Local kids shine in the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) this year. Carter Briggs, 11, Bailey Bestul, 14, and Katie Bowler, 18, were cast in GRSF’s “Twelfth Night.” Carter, Bailey, and Katie, and their families, received an email inviting them to audition for the positions in “Twelfth Night” open to young performers. They are joined by Eva Rose and Anna Scholz-Carlson, daughters of GRSF Artistic Director Doug Scholz-Carlson.
Photo by Jen Burris
Katie Bowler, Bailey Bestul, and Carter Briggs are the local young performers who were selected to participate in GRSF’s production of “Twelfth Night” this year.
Carter Briggs has previously performed in “The Nutcracker,” but this is his first play. Both Bailey and Katie have performed in plays prior to their involvement with GRSF’s production of “Twelfth Night” this year.
Learning has been at the forefront of the experience for all three performers.
“I’ve learned about the play,” Carter said. “I ask a bunch of questions.” Carter’s mother and castmates have noticed how much he enjoys learning about Shakespeare’s works.
Bailey explained how helpful Paul Barnes and the apprentices have been to him. “Paul Barnes is amazing. I’ve learned so much from him, and one of the apprentices has taught me a lot,” Bailey noted. “We have three hours back in the green room (the room where the performers wait when they are not on stage), so I have have lots of time to learn.”
Katie emphasized how much can be learned through observation. “Really one of my favorite things is being able to observe the professional company,” Katie explained. “Through being in that professional environment with them and watching them work, I’ve learned so much more than I ever thought I would.”
Carter, son of Steve and Jenel Briggs, has seen 15 different Shakespeare plays so far. His favorites include “King Lear” and “The Tempest.” “I liked the scenery in ‘The Tempest’ and Chris Gerson’s monster,” Carter explained. “And in ‘King Lear’ I liked the characters and the story.”
Carter’s castmates have enjoyed working with such a creative individual.
“He’s got this amazing creative mind; he picks out these little details and will kind of, in the middle of the green room, start analyzing it,” Katie noted. “He’s got a great analytical mind — and he does drawings too, actually. It’s fantastic’ it’s so much fun to see!”
Bailey is impressed with Carter’s artistic skills as well. “He was going around the green room drawing different characters as different mythological creatures; he’s an amazing artist.”
Carter hopes to participate in the Shakespeare for Young Actors (SYA) program in the future. He has a younger brother, Rory.
This is Bailey’s first experience acting in a multi-act play. “I was actually in a one-act play in school,” Bailey said. He also competed at the state level in speech, with his sister. Though he hadn’t really experienced Shakespeare before, he’s now read “Twelfth Night,” has gone to “Henry V,” and plans to see “Macbeth” as well.
His experience with a professional company is something that he hopes to apply to future situations. “I think it’s great to work with a professional company; It’s a completely different layout,” Bailey explained. “I’ll be able to carry this experience on to other plays.”
Bailey added that he would would love to participate in future GRSF plays and encourages everyone to get out and see the play. “I think even for people who say, 'Oh I’ve read Shakespeare,' it’s worth it,” Bailey added enthusiastically. “There’s fantastic movement, and the lighting, and the set. You don’t even have to like Shakespeare to enjoy the play.” Bailey is the son of Scott and Shari Bestul, and has a twin sister, Brooke. His grandmother is well-known Winona State University director Vivian Fusillo, and his aunt is also a director and professional actress — Siobhan Bremer, his mother's twin sister.
This is the fourth GRSF production Katie has been involved in; she has previously acted in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Comedy of Errors,” and “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.”
“I’ve really gotten to watch some of the actors who I have looked up to for years and years and years and see them on stage...in such a vulnerable state in front of these crowds of people,” Katie noted passionately. “It’s just beyond inspiring and really amazing to see how they kind of just strip themselves down and just bare their entire core and their heart to all these people.”
Katie, the daughter of Michael Bowler and Ruth Charles, has observed a lot over the years at GRSF. “It’s just so wonderful...not just the actors, but the interns and the apprentices, the costume people - everyone. They all have this love for Winona,” Katie noted. “And then the volunteers just have this love for the company. I think it’s gotten me to appreciate my hometown in a different light.”
Even though Katie will be heading off to the University of Wisconsin at Steven’s Point for college this fall, she hopes this won’t be the last GRSF will be seeing of her. “Growing up and going through high school and being a teenager, I think I’ve gained a lot of confidence due to the company. I have this support system.”
For newcomers to the festival, Katie reminds people to give GRSF a try. “I know a lot of people don’t want to give Shakespeare a chance because it’s Shakespeare and you had to read it in high school. But Shakespeare wasn’t supposed to be read, it was supposed to be seen,” she explained. “When you really see it up on stage, with all the amazing things that Jim [Edmondson, director of Henry V] and Paul [Barnes, director of Twelfth NIght] put into these shows, it’s so much more than that [the thoughts synonymous with Shakespeare]; the company is such a gift that Winona has gotten and we should just value that. And all the kids are great,” she added with a giggle. Katie also has a younger sister Dona.