork by English senior Romey Bensen.

“One of the interesting things about the court masque is that it was one of the only forms in which women performed before 1660,” Eklund said. “Public theaters had all-male actors, but women performed in court masques.”

The Festival of Early Drama was sponsored by the Poculi Ludique Societas (“Cup and Game Society”), which promotes the production of early plays and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The festival is designed to appeal to families, scholars, students, and medieval and early modern history enthusiasts.