Hellooooooo Shakespeare!

Now listen, those of you who are about to stop reading because you think this is going to be a blog about Shakespeare and you’re not into that, well, hear me out. Those of you who like Shakespeare, I have some good news.

Sunday night was kind of the unofficial kick-off for the Great River Shakespeare Festival season with its annual preview at Visions Event Center. Half social mixer, half pep rally, the event draws together festival organizers, past patrons and even a few of the actors to start building energy for the coming season.

But the thing about Great River Shakespeare Festival is that each year that “energy building” event gets easier and easier, because as the festival has grown in the community, so too has the amount of energy left behind until the next season starts. Writing for the newspaper it used to be in the beginning that we were reeducating the community each spring about what GRSF was, why it was in Winona, why it was special, and why people should get off their duffs and go see a play.

If you build it, they will come. I can’t help but think of this Field of Dreams saying when it comes to Great River Shakespeare Festival. Seven years ago the festivals founders were definitely met with some head scratching and blank stares when they said they were going to create a world-class Shakespeare festival in Winona. It’s funny that they could see something in this charming river town that even some of its own residents could not: In this beautiful historic setting midway between the two biggest cities in the Midwest, fueled by warm river breezes and proximity to everywhere, arts flourish.

Believing alone may have been what lifted this festival up in the beginning, but it wasn’t long before the festival could rest comfortably on its jaw-droppingly good performances. Critics from big places far away are raving – it’s that good. I’m completely embarrassed to say that I did not see a full play until last summer… it just always seemed like I was really busy during their season and I kept meaning to go and didn’t. I know. Terrible. BUT – last year I saw The Tempest and completely fell in love. It was so good I saw it twice – each time transfixed by a story that was easier than I expected to understand and characters that seemed as real as Shakespeare no doubt intended them to be.

Founders Paul Barnes and Alec Wild made good on their promise – they built it, and people came. And it was good, and they are going to come again. This year Othello and The Comedy Of Errors are on tap, as well as The Daly News, an original production by one of the festival’s longtime cast members. Tickets for the summer season are on sale now, and soon cast members from around the country will be spotted walking in our parks and noshing in our cafes as they prepare to mesmerize us again with the words and wit of Will. Come June 23 there will be a whole lot of Shakespeare going on in Winona… you can read about it yourself here: www.grsf.org. Hope to see you there 🙂

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Chris Gerson and Kim Martin-Cotten stump for Season Two at Shakespeare and Chocolate

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