by LAURA HAYES
With the start of the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) season just around the corner, now’s your chance to talk with the cast and crew bringing the Bard’s work to life and catch a glimpse of the shows prior to seeing them onstage.
On Saturday, the Winona County Historical Society (WCHS) will host it 13th annual summer fundraiser Chocolate, Shakespeare, and Champagne. WCHS Assistant Director Jennifer Weaver explained that the party started as a way to welcome the GRSF cast and crew to Winona and give the company a chance to meet Winona area residents.
“I would think that people would find it valuable to come up and close with actors that they see onstage in the summer,” Weaver said.
In addition to sampling chocolate treats, community members can also have a taste of the upcoming GRSF season. This year, GRSF will feature productions of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” along with the musical “Georama” by West Hyler and Matt Schatz.
Weaver said that she looks forward to the sneak peek to see how GRSF re-imagines Shakespeare. “I’m always curious how they spin it into a different historical context,” she explained. “It gives you an advanced look to ‘what do I want to make sure I get in and see [this season]?’”
GRSF Managing Director Lee Gundersheimer said that community members look forward to this party throughout the year to say hello to their favorite company members. “GRSF is all about community so this is a chance for the community to welcome the company. We think of the Shakespeare Festival as Winona and the region’s theater company. You guys own it,” he said.
Chocolate, Shakespeare, and Champagne is the major summer fundraiser for the WCHS. Weaver explained that proceeds from the fundraiser go to the general operation of the history center, keeping the lights on and helping change out the exhibits in the museum. While the museum does receive funding at the city and county level, Weaver said that WCHS has to raise around 80 percent of its own funding.
“It’s one of the most vital organizations in Winona,” Gundersheimer said. “The most important thing is to come out and support the history center.”
Committee member Shelby Faustino first got involved with Chocolate, Shakespeare, and Champagne as an attendee before volunteering this year to help plan the party. A lover of the history center, Faustino said that she had previously come to the event with friends who had never been to the history center before. “This place is gorgeous,” Faustino explained, adding that the party helped break the stuffy stigma surrounding museums.
Since Faustino introduced them to the history center, her friends have been back since.
“I think it’s a wonderful way to taste and sample a lot of good treats and to be treated to the upcoming festival,” Gundersheimer said.
While the GRSF’s 13th season runs from June 22 to July 31, come and get a sampling of what’s to come at Chocolate, Shakespeare, and Champagne. The party will be held at the Winona County History Center on June 11 from 7-9 p.m. Tickets cost $30 for the public or $25 for WCHS members. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time at the center or at the door.