I confess that when it comes to the Great River Shakespeare Festival I may have become elevated to full groupie status. I just can’t help it. And stick with me – I’ll be giving away GRSF tickets at the end of this confessional, and maybe you are going to become one too.
Yes, it’s about the plays – before GRSF came to town I admit I liked theater well enough, but viewed Shakespeare productions as something theater majors went to see. I just didn’t think I would *get* it – the language seemed tricky to follow, and it sounded, well, a little dry. I was a big fan of the idea of the festival – loved the idea – but I wasn’t really sure Shakespeare was for me. Sound familiar?
Yeah, well let me tell you something… the first time I bucked up and went to a play I felt like an idiot, not because I didn’t understand it, but because I was mad at myself for the plays I missed. It was beautiful and mesmerizing, and I totally got the story. I laughed. I cried. I’m not joking. Since then I’ve made my friends go, and my kids, and my mom, and after every play I’d shake their arm and say, “Can you believe how freaking good that was?”
But that’s not what made me a – you know – the G word. It’s the people – they are just so dang likeable. I actually kinda hate the term, and I’ve never really seen myself as groupie material, but right now I can’t get enough of these folks, and I think I’m just going to have to face it. Hell, I was making rhubarb-strawberry crisp at 1 a.m. for them last night, brownies for a chocolate trifle and linguini at midnight the night before that. And then I drive around to their houses to see if they’re hungry. And I’m getting to be really good friends with the police too. OK, not really, the houses part anyway. And the police part.
I got signed on with Friends Of Will to help feed the 75-member cast and crew during Tech Week – a grueling stretch just before the shows open in which they rehearse until they feel like all their brain cells have incinerated. FOW brings in lunch and dinner on those days – just a big ol’ potluck compiled by many hands each day, and these folks are eating everything from my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese recipe to Karen Fawcett’s lasagna, Kris Blanchard’s snicker doodle bars and Stan Breitlow’s paella (!). It’s a huge spread of food that comes from the hands and hearts of Winonans, and it’s pretty awesome.
But more awesome is spending just a minute around the cast and crew on those days when I dropped food off. They are so incredibly gracious, so extremely grateful, and so impossibly warm and friendly – even for people who are working their brains out and completely exhausted. I’ve been hugged. I’ve been kissed on the cheek. I’ve been given heartfelt thanks so many times by the people filing in that it makes me feel embarrassed.
Producing director Paul Barnes told me a long time ago that GRSF looks for a certain kind of person when they are populating the cast and crew here. You have to be really great at what you do, but there’s more. You have to be a really great person. Period. You have to be the kind of soul Winona will fall in love with, the kind of person people will want to stay up until midnight making linguini for, if you will.
If the spread of food that stretches around the room is any indication, I’d say he’s done a pretty good job. These people are so genuinely warm and friendly that the Winonans standing around feel glad to have them in our Winona family, if only for the summer. They make us a better place folks, all the way around.
The Tech Week food gig is about to end, but you can have your own Great River Shakespeare Experience about any day of the week. For starters, go see a play and then hang around on the lawn afterward to rub some elbows when they come out to mingle. Also, you’re crazy if you don’t get tickets to the Callithump on July 31 – it’s a hilarious talent show-type of performance that was double-you-over funny last year and gives you a glimpse of the personalities behind those amazing plays. Or swing into Blooming Grounds, the Blue Heron or Ed’s (no name) Bar just about any day (well, once Tech Week is over) and you will find cast and crew members sipping coffee, noshing on sandwiches, or – if you’re lucky – booty shaking a little at Ed’s. They are loving this town up as much as we love having them here, and I’m pretty sure you could get a hug if you are nice to them.
Tickets you say? OK. I have two certificates good for any seat – any play – that I’m going to give away. To win you need to leave a comment about GRSF — you can tell me 1. A play you loved, 2. A GRSF encounter you’ve had, 3. A GRSF encounter you’d LIKE to have (hey, keep it clean – this is a family show.)
I will take comments on the blog for one week, ending at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 24. You can only leave one comment per day to be entered in the drawing. I will use my very sophisticated drawing system — I cut up the comments and put them in a bowl and blindly draw one out — and I will post who the winner is by Monday the 25th. Happy commenting!