Festival goers enjoyed Great River Shakespeare Festival’s 2013 Chocolate, Shakespeare, and Champagne.
Photo by Sarah Squires.
by BEN MCLEOD
Looking for a fresh Friday-night option? How do pastries, chocolate, champagne, and an evening with the court of the fairy king sound? This week, the Winona County Historical Society (WCHS), with assistance from the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) and a number of local businesses, will host the 15th annual Chocolate, Shakespeare and Champagne fundraiser.
The full company of this season’s festival will be present at the event, which begins at 7 p.m. This year, the company will be meeting and greeting curious community members, but also rehearsing select scenes from one of this year’s productions, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This particular version will involve the audience more than the usual performances. GRSF Managing Director Aaron Young said, “It has a lot of audience interaction, but during rehearsals we don’t have much opportunity for that. We’ll use [Friday night] to expand that rehearsal, so before we go into the performances we can get some practice working with an audience.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of the Shakespeare scripts that includes a play within a play, along with “Hamlet,” and arguably, “The Tempest.” Neither of those plays are known for their comedy, but “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a silly and romantic fairy tale involving all the confusion and miscommunications of a farce, but with more shape-changing. While attendees of the benefit may not end the evening emotionally entangled with the Queen of the Fairies, there will be chocolate and a cash bar, so anything could happen.
The 15th anniversary is traditionally celebrated as the crystal anniversary, and WCHS Museum Educator Jennifer Weaver reported that crystal will definitely be the theme in this year’s decor. Weaver has attended 11 of the last 15 fundraisers and is looking forward to this one. “It’s a fun atmosphere. People get to mix and mingle with the cast and crew,” she said. “Initially it was a welcome to [GRSF], a kickoff event, and we’ve just continued with it as a fundraiser, even after the festival has become a staple in the community. It’s a fun way to get a sneak preview of the performances.”
This year there will also be musical entertainment during the first half of the evening from Hurly Burly, a band that plays French traditional music and that will be providing musical accompaniment for GRSF. Additionally, a grand prize gift basket will be offered; attendees can buy each chance in the drawing for $5. The basket will include a stay at the Alexander Hotel, gift certificates for Signatures, Ground Round, and what Weaver describes as “a whole slew of chocolate and gifts.”
Monica DeGrazia used to sit on the planning committee for the event, and now participates by donating desserts from Dante’s Cookies, a business started by her son Dante in high school that now primarily donates cookies for fundraising events at places like the Historical Society or the Women’s Resource Center. Dante’s Cookies will be donating the non-chocolate entry, raspberry almond thumbprint cookies. “It’s the combination of local people and the whole [GRSF] company; it’s a wonderful event,” enthused DeGrazia. “Some of them aren’t old enough to have champagne, but they can still come since it’s not in a bar.”
Jennifer Rogers, owner and operator of Winona’s Mon Petit Cupcakes, enjoys the event as a point of contact to the community for her “petit bites” cupcakes, but is a fan of the event even if she isn’t participating. “It’s a pretty special event for the community,” said Rogers. “[GRSF] is such a huge draw, and this is such a special evening, a special preview and a gathering point for people to see what the fest is all about, and to enjoy delights made by local vendors.” Other sponsors include Winona National Bank, Blowdows, Bub’s, Jefferson’s Pub, LARK Toys, Hy-Vee and Topper’s Pizza.
The Winona Historical Society’s Chocolate, Shakespeare and Champaign benefit will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 8, and will run until 9 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at the Historical Society or at the door on the night of the event, and will be $30, or $25 for WCHS members. For more information, call WCHS at 507-454-2723 or visit winonahistory.org.