Ashley for the Arts will be recognizing the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) with its prestigious Patron of the Arts award on Friday, August 10, on the main stage, before Daughtry’s performance at 8 p.m. The Patron of the Arts award was created to recognize an individual or organization who has demonstrated extraordinary support for the arts.
GRSF is a nonprofit, professional equity theater company in Winona dedicated to dynamic productions of Shakespeare’s plays, enriching the lives of those in attendance. Not only does GRSF hold captivating performances, but it is also well-known for providing extensive education programs to youth and adults alike ranging from summer youth programs, comprehensive theater training classes, and making annual visits to retirement and senior centers.
Going back to 2002, Mark Ferraro-Hauck and Paul Barnes, two of the company’s three founding producing directors, conceptualized the essence of this organization at a restaurant on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. Hauck first broached the idea of establishing a summer Shakespeare festival somewhere in the state of Minnesota. It wasn’t long before the conversation expanded to include Alec Wild, whom Barnes met when they directed side-by-side projects of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Winter’s Tale” at the newly-established University of Minnesota’s Guthrie Theatre BFA Actor Training Program.
Intrigued by the idea of leading a professional theater company dedicated to the plays of William Shakespeare, the three re-convened a few months later for an extended weekend of brainstorming at Barnes’ residence in Ashland, Ore., home to America’s flagship Shakespeare Theater — the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. By this time, the news that the trio was looking for a home base for their theater company had wafted down river to Winona, where city leaders seized upon the idea of a successful arts organization as a means of drawing visitors off Highway 61 and bringing them into town, where they could discover the numerous pleasures and attractions of Winona and also help stimulate the economy.
The rest is very fast-moving history. The trio accepted the city’s invitation to call Winona home. In June 2004, coinciding with the Mississippi River Grand Excursion celebration, the Midwest’s newest and largest equity theater, GRSF, opened its doors.
Now, under the leadership of Artistic Director Doug Scholz-Carlson and Managing Director Aaron A. Young, the festival is celebrating its 15th season. GRSF continues to bring in theater artists from across the country to Winona and has drawn a national audience to the Winona State University campus, where the festival performs. With such a variety of offerings, GRSF has inspired a platoon of community volunteers willing and able to provide a multitude of support functions including serving of the GRSF Board, transporting actors, and hosting company meals during the intense pre-opening tech weeks.
Now, solidly into its second decade, Winona’s Great River Shakespeare Festival is a unique success story come to life. Three people dared to dream and found a community that was willing to embrace, nurture, and support the value of live theater.
Ashley for the Arts is a nonprofit initiative that provides the entire family with world-class entertainment, art, exercise and family fun for a remarkably low cost. It is also one of Wisconsin’s largest charity events, raising more than $425,000 in 2017 for more than 40 nonprofit organizations, including participating schools, children’s charities and medical research. This music and arts festival was conceptualized and established by Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., in 2009. Today, more than 50,000 people attend the event held in Arcadia’s Memorial Park.
For more information on Ashley for the Arts, visit www.ashleyforthearts.com. Like Ashley for the Arts on Facebook or follow it on Twitter at @AshleyfortheArt.