Grosse Ile's Boar's Head Festival

December 10th, 2020

Host: Ben Fogt

With Krista Ewbank



Boar's Head Festival And Open Book Theater

2020, Ben Fogt

What's the Deal, Grosse Ile?


[0:00] [Ben Fogt] You're listening to What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? a podcast exploring the people, places, history, and events that make Grosse Ile unique. I'm your host, Ben Fogt.

[0:10] It's the middle of December and things still don't feel right, because... well... 2020. I wanted to remember what a normal year was like on Grosse Ile and the Boar's Head Festival came to mind.

[0:16] Music.

[0:23] Since our family moved to the island in 2016, the Boar's Head Festival has only happened once, in 2018. We were fortunate to get tickets and experience it, but it could be easy to miss if you're new to the island and haven't heard of this holiday celebration.

[0:34] Fortunately for this episode of What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? I'm joined by a director of the festival who will help us all learn a little more about a long-standing and loved island tradition. Krista Ewbank has been a director of The Boar's Head Festival since 2011. I'm so happy you could get some time with me in this dark year to talk about the event of Grosse Ile's Christmas season, Krista.

[0:55] [Krista Ewbank] Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk about it.

[B] Yeah, me too. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, what is a Boar's Head Festival anyway.

[K] So a Boar's Head Festival was a Medieval Festival where they would go and kill a boar which represented Satan. It is a Christmas festival and there would be singing and dancing and royalty and all sorts of fun stuff. So it's a medieval Christmas festival and on Grosse Ile there's a whole performance that's based off this medieval thing.

[1:33] We like to think about it sort of in two sections. There's the first part, 45 minutes, which is the festival part of the performance which is this whole medieval thing and then they tell the Christmas story. So the last half of the performance for Grosse Ile's Boar's Head Festival, and not all Boar's Head festivals have this, is the telling of the the biblical Christmas Story.

[B] Who puts it on? How is it organized?

[K] There is its own organization. It's a not-for-profit. Grosse Ile Boar's Head Festival formed its own not-for-profit

[2:02] and it is put on by that. There's a board of directors. There are people from all across the island. I think all of the the congregations are represented. Father Phil Dinwiddie from Saint James is currently the president of the board and that board works together to put that on, but it is a collaboration between all the churches on the island and other groups on the island who are part of it. Then about 500 people who are a part of putting it together on stage and off.

[B] Wow. That's a lot of people.

[K] It is a lot of people.

[B] So to get that big then, how far back does it go? What's the history to that?

[K] It is and I wish I had the actual numbers in front of me and I don't and there are people who have been with it from the beginning and who could rattle it off.

[2:56] I think in 2018 we were celebrating 35 years if I'm remembering correctly. So I think the first one was 37 years ago and they used to do it every year and then it grew to a size where they started doing it like every other year and then they were doing it sort of every 4 years which is sort of apparently where it's kind of been since I've gotten involved with it. That changes a little bit depending on what's going on in the community and whether we can we can put it on. We had put it off one year because we... Most recently we've been doing it, since I've been involved, at Sacred Heart... when they were doing some Renovations and so things like that affect when we can put it on.

[B] Absolutely. Speaking of that is there a plan for when it's scheduled to happen again?

[K] No is the short answer. The longer answer is next year 2021 would have been the soonest we would have considered doing it. We were debating whether to do it

[3:58] three to four years from when we last did it in 2018 and at this point I can't imagine we'll do it in 2021. It takes a good solid year of planning. At this point obviously, we just don't know how safe it would be next year. So I think 2022 would... This is not an official board decision, but I would say 2022 would be the earliest we could consider doing it again and that will depend a lot on where we are safety-wise with the pandemic and then where we are as a board in terms of being able to do the work that it takes to get it on its feet.

[B] Where is it put on at?

[K] So we've been doing it at...

[4:42] I wish I knew how long. It's been a while since they started doing it at Sacred Heart. We've been doing it in the main sanctuary in Sacred Heart. I know for years it was done in the High School auditorium and if you've been in the High School auditorium on the sides there out in the audience they have these paintings that are on the wall of people in medieval costume as if they are watching the stage. And those were created during Boar's Head Festival. Somebody else would know who did that, and I apologize that I don't know, but those are there. Those were put up during a Boar's Head Festival and have been there ever since.

