Great River Shakespeare Festival Winona

By Kim Seidel —

The highly anticipated Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, Minnesota, celebrates its 14th season from June 21 to July 30, 2017. Often called the greatest dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare’s words remain as relevant today as they did when he passed away 400 years ago, and the GRSF proves it each summer. 

During May, Winona warmly welcomes about 110 GRSF company members, professional actors and designers who become a natural part of this quaint river town for the duration of the festival. “Summer in Winona is a magical time. It’s a wonderful travel destination, and the festival fits well into that enjoyable atmosphere,” says Eileen Moeller, GRSF marketing and sales manager.

For the first time, this season brings four major plays—two by Shakespeare and two by timeless writers. The fest is ever-growing because of its thoughtful, easy-to-understand, engaging shows, as well as its affordability for professional theatre.

“Our mission statement is to create dynamic, clearly spoken productions of Shakespeare’s plays, which enrich people’s lives,” Moeller says. Everyone is invited to give it a try. You won’t be alone: More than 11,000 people attend the fest, contributing to the region’s vitality and prosperity. GRSF’s mission also involves sustaining a highly skilled company of theatre professionals, including equity actors. Fest-goers get to know the actors, which helps create big fan bases annually. 

The popular 5K run—Will Run—is a neat testimony of how the actors and community come together during the fest. “People love to try running against a ‘villain’ or share that they ran with a cast member. It’s a lot of fun,” Moeller says. 

What says summer fun more than a picnic?

Before each performance held on Winona State University’s main stage on Fridays and Saturdays, Concerts on the Green offers a relaxing atmosphere with local artists and food.

Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” opens and closes the fest. “This comedy is especially great, and it will be a huge crowd pleaser,” Moeller says. “It’s also visually exciting with glitzy costumes and stage design reflective of 1920s glamour.” 

In GRSF’s second show of the season, “Richard III,” intrigue, revenge and a desire for power are key themes behind scheming main character Richard, performed by one of the fest’s favorite actors.

The third production offers amusement for the entire family: “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment,” follows Louis de Rougemont’s amazing adventure, including fantastic characters and faraway places—and it’s all true!

The fourth play, “An Iliad,” brings a new experience to GRSF, as it’s held in WSU’s black box theatre. The one-person show, which is alternately played by two popular actors, features events of the Trojan War. 

GRSF strives to provide educational opportunities for learners of all ages and backgrounds.

After Saturday 2 p.m. matinees, stay in your seat for a look behind the scenes during a narrated set changeover.

Other events reflecting GRSF’s dedication to education includes Company Conversation: On Sunday mornings before matinees, actors answer questions from fest-goers at a local coffee shop. Front Porch Events on Saturday mornings bring prominent speakers and entertainers to the community.

Each summer, GRSF also involves youth in apprenticeship education. In addition, a professional apprentice program provides training for undergrad and post-grad students. Both programs culminate with a Shakespeare production.

The festival is proud to call Winona its home. It’s the only one of its kind in Minnesota, and one of the few Shakespeare festivals in the Midwest. For a complete schedule of GRSF events and ticket information, visit www.grsf.org.