Brandeis to go Medieval in April
May Day began as an ancient pagan holiday to celebrate the coming of spring. At Brandeis, this celebration has been a long-standing tradition. This year, expect swordplay, belly dancing, costumes and traditional music. The event will take place on Saturday, April 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the South Campus Commons.
JustArts: What types of activities does Medieval Society put on during the year?
Shana Burstyn: We go to a lot of different events in the area. We go to a big one every January called Burka. It's a big shopping event. I should probably preface this by saying that we do a lot of things with an organization called SCA, which is the Society for Creative Anachronism. So we pretty much go to their events most of the time, and they come to May Day. ... We go to a lot of different things, whatever they have going on. We do a lot of movie nights.
JA: So what kinds of activities do you do at SCA events?
SB: There's usually some sort of fighting going on-either archery or heavy list or fencing or with thrown weapons. ... There's usually vendors of some sort selling different period things. [There are] games, [there are] people just hanging out. [There are] people doing hand work, different kinds of sewing or crafting or spinning. ... It's mainly just you get dressed up in period clothing-the period is between 600 and 1600. And basically we just hang out. There's dancing, there's music. I'm a crafty girl myself so I like the handwork, I always bring something to sew.
JA: So are these events similar to Renaissance fairs?
SB: Kind of, but it's more accurate. It's more focused on historical accuracy. You're not going to see people in 17-foot hoop skirts with their boobs popping out of their corsets. You'll see a lot more Viking apron dresses.
JA: And when you mentioned the fighting, is that choreographed or is it an actual competition?
SB: It's an actual competition. It's done with britan swords, which is a type of bamboo. They have armor and everyone has to get checked out and make sure their armor's up to scratch and sign a waiver and all that jazz. It's really exciting to watch. Usually all the ladies sit and watch-although there are ladies who fight. Actually, last year's winner of the competition was a woman. But usually there's a bunch of us sitting on the sides sewing and talking and chatting.
JA: What is your involvement with Medieval Society on campus?
SB: I've been president for about three years. My sophomore year I was co-president, or I was learning to be president. Junior year I was co-president, and this year I'm still president.
JA: What is May Day and why does Medieval Society make an event around it?
SB: May Day historically was kind of a Druid-y, Celtic-y, Wiccan-y celebration of the coming of spring and the Spring Equinox. Traditionally there's a May pole, there's a guy running around all dressed in green called the Green Man who's like the embodiment of fertility. But we kind of use it just as an excuse to have fun, have our own little fair on campus with all the same things as the events that we go to. And it's been a Brandeis tradition for a long time. A lot of people involved in SCA are former Brandeisians and they tell me stories of that happening on campus in the '70s.
JA: So what specific events are going to take place on campus?
SB: There's going to be dancing. There will be period dance instruction. There will be fighting going on. A performance by the Belly Dance Ensemble. There's going to be a performance by i Sebastiani, a commedia dell'Arte troupe from the area. They're fabulous, they're really, really funny. It's likely that there's going to be background music by a choir.
JA: How did you first get involved with Medieval Society?
SB: I grew up with going to Ren fairs every year, so I always loved that. And I've always been kind of a period costume geek, so I love making the clothes-I'm actually a costume design major. So at the club fair freshman year I got really excited [about Medieval Society] and I jumped in whole-hog. I'm also still friends with a lot of the people I first joined Medieval Society with, I'm actually living with one of them now. We've formed our own little community.
JA: How is this year's festival different from years past?
SB: We've pretty much always been in Upper Sherman but this year we're in Ridgewood. We also haven't had Belly Dancing performers before. Hopefully we'll get more people from around campus. A lot of times people will just stop by or watch from a distance. Hopefully in Ridgewood we'll be a little more visible so people will actually come and hang out.