So I was at a little shindig this week at the Winona County History Center with about the biggest group of tourism movers and shakers this community has seen, and in between meatballs and Summit we paused to give a community hug to our sweetheart, the Great River Shakespeare Festival.
GRSF walked out that night with the Visit Winona Tourism Award, an annual nod to the entity that best embodies the spirit of community tourism.
After seven seasons there is no question that Winona has a love affair with Shakespeare, but it’s not because they sweep into town each summer and put on some plays that we like. Well, that’s a little bit of the reason why, but it’s just a slice of the Shakespeare pie that Winona loves to devour. Okay, weird analogy, but I haven’t finished my first cup of coffee yet so my caffeine-deprived brain can’t come up with something better. And I haven’t eaten carbs for a week so I must be craving pie. But let’s focus…
Winona loves GRSF because GRSF loves Winona back in ways that make this community more vibrant, more interesting, and, well, more fun to visit. Those visitors, who come by the thousands each season for some Shakespeare, pump cheerful tourism dollars into our restaurants and hotels and shops, and stop to visit some of our other attractions like the Minnesota Marine Art Museum while they’re here. For the community it is like being infused with rich plasma, or probably gasoline, which I think is more expensive than plasma right now.
But even visitors don’t just come for the plays, they come for the Shakespeare Experience, and if you haven’t had it, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Here are a few of my favorite things about the Shakespeare Experience:
Concerts on the green. GRSF throws these cool little parties outdoors near the theater, and everyone, whether they are headed for a play or not, is invited for free. Sometimes they turn it into a picnic, which even non-play-goers can eat at for a couple bucks, and other times it’s just music and people and fun.
The Front Porch Series. GRSF is making us smarter by bringing in all kinds of speakers who talk about not just theater but the world and all sorts of interesting topics. Oh yeah and guess what? If they aren’t free they are just $10 – which is soooooo cheap for what you’re getting.
Access. I can actually afford to go to these plays, which is saying something. GRSF has regular ticket prices of $20 to $40, but also has $10 Tuesdays, student rush tickets, and even gives bundles of tickets to local libraries to give away for FREE. Who can’t afford that? On a Saturday night $40 will get you in the front row, and I recommend the front row, which leads me to my next reason.
Chris Gerson is hot. I’m just sayin. As one of the core actors for past GRSF seasons he has become a darling in his own right in Winona, and though they haven’t announced the cast for this year yet, I think I speak for all women (and a few men) when I say we hope he will be back. Yes, yes, we know he’s married to a beautiful girl who also happens to be with GRSF, but he’s still fun to watch. Okay, I admit that thing he did with his back in The Tempest gave me the creeps, but I’m over it.
All kidding aside (you’re right, I was only kinda kidding), the actors for GRSF make this place their home for months and besides mingling with the locals they give a little something back in other ways too. Like… in a couple of months I and a handful of others will have dinner with two of GRSF’s actors (Chris Gerson??!!) (kidding – please don’t get a restraining order against me) because GRSF donated it as an auction item to Big Brothers Big Sisters Taste of Winona. We will be noshing on Chef Doug’s food at Signatures (also donated) with the actors because we won the item in the auction. Seriously, how cool is that? These actors are busy and they don’t have to give up their precious free time but they do, because this has become their community too.
There is more, so much more, to Winona’s love affair with Shakespeare, the summer learning programs for youth and the Friends of Will coffee talks and the time the company gives to local schools, but really, you need to just come experience it for yourself.
Go here to find out more: www.grsf.org I promise by the time you leave you’ll be in love too 🙂