[B] Once everything's back to normal, whatever normal is going to be, and we all get tickets for Boar's Head, what what should we expect to see there?

[K] I would imagine that when we are able to do it again it will probably look very much like it has in the past.

[5:31] Obviously, we'll just have to see where we are when it finally happens, whether we're still in in some sort of extra measures in terms of cleanliness and I can't imagine trying to put this on

[5:44] with any sort of social distancing. There's not space in the sanctuary for the audience. There's not space backstage for the performers. You had a part of it. We are all sort of right on top of each other there and with 500 people involved, it would be a very difficult thing to do. So who knows? There may be... Again, we haven't had a board meeting in over a year. Maybe there might be a stopgap, something different in a year, if we don't feel like we're able to put on a full production. There might be some sort of interim production.

[B] Walk me through what it's like to arrive to Boar's Head. What do you experience as you come in the the doors?

[K] Okay. When you come in to the foyer there in Sacred Heart, it has already been decorated for Christmas. You come in and there's likely music playing. It might be a bell choir. It might be... We have a recorder group that plays. There might be a choir out there singing. Father Christmas and Mother Christmas might greet you and be willing to take pictures with you with this "newfangled device". So there's performers mixing around and talking to you. When you go into the sanctuary and get seated.

[7:05] There's sort of some entertainment that's just happening while people are getting seated. Some more musical groups we have had.

[7:14] Gymnasts, children, it's always been children. I suppose that if we had an adult gymnast we would be happy to put them to work. We've had little puppet plays. So just little things going on sort of all around you. There are people coming up and chatting with you in costume. So we're setting the tone from the very beginning. Almost a Renaissance Festival feeling in that there's music happening and performers talking to you and sort of getting you in the mood. About every five minutes or so, somebody comes through ringing the bell. The town crier comes through. "Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The festival is anon!" Telling you that it's about to begin. So all of that is sort of getting you ready to enjoy the festival.

[B] So don't just show up right when it starts.

[7:59] [K] No coming early is definitely part of the fun, but also not a necessary... One of the things that became problematic is the pre-show became part of the show. So it was built to add some fun as people were arriving, but then everybody wanted to be there for the entire pre-show and so then all it did is made people come early.

[B] It's probably not a good analogy, but it's like the sideshows at the circus.

[K] Yeah, sure. But it sort of became its own beast. So it's something we've actually been talking about what is the purpose of that.

[8:36] It's not a show in the same way. It is a thing that we... It's a festival. It's not a show. Discussion about how it plays out but it's definitely like getting there a little early and settling in is fun and it's just necessary because where... I forget what this sanctuary seats. I want to say it's about a thousand. There's a lot of people and last festival we started with actual reserved seating as a way to sort of discourage people from showing up two hours early and waiting in line, which has happened, so that you could purchase a seat and know where you were going to be and that we have to get you in and find your seat and help you. You get settled and that sort of thing and there are people there who help. All of that happens. There's a wonderful team of people who make all that, we call it front of house, stuff happen, deal with the ticketing and deal with the questions and help you find the bathroom and all the things you need to know when you show up.

[B] Absolutely. Yeah that's great and I'll tell you that in picking your seats you get to see what the view will be like. I'm sure people have their particular places they want to sit.

[9:50] [K] They do and the way that the sanctuary is set up, the audience sort of wraps around their sort of the center circle and the audience sort of wraps around.

[10:00] It may even be more than 3/4 around. In theater we would call that a Thrust Stage, where the audience goes around. But then there's another level where things are up above. When we started reserving seats, we had some that we called obstructed view because you can't quite see everything up above and you're off to the side but then that helped people.

[10:23] If you purchased your tickets later you're more likely to end up in the obstructed view section but you knew going in that that's what you were getting. You could agree to take that seat or not to take that seat and you knew that ahead of time as opposed to showing up two hours early to get in line so you did get that seat. Right now it's more so you get the better seats

[B] We've gone once... it's happened once since we moved here in 2016 and it was it was really great. As I told you before we started talking for the podcast we were involved in a Boar's Head Festival in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where our little one was only 9 days old when he was in it. That was amazing. So if somebody wants to get involved with this when it comes around the next time, how do they find out about it? How do they get involved with it?

