John Patton used to bake the cakes for the early madrigal feasts, a white cake layered with frozen fruit and whipped-cream frosting. It could feed 85 people.
John, then in fifth-grade, woke up early the day of the feast and started baking. That was when it was a one-night event at St. Mark’s church, when guests used to complain that they could hear the Pattons and others washing dishes in the kitchen, even as the singers were still singing.
One day, as a middle school student at Centennial, John came home to tell his mother he needed a dozen eggs.
Why do you need a dozen eggs? Marcia Patton remembers asking.
I’m baking my cake for my class, John had answered.
You only need four eggs for a cake for 15 people, Marcia said.
John had taught himself to bake for Casper College’s Ye Olde Madrigal Feaste, but only to bake for 85 people. He also taught himself to juggle and became the feast’s first royal juggler. Through the years, he taught others to juggle who in turn taught others. Jugglers have become a feast highlight.
His father, Pat Patton, brought the feast to Casper College 18 years ago. Next week, Pat Patton will ring in the last one.
“I think this is the right thing to do,” said Pat Patton, professor of music and director of choral activities at Casper College. “The new building at Casper College for the music department needs to be the focus. Here’s an opportunity to turn over a new page.”
The college’s new music building is slated to open this fall, and department faculty wants to start a new community tradition to show it off, Patton said.
The feast features the Casper College Collegiate Chorale, Men’s and Women’s Choirs, and the Contemporary Singers serenading diners with traditional Christmas songs. Patton and students write a new script each year, and the Casper College cafeteria staff prepares a menu to fit with the theme. Students dress in traditional costumes. There are jugglers, jesters, a royal court and a town crier.
In many years, tickets sold out within 40 minutes. Businesses used it to host their Christmas parties. One family presented Patton with scrapbook pages with pictures of them dressed up and at the feast year after year.
John Eastwood and his wife have been going for more than a decade. Two of his children participated for several years.
“We stood in line early in the morning some years. It was almost as bad as those who go out for Black Friday shopping,” he said.
He heard it was ending after his daughter got an email from Pat Patton, explaining this would be the last Madrigal Feaste.
“We were disappointed that it’s ending. By the same token, we kind of knew that it was coming,” Eastwood said. “I guess it’s kind of become a tradition for us. It kind of kicks off the Christmas season.”
In 1993, Patton started asking colleagues about bringing a Madrigal Feaste to Casper.
Pat, if you do this, you will never be able to put this down, Patton remembers people telling him. The only way you will be able to stop is if you retire or die.
The feast started in St. Mark’s Church and was a single-night event. The first the first chef served foods contemporary to the songs the choirs were singing, some hundreds of years old. It wasn’t food Casper was used to eating.
“Those first couple of years were very authentic,” Patton said. “The food tasted very weird.”
Then, the Pattons and the students did all the setup, the cooking and the cleaning. Patton used pre-written scripts from other madrigal feasts, but had to rewrite them to relate to the Casper audience. Then, he wrote his own scripts. Then, he recruited students.
For the past several years, he has hosted writing parties at his house. Titles include “Ponty Mython: King’s Quest for the Holy Quail,” “Harry Blotter” and “Brothers Dim: Fatally Fractured Fairytales.” In 2007, they did a James Bond theme. Two-double-oh-seven. Get it?
On the 10th year, the feast moved the Thomas H. Empey Black Box Theatre. Casper College staff moves 150 chairs, 11 tables, the king and queen thrones and several platforms. The Roberts Commons Cafeteria chefs prepare the menu and the food, meeting with Patton months in advance. The art department designed the decorations, the theater department clears the stage.
“This truly is a campus event,” Patton said.
This year’s script was written by James Mason McAteer and brothers Tim and Phil Carlson. The Carlsons have been involved off and on with the feasts since 2005, on the writing team for most. Both were kind of pulled out of retirement for the last hurrah.
The Casper College madrigal feasts are known for their comedy. This one needed some weight to it.
“There have been kids that, from the year they were born, this has been their Christmas tradition,” said Phil Carlson.
At the end of every feast, Patton tells the crowd the play is over. He’ll say the same line this year, with a twist. He will ask all past performers to sing the final song with the chorus, to celebrate with them the event that has brought students, teachers, and all stripes of the community together for nearly two decades.
He will say:
“Let us say once more, my friends, with hearts full of glee,
“And if you know the words, please say them with me.
“What Great times we’ve had! What frivolity, what fun!
“But for once and for all, The play is now done.”