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Great River Shakespeare Festival: An Education (06/01/2011)
From: Andrew Carlson

I love this festival and this community. It is a unique place to work, for many reasons, and I want to share some of the reasons I find it so special.

GRSF is built on learning at its very core. As the director of the Shakespeare for Young Actors program at the Great River Shakespeare Festival, I have witnessed how important and thrilling educational experiences can be for students and teachers. But I am also the product of GRSF educational programming: five years ago, I came to GRSF as an acting apprentice to understudy Michael Fitzpatrick and Doug Scholz-Carlson in Romeo and Juliet, and they continue to serve as artistic and personal mentors to me. Now that I am helping to create the educational programming at GRSF, I continue to learn from students, GRSF company members, and people in Winona.

Winona has great teachers and great schools. I know this because I have been in classrooms and seen master teachers at work. I have taught some of their dedicated students, and I have turned to them for teaching and mentoring advice.

GRSF grows because we value what the people who live here have to say. Dozens of people study the plays each year in a popular Shakespeare Collegium that runs for several months before we arrive. This summer we are piloting a Shakespeare Symposium on July 10th and July 17th to provide extended opportunities to discuss the plays. The local collegium not only provided inspiration, however. They created scholarships for Shakespeare for Young Actors students and Acting Apprentices, helping to ensure equal access to the educational programming at the festival. Shakespeare, we all continue to insist, is not for the elite few.

I have personal reasons that I love this festival, too. My daughter was born here in the summer of 2008. She was called the “Shakespeare baby” in the paper, and for the first two months of her life, thanks to GRSF and the Friends of Will, we never had to make our own dinner. In 2009, during a performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost, I received a call that my mother, who lives in Chicago, had to have emergency surgery for a brain tumor. Directors Paul Barnes and Alec Wild never gave it a second thought. Go to Chicago to be with her. Some things are more important.

Those kinds of life-affirming events do not happen at other theatre companies, but GRSF and the community that nurtures its growth are special. These are some of my reasons, among many, that I have chosen to participate in the campaign to “Set the Stage” for the future.

I hope that the community knows how much we look forward to the summer in Winona, and how blessed we at GRSF feel to work here.  

 

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