by LAURA HAYES
On Thursday evening, Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) leaders announced their professional lineup for season 15 — Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” David Ives’ “Venus in Fur,” and a stage adaptation of the 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love.” The apprentice play is “The Merchant of Venice.”
“It’s going to be a really exciting year for our audience,” GRSF Artistic Director Doug Scholz-Carlson said. While the festival usually doesn’t have an overarching theme for a season, Scholz-Carlson believes there’s a thread of tolerance, forgiveness, and multiple ways of falling in love in this season’s shows.
This is the first time GRSF will perform “All’s Well That Ends Well.” Scholz-Carlson said while the play’s title is well-known, few people have actually seen it. He classifies it as a “problem” comedy. “All’s Well That Ends Well” follows low-born Helena who falls in love with Bertram — a count’s son. When Bertram goes to the French court, Helena follows and offers to heal the French king on the condition that if she’s successful, she can marry a member of his court — Bertram. Bertram, Scholz-Carlson said, needs to grow up, and the only way he can do so is with Helena’s grace and generosity. “It’s about what is possible for us to become under pressure. It’s about forgiveness, grace, and, on many levels, growing up,” he explained.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has been performed three times in the festival’s history — twice on the professional stage and once during “Shakespeare in the Schools.” “It’s just a great play,” Scholz-Carlson said. This season, GRSF plans to have a small eight-person cast. Actors will double some roles, which Scholz-Carlson said will show a range of their acting skills.
GRSF will be the regional premiere of a stage adaptation of “Shakespeare in Love.” A woman disguises herself as a man to audition for Shakespeare’s play. The bard and the woman fall in love, inspiring him to write “Romeo and Juliet” and “Twelfth Night.”
GRSF was approached by Disney — which owns the rights for "Shakespeare in Love" — representatives who came to see “Shipwrecked” last season. GRSF Managing Director Aaron Young believes that the play will be a good way to draw new audience members to the festival. Scholz-Carlson said it was a “big” play for the company to do — both in terms of cast members and costumes. This will be the first time GRSF will have Elizabethan costumes. “That’s a very complicated style of costumes to do and labor-intensive costumes to build,” Scholz-Carlson said.
“Lots of layers,” Young added.
The audience responded well to “An Iliad” last season, Young said, and many liked having two productions run at the same time, one taking place in the more intimate Black Box Theater. David Ives’ play “Venus in Fur” will be performed in the Black Box Theater. The two-person play opens with a woman, Vanda, coming to audition for a play, and throughout the pair become swept up in the audition. “It’s about a sadomasochistic relationship,” Scholz-Carlson said. “It’s a very sexy play. It’s a very funny play. It’s a very adult play. It’s really a modern look at the relationship between the sexes.”
While many of the plays to be performed explore the relationships between men and women, Scholz-Carlson said “Venus in Fur” is a modern look at courtship. Young said in the book from which the play is based — Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s “Venus in Furs” — echoes themes prevalent in many social movements today. “You can’t understand where that someone is coming from unless you are that person. By [the male character] being her slave, he’s really enslaving her and saying, ‘I want you to treat me this way,’” Young said. “We’re making assumptions of what people want instead of allowing them to speak and have their own voice.”
Last season was the first time GRSF staged four instead of three professional shows, and Scholz-Carlson and Young hope the four-show model will continue moving forward. “Logistically, it’s a challenge … but it’s thrilling for the artists and to be in the theater when two plays are going on at the same time,” Scholz-Carlson said. In the future, Young hopes to expand the festival’s use of the Black Box Theater and eventually stage a Shakespeare production in the space.
Season passes are officially for sale and may be purchased by visiting http://grsf.org/buy-tickets/ or calling the box office at 507-474-7900. Keep reading the Winona Post for more updates.