A whole lot of Shakespeare going on

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!

How could anyone not love these guys?!

37 thoughts on “A whole lot of Shakespeare going on

  1. Lizzy says:

    I love spotting the actors rehearsing lines at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse…it’s a steady stream of low-frequency, well-articulated Shakespeare while we’re sipping Americanos and breaking open fresh-baked strawberry muffins.

  2. Terry Hawkings says:

    Another great blog Cynthya! Thank you so much for all you did and for the time you spent! It was fun to get to know you! For all of you out there she’s not making this up! They are amazing people!

  3. Leanne Becker says:

    Great “confessional” Cynthya! The GRSF is one of the things that I LOVED about living in Winona! I still try to mkae it to at t least one show every year when we come back to visit. Chris Gerson and John G. Daly are phenomonal!!!

  4. Crystal Hegge says:

    A couple years ago I got tickets for my parents, my grandma and my grandma’s sister. My parents were worried that the elderly women would have a hard time sitting through a 3 hour Shakespeare play but tried it anyway. No one moved during the entire play. Their woes and aches lost by the incredible production. My grandma’s sister is now in the hospital (87) but remembers the great evening of Shakespeare and discussion afterward with her family.

  5. Phil Zimmermann says:

    During and immediately after my undergrad I had the good fortune to apprentice the acting company and intern with the festival. Over the course of three years I worked everything but the box office, made some fantastic friends and was exposed to a company whose artistic work and inclusive, professional atmosphere I haven’t seen rivaled anywhere else. What I experienced with GRSF is something I’m always striving to achieve again in my theater career.

    And Winona- Winona is just about the most wonderful town you could hope to be. The nicest people in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I cannot wait to get back, even for just a day.

  6. Pete Rivard says:

    My daughter and I have been going every year since GRSF Year 1, when she was a St. Mary’s student. We make the drive down from Hastings, and make a weekend of it to catch all the plays. Also, my students in the Design & Graphics Technologies program here at Dunwoody do all the large lobby banners and most of the signage for GRSF.

  7. Lindsey Ziegler says:

    In one of the early season, the GRSF cast would put on a talent show on the green and my friends and I attended. After the show, my friend and I gathered the courage to speak with Chris Gerson. We went up to him and introduced ourselves and said that he was our most favorite…and then he said, Hi, I’m Chris. And we did the fangirl squee thing.

  8. Sharon Gingras says:

    Our family is part of the Wisconsin family of GRSF “groupies”. This will be our fourth season attending and I only wish that we would have done it earlier. We look forward to our July “summer vacation”, crossing the river and traveling to Winona each week for a “really great shoe” — it’s magical. Only wish I lived closer to be a FOW.

  9. Abigail Bruxvoort says:

    Well, I’m a non-Winonan, but I stumbled across GRSF last year and attended A Midsummer Night’s Dream on my way home from a camping trip – and LOVED it. Witty and delightful and so well done. This year I’m hoping to return for more.

  10. Judy Pruka says:

    I saw my first play the second season and became a fan after that. Have seen most of the plays and look forward to the festival every season. Good plays and great acting.

  11. Margaret says:

    During one of the first seasons, we saw Kim Martin-Cotten in line at Target and were totally starstruck. This year, Andrew Carlson saw us in Hyvee, and gave us hugs. That says it all.

  12. Joleen says:

    Our theatre grandson just graduated from college and is an apprentice at GRSF. We’re coming to a show the last part of July.

  13. cathy says:

    We went to 12th Night because my daughter’s 8th grade Waldorf class did that as their class play. I laughed harder at that play than I had for many years before. And, even better, I really GOT it all the way through. After many years of reading, hearing and watching “SHAKEspeare”, I finally got into SHAKESPEARE. We’ve gone every summer since then and never regretted it.

  14. Kristin Troska says:

    I love the fish logo from last season’s tee-shirt. Looking forward to getting a new GRSF tee-shirt this year.

  15. Tony Prodzinski says:

    I would very much like to see “All’s Well That Ends Well” by the Apprentices and Interns.

  16. Lindsey Ziegler says:

    The first play from GRSF that I saw was “Much Ado About Nothing.” It definitely started my love for GRSF.

  17. Kristin Troska says:

    I remember watching some Shakespeare action in Levee Park on that cement square stage with the cement seating circle around it. Must have been a really long time ago….wondering if it was before Great River Shakespeare Festival came to Winona? Wondering who it was? It was a great location for a bit of playing. Would love to run across GRSF folks do a bit of public performing!

  18. Karl Hoppe says:

    Kristin Troska – you are thinking of Shakespeare in the Park, which were student-directed snippets of Shakespeare presented by the Wenonah Players (the Winona State Theater group). Don’t know if they still do that or not… I’m thinking no with how early they are finished.

    As far as my Shakespeare moment – a play I loved. My wife and I saw Comedy of Errors in London and in Winona within weeks of each other in 2010, we’ll take the GRSF version any day.

  19. Kristin Troska says:

    I regret missing debut year 2004 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, thought it would be too hard to understand, but I saw the show in 2011 and it was wonderful.

    Thanks for the information Karl. I have a pleasant memory of sunshine and Shakespeare in the Park!

  20. Cynthya says:

    First, I am SO SORRY for making you wait for the winner. I was thrown off schedule by the immensely sad loss of one of our own – John Edstrom – who was my former publisher and an avid supporter of the Great River Shakespeare Festival.

    But I am back in the saddle, and I have drawn a winner!!! I really, really enjoyed reading the comments to this post – it gave me a big, warm fuzzy.

    But there can be only one… and I have it in my hand, freshly drawn out of a box with 33 cut up pieces of paper in it.

    This week’s winner is Lindsey Ziegler – Congratulations!!

    Here was her comment, “In one of the early seasons, the GRSF cast would put on a talent show on the green and my friends and I attended. After the show, my friend and I gathered the courage to speak with Chris Gerson. We went up to him and introduced ourselves and said that he was our most favorite… and then he said, ‘Hi, I’m Chris.’ And we did the fan-girl squeee thing.”

    Hahahaha – this made me laugh. Been there.

    Lindsey, send me a note at cynthyaporter@gmail.com and I’ll get the certificates into your hands.

    Thank you everyone for sharing such wonderful Shakespeare thoughts – this was a lot of fun 🙂

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