And now, a word from our sponsor

Sign up here to see the latest updates from Book Talk

The Daily News--Book talk on

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Wrap-up of Season 11, Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN


It's A Wrap!

"Let us agree that we shall never forget one another, and whatever happens, remember how it felt when we were all here together, united by a good and decent feeling that made us better people, better probably than we otherwise would have been."--The Brothers Karamazov

Season 11 of the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN, wrapped up today. It seems too soon. It feels like only yesterday I was attending Will's Opening Weekend parties, and now it's over. 

Special appreciation to Lee Gundersheimer and Doug Scholz-Carlson, who were in charge for their first full season this year. This was definitely a success.

I know the quote at the beginning wasn't from Shakespeare, but I felt it was appropriate. There is a good and decent feeling among the players, the crew, the volunteers, and even the audience, to make this a great Festival. I haven't been to other Shakespeare Festivals, so I can't compare this Festival to others, but I have heard from some of those who have been elsewhere that this feeling is not necessarily shared at other Festivals. One crew member actually described another festival (which shall remain nameless) as a "dysfunctional family". This is definitely not the case here. From my own experience, as a reviewer, an usher, and concession stand worker, this does feel more like a family, without the dysfunction.

I have already reviewed the plays in other posts on my blog. I will only say that they were very well received by the audience. The total attendance was the second-highest ever in the 11 seasons of the Festival. The only season that exceeded it was a week longer. I also know that people in Winona also are willing to discuss the plays. 

The goal of the Festival is to make Shakespeare accessible for everyone. In that, I believe they have succeeded. They don't water down the text (although, for Hamlet, I've heard that they cut about 1000 lines to keep the running time reasonable; without that, it would have been over 4 hours long), but rely on the basic intelligence to understand what's going on. 

They sponsor pre-show conversations to help the audience understand the plays better. There are also Front Porch conversations with academics, to delve further into the plays. I attended one of these with Dr Peter Sacchio, noted Shakespeare scholar and author of Shakespeare's English Kings. He discussed Hamlet and the play based on Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (R&G). It was a fascinating discussion. I've just started reading his book, so I post my review when I have finished. 

They also sponsor Company Conversations, some held after the play was over, some held at Acoustic Cafe in Winona. This is a chance for the audience to discuss various elements of the play, and of their free time, with the cast members in a relaxed setting. If there are any other festivals that do this, I have not heard of them.

Another event is Concerts on the Green. Each Friday and Saturday night, there are concerts put on by various musical groups right on the campus of Winona State University, where the Festival is held. They're free with a free will offering. Food is available for sale. (Because of state law, alcoholic beverages are not sold on campus.) Everyone seemed to enjoy them. I know I did. Fortunately, this year they only had to use the rain location once.

Today the plays for next year were announced. They are:

Much Ado About Nothing (Barnes & Noble Shakespeare)

Much Ado About Nothing. This could be the subtitle of Jerry Seinfeld's show.

Romeo and Juliet (Barnes & Noble Shakespeare)

Romeo and Juliet. The classic story of star-crossed lovers. What else is there to say?

And, based on the success of R&G, another non-Shakespeare play.

The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. An American classic.

They have not yet announced the Intern/Apprentice project or the Shakespeare for Young Actors and Designers project. 

To honor Shakespeare's 450th birthday, the Festival had a goal of gaining 450 new sustaining memberships. Today, they surpassed the goal with 456. This should ensure the Festival's continuation for some time.

In closing, I leave you with the words of Carol Burnett, which she sang at the end of her show every week.

"I'm so glad we had this time together,
Just to have a laugh, or sing a song.
Seems we just get started and before you know it 
Comes the time we have to say, so long."

Congratulations on a great season, and we'll see everyone next year.

For more information on the Festival, go to

For more information on Winona, go to

Post a Comment