Posts Tagged: Great River Shakespeare Festival

A Storied Summer: Driftless Theatre

Heartbreak House, 2018. Photo by Liz Lauren. / Courtesy American Players Theatre

Everybody loves a good story – from tall tales to fairy tales to ghost stories around the campfire to a stage full of actors, performing the scripts of Shakespeare (and others!). Stories transport us, remind us of our history – our joy and our sorrow – and bring us together for a fleeting bit of magic. Add to your summer story by checking out one – or all – of these fun theatres and story-telling events across the Driftless this year.


American Players Theatre – Spring Green, Wisconsin

The scene is set: You’ve got great friends, snacks, and a sense of anticipation along as you head off to the beautiful American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Get there early to enjoy your pre-show picnic and the ambiance of the outdoor amphitheater, with sounds of whippoorwills and cicada floating through the air. And then, find your spot – the show is about to begin.

American Players Theatre

Photos by Kelsi Wermuth / Courtesy APT

“Nature definitely plays an active role in our outdoor theater,” says Jess Amend, APT’s Marketing Content Manager, explaining the charm of the Hill Theatre, where the outdoor APT plays are staged. “Most of the performances start around dusk, so you get to watch the world transform as the play goes on. It’s really a full sensory experience – the breeze blows, and the stars and moon come out, and they’re the same stars and moon that Shakespeare’s plays have always been performed under.”

With a backdrop like this, it’s no wonder playgoers love APT. Not only it is a great excuse for a relaxing night out, but the elements of nature – like the occasional pigeon landing on stage – also ensure each experience will be unique. “It all adds dimension to the plays we produce here, and it’s a pretty spectacular way to spend an evening.”

American Players Theatre's outdoor amphitheater, Hill Theatre

Photo by Mike McDermott / Courtesy APT

The storytelling in this setting is what truly makes the Theatre a must-see Driftless destination. “APT’s mission includes digging into really dense, poetic language. And that can be hard – for the actors and the audience – if you don’t do it right,” Jess says. This is why APT has a dedicated voice and text department – one of the strongest in the country – that helps bring stories to life in ways many have never seen before. “We often have audience members tell us that they never understood Shakespeare until they saw it at APT,” says Jess. That, in combination with the chemistry and ease on stage of the actors, makes once-complicated, hard-to-interpret stories feel more digestible, Jess says. “People tell us these actors feel like family, and that’s a powerful thing, and a powerful element to add to any story.”

In addition to the newly renovated 1089-seat outdoor amphitheater, Hill Theatre, there’s the 201-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre. Mark your calendars to the APT 40th Anniversary party on July 21 featuring a first-ever arts installation.

American Players Theatre’s 2019 season’s plays (both indoor and out) are:

Twelfth Night and Macbeth, both by William Shakespeare

She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

August Wilson’s Fences by August Wilson

The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson

The Man of Destiny by George Bernard Shaw (indoors)

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur by Tennesee Williams (indoors)

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (indoors)

A Doll’s House, Part 2, by Lucas Hnath (indoors)

See more info and buy tickets at americanplayers.org


Great River Shakespeare Festival – Winona, Minnesota

At the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, Minnesota, they spend a lot of time investigating what is at the core of the story and the characters – translating the works of Shakespeare in new and exciting ways is both challenging and rewarding. “Things like jealousy, love, and ambition are timeless, and there are always new ways to examine how those things affect us,” says Eileen Moeller, GRSF Marketing and Sales Director. “Keeping productions relevant is very important to our company.”

Great River Shakespeare Festival

Photo by Dan Norman / Courtesy GRSF

This year’s production of Macbeth is a great example of how GRSF stays true to the core story and script, but also dips its toe into something new. Their website even suggests you should bring along a “Game of Thrones fan looking to take their fandom to another level” to enjoy the show. “Macbeth is a popular play because it’s dark and broody, but it also deals with ambition and power,” says Eileen. “It’s one that offers a lot to a lot of different people – famous lines for Shakespeare geeks and lots of swords and (fake) blood for those who like action.”

The stories, the costumes, and the set design are all top-notch at GRSF, but, like APT, it’s the atmosphere of community that keeps both audience and company coming back year after year. They’re expecting about 11,000 attendees for this year’s event. “If you’re not from town, you feel like you belong, and if you live in Winona, it’s like seeing old friends,” Eileen says. “For those of us in the company, it’s a combination of a family reunion and summer camp.”

“It’s a community,” she adds. “We want to tell stories together and discuss with our friends and neighbors what they mean for us, in this moment.”

