Medieval Dramatists

Biblical Pageants Set to Life

At the end of this semester, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow Boyda Johnstone's Interdisciplinary Capstone course 'Medieval English Drama in Performance' (a course originally designed by Andrew Albin for his Lincoln Center students) will be staging a student-led production of a medieval play on the Rose Hill campus. Practice for this is already well under way: in class on Friday, Feb. 17, her ENGL 4148 students performed renditions of cycle pageants, which are medieval versions of biblical stories from the creation of the world to the last judgment. The groups each chose their favorite pageant and produced original adaptations of The Fall of Lucifer (city of Chester), Adam and Eve (city of Chester), Joseph's Trouble About Mary (city of York), and The Second Shepherd's Play.

The first sketch re-imagined God as Bernie Sanders with "Dolan Trumpeh" and Steve Bannon as the rebellious angels Lucifer and Lighteborne; the second split God into male and female counterparts as Adam and Eve struggle to decipher the mating rituals of animals; the third offered audience prompts to "boo" or "applaud" while Joseph wonders which man helped Mary cuckold him; and the fourth highlighted the harsh labor conditions under which the poor shepherds work.

One of the distinctive features of medieval cycle drama is the way in which it humanizes and personalizes biblical stories, transporting ancient tales into the streets of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. So transporting the stories yet further into our modern context of the twenty-first century makes a lot of sense. After engaging in the difficult work of adapting the texts into a more modernized English, the students could more directly confront the bawdy and slapstick humor of the cycle, reinvigorating tales whose themes of betrayal, hubris, and human suffering remain equally relevant today. Medieval drama was performed by amateur actors drawn from the communities gathered around them, so any lack of talent or mastery over the material can actually enhance modern engagement with how the pageants originally worked. Even the inevitable flub or mistake, for ENGL 4148, could represent a meaningful part of the entertainment.

After the class, students requested that they do more of these performance workshops, since it brought these somewhat esoteric pageants to life. So stay tuned for more performances from ENGL 4148!

Albin's Undergrads Produce Innovative Website

The Fordham Medieval Dramatists (FMD) website debuted on May 20, 2015, extending the public life of the undergraduate group’s April 26 performance of the morality play Everyman and inaugurating a digital repository for the group’s activities. Interest in the website has been enthusiastic, with 311 page views and 88 unique visitors in the first three days after going live. FMD’s Facebook and Twitter account have seen similar enthusiastic reception, boding well for New York City’s only theater collective dedicated to dramatic experimentation with and lively performance of the plays of premodern England.

FMD consists of the students of Prof. Andrew Albin’s ENGL 3102: Medieval Drama in Performance, offered biennially as an Interdisciplinary Capstone Core course at FCLC in the spring semester. Students work as a tight-knit collective to read, discuss, adapt, and stage a medieval dramatic work of their choosing, from the ground up. Though productions adopt a variety of dramatic styles and approaches, FMD loosely models its principles for performance on medieval modes of play-making, focusing on non-professional actors, use of public spaces, creative collaboration, and the recruitment of local skills and talents. 

The FMD website supplies a wealth of student-generated content and offers a striking demonstration of the potential of the digital humanities to stimulate integrated intellectual work that bridges public, pedagogical, and virtual spheres. The centerpiece of the website is its Performances page, where visitors can watch the April 26 performance of Everyman in an embedded YouTube video filmed, edited, and produced by FMD students. Accompanying the film is a collection of student-generated critical commentary, examining topics as diverse as the temporality of music, costume semiotics, actor-audience interaction, the work of allegory, gender politics, and the deranging play of live performance.  Cross-references within each article virtually realize the web of conceptual connections that emerged between students during their semester’s worth of reading, writing, discussion, and performance. 

Thanks to its new virtual presence, FMD’s work has already gained wider audiences: at popular request, the film of Everyman was unofficially screened on the opening evening of Poculi Ludique Societas’s fiftieth anniversary Festival of Early Drama in Toronto, ON, to great acclaim. Fortuitously, the Royal National Theater in London also performed Everyman this summer with Chiwetel Ejiofor starring in the title role. (If you happen to be in London right now, it's still on till August 30!). This production was broadcast live to theaters across the world on July 16, accompanied by an #ntEveryman live-tweeting event. Encore screenings are still happening in New York City at the IFC Center (August 30-31) and Symphony Space (September 2). 

Though still very young, the Fordham Medieval Dramatists have already  made a significant impression with their hard work, critical thinking, and creative practice. With luck, the website will continue to foster the project FMD has undertaken and will act as a vivid home for medieval dramatic productions in NYC for many years to come!

Fordham Medieval Dramatists Produce Extraordinary Version of "Everyman"

The FCLC Medieval Dramatists, comprised of the students of Professor Andrew Albin's ENGL 3102: Medieval Drama in Performance, made their debut on April 26 at Summit Rock in Central Park (83rd Street & Central Park West) with their performance of the fifteenth-century morality play Everyman. Their production, free to the public, told the story of Everyman, who finds himself on Death’s doorstep and in need of guidance before he goes to meet his Maker. As he travels the road to the grave, Everyman encounters those things dearest to him and comes face to face with the choices he has made during his life. Everyman represented the culmination of ENGL 3102’s semester-long immersion in the dramatic texts and traditions of late medieval England; the result was a medieval play reinvented for modern audiences, one that melds festivity, community, and ethical searching with comedic flair and New York savvy. 

The production was inspiring, to say the least. Designed and realized from the ground up by the FCLC Medieval Dramatists, the performance of Everyman loosely modeled itself on medieval modes of play-making. Over the course of the spring semester, students worked as a tight-knit collective to read, discuss, adapt, and stage the play, with recourse to the wealth of talents they each brought to the playing space. Guided by Professor Albin, students read deeply into the corpus of medieval English drama in the original Middle English, accompanied by works of criticism, theater history, and modern critical dramaturgy. For the performance of Everyman, though, Prof. Albin took a back seat, facilitating students in their own creative exploration of the play they themselves chose to perform.

Though Everyman perishes at the end of the play, the Medieval Dramatists’s Everyman promises to have a life beyond its performance on April 26. Students recorded the live performance to create a film that will form the centerpiece of a media-rich digital archive of their efforts. Students contribute critical reflections on the play and their experience of performing it, expanding the public reach and creative dialogue of their semester’s work. Such an interdisciplinary project has benefitted greatly from the support of a variety of departments, programs, and offices, including English, Theatre, Medieval Studies, Media and Communications, New Media and Digital Design, Instructional Technology Academic Computing, and the Dean's Office.

A more appropriate debut performance for Fordham’s medieval theater troupe could not be imagined. Everyman asks difficult questions about our values, our ties to the world around us, our bonds with each other, and our relationships to ourselves.  In the hands of the Medieval Dramatists, it has become a thoroughly local play, in dialogue with the culture of New York City and taking place in Central Park at the heart of Manhattan. Mindful of its rootedness in the Catholic culture of the Middle Ages, Everyman turns a critical eye on that culture and interrogates it, asking us to do the same for our own through laughter, inquiry, and play.

To see the continued activity and media surrounding this production, go to Twitter and Instagram: @fordhameveryman #RIPEVERYMAN, Facebook, or write the Medieval Dramatists at or Prof. Andrew Albin at