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The Kalamazoo Diaries – new play takes on the crazy world of the International Congress on Medieval Studies

Medievalists might be cringing or laughing until they cry soon, as a new play is in the works that takes a look at one of their most famous gatherings: the International Congress on Medieval Studies.

About seventy people got a first look at The Kalamazoo Diaries earlier this week in Toronto, Canada, when a reading of the play was staged in order to get audience feedback. The play is a sometimes serious, but often hilarious satire on what happens at International Congress on Medieval Studies, an annual conference that brings together up to 5000 medievalists to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The Kalamazoo Diaries is written by Natalie Fingerhut, who attended her first congress in 2006 when she began working for University of Toronto Press. Natalie calls it “the most absurd experience she has ever had,” and found it ripe material to create a satirical take on the medievalist sub-culture.

Largely set in the book exhibits hall of the congress, the play follows Natalie as she deals with characters like ‘Drunk Medievalist’, ‘Crazy Medievalist’ and Freya Hildegard. It dishes out many barbs to medieval scholars and students (“Every single one of them was the last pick on their high school volleyball team”), and the seemingly never-ending supply of mead that can be found at the congress.

But the play also has a serious side, and asks the question what do you really know about the past, which Natalie herself must face when a close friend dies.

The role of Natalie Fingerhut is played by Becky Bays, a Canadian comedian who says she is very excited to be part of “a really funny play.” The rest of the cast is made up of professional actors, with the exception of Shana Sandler, who plays Christine, Natalie’s colleague at the book exhibit hall. Shana, who helped out with a rehearsal and found herself getting the role, says its “a total awesome shock” to be part of this reading, and “it would be a blast when this play hits the stage.”

The real Natalie Fingerhut began writing The Kalamazoo Diaries, her first play, over a year ago, and with the help of Director Esther Arbeid has been developing into initial script into a fully-formed play. The reading held last week did not include any sets or costumes, and Arbeid says that at this stage it is “a seedling of a play” but they believe they can bring it into theatres and hopefully have it performed at Kalamazoo during the International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Natalie Fingerhut says that despite the satirical take on what happens at the congress, “the last thing it is is ripping on medievalists for an hour.” The Kalamazoo Diaries also offers an interesting take on “the concept of the limitations of historical inquiry”, a concept that would be familiar with any historian having to study events that happened several hundred years ago.

What else goes on at Kalamazoo? Click here to read our reports on the congress.

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