Great River Shakespeare Festival

Photo by Dan Norman / Courtesy GRSF

This year’s Great River Shakespeare Festival – it’s 16th Season! – includes these plays:

Cymbeline

Macbeth

No Child…

The Servant of Two Masters

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Love’s Labors Lost (Apprentice/Intern Production)

Mark your calendars: GRSF runs now through early August. New this year are two off-site performances at Forager Brewery in Rochester (July 11) and Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse (July 14). Learn more and buy tickets at grsf.org.

Noteworthy: There are many opportunities for kids to get involved in GRSF through classes, like Shakespeare for: Young Actors; Young Designers;  Young Filmmakers and more. Find details at grsf.org.


Commonweal Theatre – Lanesboro, Minnesota

Lanesboro, Minnesota, is a charming little town that packs a punch, with outstanding recreational activities, exquisite art experiences, and beautiful Victorian houses. And one of the big pieces at the heart of Lanesboro is the Commonweal Theatre, an intimate theater with 30 years of experience under its belt. Executive Director Hal Cropp works hard alongside staff and crew to ensure that playgoers have the same, enjoyable experience at their shows that they do in the surrounding community. The ensemble of folks at the Theatre rotate between different jobs – in addition to being actors on stage, they may also be ticket sellers one day, ticket takers the next, or work selling concessions another. This allows theatre-goers to interact with the company on a more personal, face-to-face level. “It works with both the intimacy of the theater itself and the unique style of the public spaces – all of which are a permanent art display,” Hal says. “And deepens the audience feeling that we are ‘their’ theater.” Passionate storytelling is at the core of the Commonweal company, and this is what brings attendees back for more.

2018 production of The Clean House at Commonweal Theatre

Colleen Barrett (left) and Fernanda Badeo in the 2018 production of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl. Photo by Peterson Creative Photography & Design / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre

Production selections start with “passion pieces” presented by members of the ensemble. “This generally yields a list of 40 or 50 titles, which then get sorted through for a number of variables: cast size, technical requirements, as well as how it fits against the other titles being offered,” Hal explains. “We are deeply cognizant of our mission to enrich the common good.” Even after 30 years, each production is a new experience at the Commonweal. The company is dedicated to the philosophy of making each person feel like the theatre is their home, and ultimately, feel connected to each story. “The satisfaction we derive from having people connect on so many levels is spiritually fulfilling, and therefore fun,” Hal says. “Passionate storytelling, executed on a highly professional level, touches everyone.”

Commonweal Theatre

Commonweal Theatre. Photo by Katrina Myrah / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre

Commonweal’s 2019 Season runs from April-December.

Current and upcoming shows include:

Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti (May 10-Aug 31)

Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice (July 12-Oct 26)

On the Verge by Eric Overmyer (Sept 6-Nov10)

Sanders Family Christmas by Connie Ray (Nov 15-Dec 22)

Find details and buy tickets at commonwealtheatre.org

Resident ensemble member and theatre patron at Commonweal Theatre

Brandt Roberts (left), resident ensemble member, and a theatre patron / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre


Looking for more storytelling fun?

La Crosse Storytelling Festival – La Crosse, Wisconsin

Love a good scary story? Then the La Crosse Storytelling Festival in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is for you! This two-day event kicks off on a Friday night with a gentle first act, perfect for youngsters or the faint-of-heart. Then, the fear gets for real after intermission. “Humans have listened to scary tales for centuries as both cautionary tales and fun experiences. We hope to address the fun, but scary, experience,” says Professional Storyteller, Terry Visger. The festival ups the fun by serving witches brew with costume-clad emcees – appealing to young and old. “This has been a very popular event for children of all ages but, in the last two years, we have actually had more adults than children in attendance,” Terry says.

Day two brings tales of a tamer variety. Musicians, jugglers, and storytellers unite to provide an exciting family-friendly experience. “Storytelling is magical for children. It engages all of their brain and physical being. We choose musicians who know how to interact with children by making them part of the performance,” Terry says.

For adults, the talent and variety of internationally-known storytellers can’t be beat. “We strive for variety in style, content, and type of story. We believe our audiences should experience the best-of-the-best and that is why we bring tellers from many areas and backgrounds to La Crosse,” she says.

After 16 years of hosting this fun-filled weekend under tents, this year’s festival will leave the mosquitoes and unpredictable weather behind for a new location: The Pump House Regional Arts Center. “We will have great food and drink, a silent auction, and bookstore,” Terry says. “And, more importantly, wonderful entertainment for the weekend.”

Mark Your Calendars: La Crosse Storytelling Festival – July 19-20. Learn more at lacrossestoryfest.com.