[K] So we put word out through our main sources. Our putting word out is usually through the churches on the island and then the schools. So if you're involved with a church or you've got a kid in the school, that's going to be your main way. We also put it out in whatever newspaper is happening on the island. At the moment that's the Grosse Ile Grand.

[11:33] We used to have... I can't think of... people used to call it the Ile Squeal but I can't remember...

[B] The Grosse Ile Camera.

[K] Yes. The Grosse Ile Camera. Thank you. So the news will go that way, too. There's usually postings on bulletin boards like CVS has a bulletin board and so we'll put things out there too and really try to make sure the community knows. We're good at getting up with a times. There's usually sort of a form to fill out online to let us know that you're interested. And then what we've done is have sort of a couple of days where people come... since I've been involved it's always been at the Presbyterian Church... where you can come if you don't know about the festival. You can learn a little bit, talk with somebody who knows about how you might get involved. There's over 500 people involved in it, so you can be involved on stage. You can be involved backstage. You can sing in one of the choirs. There's so much that you can do, so you can come and learn a little bit about that. If you're interested in one of the larger speaking or solo parts, there's an audition component as well to that. And all of that information is on the website and then available for people when they come that day as well.

[B] Great. I think we've covered all the bases with the Boar's Head Festival.

[12:46] Let's talk about you a little bit. You're certainly no stranger to stage performances. So tell me about Open Book Theater.

[K] Yeah. Thank you. I am the founding artistic director of Open Book Theater Company which is a professional theater located in Trenton right on West Road across from the Dairy Queen. Everybody knows where Dairy Queen is. I started that in... Well, we started performing... we did our first season in 2014. We did two seasons up in Southgate before we got our building down in Trenton. So I'm a theater professional. I got a degree in theater from Northwestern University and have been acting and directing and teaching and now I run a theater, doing everything from cleaning the toilets to sound designing to produce things, all of it.

[B] Of course the the pandemic has been incredibly horrific, I would say, for live theater. How is Open Book adapted?

[13:41] [K] Well, we shut down in March, of course, when everything was shutting down. We just started rehearsals. We had to rehearsals for a new show. And closed down and sort of hoped that that would be it. Maybe we would also have to cancel our summer show but by May it was obvious that was not the case and so we really took a look at... the board and I... we're not for profit. We have a board of directors and we took a look at our mission statement which is not "put on five plays in our space" but our mission is to "promote connection through theatrical storytelling". And so we said "how do we do that? How do we connect people through theater during a global pandemic?" And what we settled on... What we first found and we're quite excited about was Driveway Theater, which was sort of a brand new invention that I sort of thought of as a cross between like singing telegrams where you just let me just show up at your door. So here you're paying to have a play in your driveway. So we hired performers who live together so that they can safely rehearse and perform together. And we performed for small socially distance audiences. We encourage people to wear their masks and sit 6 feet apart from anybody not in your family.

[14:57] The largest group we performed for was at a retirement community where they were spread out across the lawn and we had 70 people. We used our big Shakespeare voices because we didn't have any amplification. And then we did a four-person performance in somebody's backyard. Most of our shows were about 20 to 30 people and the cast.

[15:18] and two people on the show. So we commissioned... It was such a success that we later commissioned another piece over the course of the summer. We did two different scripts. They were half an hour each. Both of them dealt with the fact that we're living through a pandemic. One was the "Complete Works of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Film - Abridged". We took all these tropes. If you're familiar with the Maze Runner or Hunger Games. In many, there's all this talk that we're going to emerge into this post-apocalyptic world, which fortunately we have not, and so it's sort of the idea was that these performers had watched all these movies and read all these books to prepare themselves and they're going to teach you the lessons that they learned in 30 minutes. And so it was a comedy and it was fun, but also relatable because everybody... there were jokes about baking sourdough bread. And everyone's like "yeah. That's what we've been doing." And then the one that we did in the fall was called "2020: The Year They Cancelled Everything" and it was about a teenage girl who was upset that they were canceling everything and it was sort of A riff off A Christmas Carol. So she's very upset and then she goes to sleep and then she is visited by the ghosts of Fall Past, Present, and Future, and of course her heart grows three sizes and she learns that you can't cancel Fall.

