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  Saturday January 31st, 2015    

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Into Air, Into Thin Air
It’s difficult to believe this is our last week
By Paul Barnes

Seems like only yesterday we were assembling in the Performing Arts Center Theatre at Winona State, nervously anticipating Season 3, eager to reunite with company members and local friends from seasons past; equally eager to meet and welcome newly arrived GRSF-ers. And if our first company meeting seems like it took place only yesterday, then opening weekend must have been just last night. The Winona National Bank "step-up-to-the-teller's-window-and-procure-your-beverage-of-choice" reception, the Saturday night candlelight walk and concert on the Levee, the opening of the Friends of Will Volunteers Front Porch Art Exhibit were only an eye-blink ago.

And if opening weekend was just last night, then Peter Saccio, Judith Ramaley, and Carol Mayo Jenkins must have crammed their Front Porch Conversations together sometime between midnight and dawn, along with all of the 2006 season Prelude Concert performers, our Company Conversations, and our Festival Mornings at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse. A season goes by that quickly and then, as Prospero reminds us in The Tempest, we spirits are "melted into air, into thin air."

Which is how it should be. Theatre exists only in the moment of a particular performance, a particular season, a particular moment in time; it is our most ephemeral art. And though it is bittersweet to come to the close of a season, the flicker of what lies ahead, what comes next, burns just brightly enough to remind us that indeed, the best is yet to come.

But wait. I'm getting far too melancholy far too soon. We've still got a week of performances left (including the chance, now that we have surpassed our 2005 season attendance record, to achieve our 12% increase in attendance goal for 2006), we performed an Apprentice/Intern Company project (Cymbeline, Shakespeare's exquisite, fairy-tale like story of redemption and reconciliation) Tuesday, August 1, with another Prelude Concert guest (the famed Rose Ensemble) hosting several performances of our 2006 season productions, Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet, left - with tickets available to each.

Sunday's closing performance on August 6 includes our now-traditional all-Company "Farewell to Winona" "thank you". If you haven't yet seen Romeo and Juliet, that may be the performance to choose, and if you're a sentimental sot, as I am, I recommend Sunday's ceremony as a an excellent, ready-made indulgence.

This week's "snapshots" in the 2006 GRSF "album" include standing in line with Alec Wild to cash a check at Merchants Bank and being told by my friendly local teller what a difference our plays have meant in her life, and finishing up a conversation with Alec at Mugby Junction and being told that a coffee customer's 8 year old son has seen all of our productions and has fallen in love with Shakespeare.

But my favorite may be waiting with Chris Gerson (one of our three-season veteran actors) with five delightful women from Galesville and Trempealeau who had managed to lock their car keys inside their vehicle, while Kim Mills, GRSF volunteer extraordinaire, waited at the Highway 43 bridge to escort the cheerful and good natured husband of one of the stranded playgoers to the Johnson Street parking lot at WSU where he dutifully provided a second set of keys. It was one of those balmy Winona nights when being outside at 11:00 PM feels delirious; our conversation ranged from "how did you do the blood?" to play-going in New York City, to the benefits of having a Shakespeare Festival just across the river.

It is these snapshots I'll carry with me after the curtain comes down on Season 3. But I know there's much more film to be shot as the Festival continues to establish roots in Winona and continues to make a difference in people's lives. Thanks for the warm welcome back; thanks for letting us know our existence here matters. 


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