The Earl of Richmond, center and played by Christopher Peltier, and his supporters celebrate their victory over Richard’s forces in GRSF’s performance of “Richard III.”
by LAURA HAYES
Long-lost siblings, a manipulative king, and storytellers graced Great River Shakespeare Festival’s (GRSF) stage this summer. As it came to an end in late July, GRSF staff waved goodbye to this season’s shows — “Comedy of Errors,” “Richard III,” “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment,” and “An Iliad” — and started preparing for season 15 next summer.
“Stay tuned,” GRSF Managing Director Aaron Young said. In the next month-and-a-half to two months, festival staff plan to release the plays for next season, but in the meantime, Young and Marketing and Sales Manager Eileen Moeller took a moment to reflect on season 14.
“I heard from a lot of patrons that they thought this was the best season artistically,” Young said. With this being his first season with GRSF, Young said he was thrilled with the company and its ability to collaborate. “There was so much that got done because everyone collaborated together. That was so good — especially with this being my first year and not knowing what to expect,” Young said.
According to Moeller, there were more people in attendance this year compared to last season. Last season, 10,085 people attended the plays and some of the other events that GRSF offers such as Concerts on the Green and company conversations. She estimates that, this year, around 200 more people attended the plays and events. Season 14 had many “firsts” for the festival, including the first time GRSF showed four — instead of the traditional three — professional plays and the first time audience members could sit onstage. “I think it was very successful,” Moeller said of the onstage seating options. Young sat onstage during “Comedy of Errors” and “Richard III.” “It was fascinating,” he said, adding that some audience members who tried the onstage seats saw the plays several times.
In total, there were 55 professional performances and nine performances of “Henry VI” by GRSF’s interns and apprentices. “Comedy of Errors,” “Richard III,” and “Shipwrecked!” sold out once, and “An Iliad” sold out four times. Longtime company members Andrew Carlson and Tarah Flanagan starred as “The Poet” and alternated between performances. GRSF added two additional performances of the show near the end of the season. “We found that a lot of people who came to ‘An Iliad’ wanted to see it again to be able to compare the two actors,” Young explained.
He said GRSF staff are still determining whether to continue to offer four shows in future seasons. Audience members, Young stated, said it was exciting to be in the Performing Arts Center while there was more than one event. While there were more people in the theater this season, because there were four shows instead of three, Young said there were fewer performances of each show compared to past seasons. Because there were fewer performances, Young said each individual show was less attended compared to previous shows.
The company and performances impressed Moeller and Young. “I was really impressed by the interns and apprentices,” Moeller said. At one point, the apprentices and interns performed “Henry VI” live on Facebook. “So people who didn’t have access to the theater could see it live for free,” she said. The fact that Shakespeare’s plays are still relatable after so many years impressed Young. They still apply to our lives today, he added.
The heads from “Richard III” are currently on display in the GRSF office. Keep reading the Winona Post for GRSF updates and announcements.