[16:46] And then we also took improv as well which was a really fascinating. You're best comedy really requires a crowd but what we found that was fascinating is when we were performing for a group of people who already were community, knew each other, that they had all these inside jokes between them and so improvisers will ask for a suggestion from the audience and then they'll do scenes and somebody would yell something out there was a joke or a jab with their sister or their friend from church or wherever. We were performing and so then it just became.

[17:22] like it added this whole extra layer of humor that even the performers sometimes weren't in on, which was really a fascinating thing. So it was really a way... We really watched community come together by taking theater out and finding a way for people to connect. It's actually something we're talking about continuing even post pandemic because it was such a such a unique way to bring community together. And we thought "Wow. We are living out our mission right now." A lot of theaters just didn't know how to respond and couldn't shift in a quick way so I'm really, really proud of the work that we did and how that came together.

[18:03] [B] Absolutely and then you have some theater that you're doing over over Zoom, right?

[K] We do. We've been doing a one-on-one series, and there'll be more of that coming in 2021. Where it's one performer and one audience member in ten-minute plays that we've commissioned, but what were focused on right now starting... well by the time this airs... is Zoom with Santa. Santa came to us and suggested working with us and he is going to Zoom directly with children. It's about five minutes where your child can have one-on-one time to talk to Santa and they just have a conversation and you get to see inside Santa's... he's Zooming from his log cabin at the North Pole and Mrs. Claus swings by and says hello and your child could send a letter to Santa and Santa will have that letter. It's really... It's a fun way to bring

[18:59] some Christmas joy into families that are... It's just hard. It's been a hard year for all of us, and it's really fun putting this magical experience together.

[B] Oh, yes. And if somebody wants to line that up with Santa Claus, how do they do that?

[K] You can book your time directly on our website, which is and then just click on the Zoom with Santa link and there's tons of information and a link to purchase your tickets.

[B] We'll put a link in the episode description down there. What are the plans for the rest of the winter and the spring?

[K] So we'll keep doing the One-on-One series. We've done three of those already. And then we have one for January, February, and March. So those scripts are in development right now. And then we are going to do... I think that we're calling it Weekend Wonders. It's a playwriting festival where over the course of a weekend we are going to have playwrights write four new plays that are based on a theme that we sort of throw at them. So on Thursday night we're going to draw like from a hat. A playwright, a director, and two performers and a couple of fun themes, things that they have to put into a play.

[20:12] And so the playwright has 24 hours to write a 10 to 15 minute two-person play that can be performed over Zoom and then the actors and the director have 24 hours to memorize the scripts and figure out the staging and on Saturday night we go live with these four plays and we'll stream on YouTube and we'll stream on Facebook and this is just a fun way to to create some new theater for artists to play together. We're not going to charge for that at all. That's just going to come free. We do have... It has a sponsorship opportunity if there are any businesses who might like to sponsor for 500 dollars, sponsor a weekend of that. So we're going to do that. We're hoping to do that January, February, March, and April and then I think in May will probably be launching driveway theater again.

[21:05] [B] Wow that's great now.

[K] Hopefully someday back in the building.

[B] I remember just maybe a few weeks ago that you won some awards for your show at Christmas time last year.

[K] We did. We won some awards for two of our shows last year. So the Wilde Awards are put out by, which covers all the professional theatres across the state of Michigan. And of course there wasn't a big award ceremony this year because we can't do any of that, but we won several awards both for Miss Bennet:

[21:39] Christmas at Pemberley which we put on the last Christmas, and hopefully next Christmas we'll be putting on its companion piece the Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley. We were going to be doing that right now, but obviously, so we've moved our rights to next year. So assuming we can gather, we'll do it then and if not the next year. And then also for the Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence which we put on last Fall. Both of those we won Best Play, for Best Play Drama for Watson Intelligence. We won Best Play Comedy for Miss Bennet and we won several performing awards for people in both of those shows and then I also won a director's award for Watson Intelligence. They were much lauded shows. It was really a bright spot to win some lovely awards in the midst of a dreary year.

[B] Congratulations on all fronts.

[K] Thank you. I'm very, very proud to be recognized for the work that we're doing and, like I said, it's across the entire state of Michigan so there's some pretty fierce competition out there.

[B] I'm sure. Beyond Open Book and Boar's Head Festival, how do we get involved more or support

[22:44] theater Downriver and in general in Metro Detroit?

