April 14. It’s time, people, and God knows we’ve been waiting. In case you haven’t heard, clear your calendar for Sunday afternoon and head over to the Winona County History Center to get your Shakespeare on for 2013, because that’s where it’s all starting at the Season Preview.
Well, not really starting. It started 10 years ago with a little kernel of an idea and the sheer optimism of a few believers who said Winona had the right kind of hunger for the arts to fall in love with a Shakespeare festival, and the right mix of coolness and charm for people to come here to see Shakespeare and fall in love with Winona.
A decade later, it turns out they were right. The Great River Shakespeare Festival started out like the little festival that could – putting out productions far more impressive than a little start-up theater company had any right to, operating on a sliver of a budget where every dollar spent was a precise decision, and defying incalculable odds by gaining ground each year even as the economy around it was in a free-fall. But it was just so good. Word spread, and patrons came. And then they came back again and again, and they told their neighbors and they brought their friends. Actors from across the country came too, and like the patrons, they fell in love with Winona and then they came back year after year as well. Each summer Winona hosts a reunion of sorts, of visitors who have put Winona on their can’t-miss list, and actors who have in many cases become Winona’s sweethearts and very nearly locals in their own right.
Ahhhhh. The actors. We have had some favorites over the seasons, and every year at this time festival fans hold their collective breath waiting for the announcement on who will be coming back. I actually haven’t breathed for a couple of days now, and Sunday had better come quick because the darkness is closing in. Yes – Sunday is the season preview for GRSF 2013, and it’s a funky little soiree that is 1) Free, 2) Fun, and 3) The time when we all sit wringing our hands at the cast announcement waiting for the directors to say the words Chrisssss Gersonnnnn…at which point I will stand up and do the wave. Probably alone. Just kidding about that – everyone knows Chris married that perky, adorable Tarah Flanagan, and so I turned in my stalker card. And put the wedding dress in plastic. But that’s fine.
On Sunday, the good people of the Great River Shakespeare Festival will celebrate with Winona the start of another illustrious season, they’ll talk about the plays to come and the people who will make it happen. It will be festive, with a cash bar, free hors d’oeuvres, and preseason ticket deals, and the room will be filled with laughter and more than a few hugs for people we have truly missed (especially if CG is there ) (I’m just kidding Chris. Please don’t get a restraining order against me).
Even if you’ve never been to a play, or especially if you’ve never been to a play, you should come Sunday. See what it’s all about. Hug somebody (haha, OK, don’t do that). Soak in a little Great River Shakespeare Festival vibe and try it on for size, and I’ll bet you’ll get a little bit of an idea what all the hoopla is about. It’s about theater, but only kind of. More so its about a group of people who made something really cool happen here, who turned an idea into a legacy, and who love Winona just as much as we do.