By Peter Flick- Friends of Will
Skeptics. When my wife Jeannine and I became aware that a professional theater company was going to perform Shakespeare in Winona, we were skeptical. It was the summer of 2004. We had always liked live theater, but Shakespeare wasn’t something we had any desire to see. Seeing Shakespeare’s plays was not on our bucket lists. My experiences with Shakespeare in high school and college were less than enlightened, and certainly not enjoyable. Therefore, Jeannine was surprised when I bought tickets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream online.
We found the performance beguiling. Jeannine and I fell in love with Shakespeare during that performance. The language of Shakespeare, which can be overly affected, was clear and understandable. The staging was simple and beautiful. The acting was spectacular and the play was really fun to watch. The fairies were costumed in combat boots and goggles. The comedic Mechanicals, staging their little play within a play, were hilarious. A high point for me was watching actor Kim Martin-Cotten as Hippolyta, the captured Queen of the Amazons, eyes welling with tears of anger, stand silent and defiant towards her captor and betrothed, Theseus the Duke. We became enthralled with the Great River Shakespeare Festival and knew we wanted more seasons of the festival. We joined others who were also impressed with the festival and within months our group formed The Friends of Will, a volunteer group to support the festival. The name, “Friends of Will,” it should be noted, was put forth by Frances Edstrom during those initial meetings.
During the early days of the festival, actor Christopher Gerson answered my question, “Don’t you get tired of Shakespeare?” with “Shakespeare is a deep well. Every time you dip into it you find something new.” His comment became the catalyst for the development of the Friends of Will Reads and Great River Collegium. To date, collegium members have read and studied thirteen plays by Shakespeare together. We meet over the winter and are prepared for the new GRSF season when it opens each June.
Our skepticism long quelled, Jeannine and I have become great fans of the Great River Shakespeare Festival. We have become Shakespeare scholars. We are fascinated by the language and the characters created by the bard. We have discovered that his works are enduring and poignant. “Shakespeare” has become an everyday part of our lives. We quote his characters. We reference the plays. Sometimes we even speak like the characters. We have made many new friends through the festival and the collegium. The Great River Shakespeare Festival has changed our lives in many good and wonderful ways.