[K] So there are some wonderful Community Theaters Downriver. There's Downriver Actors Guild out of Wyandotte. There's Southgate Community Players, Southgate obviously. There are some really great local places to see. I mentioned before They, like I said, they cover the professional theaters across Michigan, a professional theater would be a company that pays its performers, and that is a great place to go to find out what is happening with theaters and theaters. All theaters right now are struggling and a lot of people are offering some things online so you can check that out.

[23:27] If you are a lover of the Arts, supporting a theater right now and making a donation or purchasing tickets to a Zoom with Santa or one of the events we have in the fall or one of the many other things that theaters are doing. I know that Dearborn Players Guild is doing something called Bells and I have a couple friends who are involved in that and that's coming up... I wish I could remember... the next couple of weekends. Well I hope it's not done by the time this airs. They might be like they've got their they're doing a selfie. Community Players, I know, has done some online productions so there's lots of ways to be tapped into what arts groups are doing. But also just donations right now. If you want... If you love live theater and want it to be around when this is over, helping us keep the lights on and pay the rent and keep staff and keep coming up with innovative ways to do theater, for that driveway theater and the one-to-one theater. It's all we keep trudging away, trying to find different ways to do theater in this time because we believe that art is how we respond as human beings to what's happening in the world around us. And never has there been

[24:40] a greater need for connection and more challenges to creating that I think. But it's not in my lifetime, maybe not ever, but certainly not in my lifetime, like that.

[B] Totally. Well thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule today. It's been a busy day. This has a been a big interview day for you. Thanks for making room for this little podcast.

[K] Well, I am thrilled to be here. Thank you

[25:08] for having me and yes, everybody should get involved with the Boar's Head Festival. It is a great way to be to be part of something special in the community and I've made so many friends through it. It's just a really special event. So if you're on the island and don't know about the Boar's Head Festival or never been or never been apart, I highly encourage you to to find a way to get involved.

[B] And you'll probably see a lot of your neighbors there.

[K] That's for sure. You do and you meet so many... just meet great people.

[B] So one part of the podcast is that I ask guests to share a wish for the island, for Grosse Ile, the community, or just the island if you want to turn it into a character. Even though you've moved off the island, you and Sean and your daughter Abby made the island your home for several years. Do you have a wish you want to share with us?

[K] It's just that the community continues to to grow and connect and

[26:12] I guess maybe the way I think about it. I'll tie it back to the Boar's Head Festival. There's so much tradition and also there's so much new wonderful energy and gifts to bring to it and I think finding a way... I don't think it's news... sometimes it's hard when you're new to the island. There are so many people who have been there and have such rich... the island has such a rich history and such great traditions and I think it's wonderful to keep those alive. Also to welcome new people and new energy and to find that balance. So I think my wish for the island is sort of similar to a wish for Boar's Head is that it finds a way to honor those traditions and to keep wonderful things happening but also bring a new energy and bring in new ideas and grow a community in that way.

[B] I think that's a great wish for all of us even beyond all that. Well again, I want to thank you for sharing your time and I want you to know that you are appreciated and all your work is appreciated as well.

[K] thank you so much I appreciate that. It's a joy to do it.

[27:23] As you have heard, the Grosse Ile Boar’s Head Festival is steeped in tradition and we are a fortunate community to have such dedicated volunteers and leadership to keep it running. It will surely be a while before we learn when the trumpets will announce the next entrance of the Boar’s Head.

At its core, Boar’s Head is a Community Sing-Along. While we can’t do anything like that this year, I’ve come up with something we CAN do, but I need your help. On Saturday, December 12th, at 4pm Meet Me on Macomb Street. Find an unoccupied street light, there are about 75 of them. Then use your phone to watch the Facebook Live Event on the What’s the Deal, Grosse Ile? Facebook Page, If you go to the event page now, you will find words and music you can print or also look at on devices. This ensures that we stay far enough apart, but can still spread our Christmas Cheer across the island. Please join me, and spread the word. The more, the merrier… quite literally.

What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? is recorded and produced by me, Ben Fogt. You can keep in touch with me through the What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? Facebook page or email me at

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Our intro and credit music is Mocktails in the Rain by Antii Luodo which is used through a Creative Commons license. Find more of his music on as Antii's Instrumentals.

Thanks for listening to What's the Deal, Grosse Ile?