The MORE of 14 Great River Shakespeare Festival seasons


(7/24/2017)

From: Charlotte M. Speltz, Ed. D.
Retired counselor education professor, WSU

Every time Artistic Director Doug Scholz-Carlson and Managing Director Aaron Young announce at the beginning of each play (12 times for me so far!) that 2017 is the “14th Season of the Great River Shakespeare Festival,” I shake my head in disbelief. After 14 years this company is an integral part of our community. This realization means the far-reaching impact, the MORE, goes further beyond just economic gain for the region.

“The play’s the thing,” penned Shakespeare over 400 years ago, but for everyone in Winona (both all-year residents and summer snowbirds) GRSF means MORE than just attending a play. The MORE begins as we share our community with professional actors, directors, designers and producers from as far away as Australia. These unpretentious souls are now part of the culture and fabric of our lives.

We know their names, and they know ours. We recall specific roles they played. We enjoy coffee, doughnuts, and dinner together. As we aged, their children grew up, graduated high school, and attended college. Some returned as apprentices to this very company. 

 

Other actors began as apprentices, matured in their roles over succeeding years, and are now full equity actors. Company members have met and married one another. Children have been born, at least one delivered right here in Winona!

Now, we proudly attend show times of young children ages 4-8 and 9-12 whose parents are in the company, all a part of the expanding GRSF education outreach. Junior high and high school students (some with GRSF parents, some from Winona, others from various states) will showcase their talents for the Winona community in a free performance of “Hamlet” at the Shakespeare for Young Actors and Designers on Sunday, July 23, at 6 p.m.

Connecting through weekly GRSF company conversations reveals MORE ways their lives mirror our own. Like all of us, they are engaged in a “daily grind.” The difference is they are learning texts, fight choreography, set and costume changes. Like us, they too make decisions on balancing family life and maintaining physical and mental health.

A sad part of the MORE is the loss of good friends associated with GRSF who have died in these 14 years. This season is dedicated to the memory of Karen Fawcett. Returning without her presence has been unbelievably sad. Many of us were privileged to volunteer under her leadership in Friends of Will. Her genteel tenacity motivated numerous GRSF endeavors which enriched us all, another MORE for which we are grateful.

MORE than once, Doug Scholz-Carlson has reminded us “the play is a conversation between the actor and the audience.” Personal discussions about our reactions to the plays and other events prompt us to connect Shakespeare’s powerful themes to our own lives long after we have left the theater. Sitting on stage this year during “Comedy of Errors” and “Richard III” gives a new perspective — I did it!

That malevolent narcissist Richard III draws the audience into his schemes through shared soliloquies, and we see matters reversing as his followers turn aside, fearful for their own lives. “Comedy of Errors,” a rapid-fire farce, brings alive the value of family relationships and collegial communities. We marvel at the adventures in “Shipwrecked!,” a true story perhaps embellished with wishful thinking. We leave “An Iliad” weeping over unforeseen consequences of misplaced values in our own lives, aware that what we might consider virtues can be problematic in different contexts. Is it possible that we have felt the rage The Poet expresses? When? Why?

And then another related MORE occurs. I see the newest granite monument near the Band Shell in our Veterans Memorial Park erected to honor all combat veterans. I am struck dumb by the quotation engraved on the side: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power there will be peace.” The Poet in “An Iliad” would rejoice! Winona has gotten the message!

 

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