History Alive – Lanesboro, Minnesota

Loving that Lanesboro, Minnesota vibe? Mark your calendars for History Alive Lanesboro, “Pop-up Plays: Founding Lanesboro 1869,” coming this fall, September 21, 22, 28, and 29 at 1 and 3 pm each day.

History Alive presents stories of Lanesboro… in the streets of Lanesboro. The one and a half-hour walking tours take you to different play locations around town. Tours begin at Sons of Norway, 200 Parkway Avenue South, Lanesboro. Tickets are for sale at the door.

2019’s traveling plays celebrate Lanesboro’s 150th anniversary. Meet some of the town’s first residents, railroad builders, stonemasons, fresh off-the-boat Irish and Norwegians, Chief Winneshiek, area abolitionists, even snake oil salesmen through this storytelling event!

Mark Your Calendars: History Alive Lanesboro – September 21, 22, 28, and 29. See facebook.com/historyalivelanesboro/ for details.

Loving: Great River Shakespeare Festival

Great River Shakespeare Festival

The Tempest, 2014. Photo courtesy Kathy Greden Christenson

What We’re Loving Right Now: Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota

WhatWereLoving_LogoGRSF runs June 22 to July 31, 2016

It takes a lot of great people to put on the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota, every summer. Truth be told, Inspire(d) friend and GRSF Marketing Director Emily Kurash might bring the fun factor up to an 11 (she does that with things…), but the whole entire crew works together to bring awesome live – and lively – theatre to our region in a totally cool way.

So what is Great River Shakespeare Festival? Each summer GRSF performs three plays or musicals (usually) all by good, ol’ Bill Shakespeare. This summer they’re doing Julius CaesarAs You Like It, and a new musical, Georama, that’s actually not a Shakespeare at all. Georama, with Book by West Hyler and Matt Schatz and Music & Lyrics by Jack Herrick is based on a true story about American painter John Banvard. Banvard created these big – really big – moving panoramas of the Mississippi River, and toured them around the country, even having a run-in with the Barnum & Bailey circus. Georama had its world premiere at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre in February. “It’s a really interesting story,” says Kurash. “It’s fun to have that Mississippi River tie-in here in Winona, and one of the writers, Jack Herrick, will be on staff this summer doing music direction as well as writing original songs for As You Like It with an Eastern European flair.”

What else does GRSF do? (SO much!)

Get all the details at grsf.org.

Driftless Day Trips: Winona, Minnesota

winona_overview

By Benji Nichols • Photos by Inspire(d) unless noted
Originally published in the Summer 2012 Inspire(d)

The sprawling Mississippi River tapers her current just before Blackbird Slough and Lock and Dam #5A above Winona, Minnesota. There, the giant river flows humbly through a high and wide valley that in 1805 Zebulon Pike called “a prospect so variegated and romantic that a man may scarcely expect to enjoy such a one but twice or thrice in the course of his life.”

Founded in the mid 1800s by Captain Orrin Smith, Winona was the site of a native village called Keoxah. It was Henry Huff who named the stake after a Native American tale involving a Dakota Chief’s daughter, “We-no-nah” (which translates to first-born daughter), who made the ultimate lover’s leap from Maiden Rock on Lake Pepin just up the river. By the late 1850s Winona was on the map as lumber, wheat, and milling operations grew leaps and bounds, with plenty of rail and steamboat traffic to support them. Through the years the community has seen a lot come and go, but an entrepreneurial theme seems to be strong – from grain and milling operations that still exist, to manufacturing and businesses such as J.R. Watkins and the Hal Leonard Corporation. Winona State University (which was the first normal school for teachers west of the Mississippi in 1858) and St. Mary’s University also add crucial lifeblood to this great river town’s fabric – in addition to culture, sports, and a fun college vibe.

In more recent years, Winona has also become home to a number of annual festivals. The Great River Shakespeare Festival has become well known across the Midwest as a top-notch summer staple, and in just a couple short years both the Mid West Music Fest and Boats and Bluegrass have claimed their place on the musical map, not to mention the popular winter Frozen River Film Festival, the Dixieland Jazz Festival, the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, Steamboat Days…you get the idea. There’s definitely festival fun to be had in Winona.

watkins

In addition, Winona is home to cool museums like the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Winona County History Center, and the J.R. Watkins Museum and Store. The Marine Art Museum is a more recent addition and has an impressive collection of water-themed art from masters such as Monet, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Renoir, and Van Gogh, plus great rotating exhibits as well. And the Watkins Museum and Store is a fun stop whether you’re a lifelong Watkins fan or have only just heard the name. From the iron entrance gates outside the enormous factory, to the Winona diorama and complete historical collection of Watkins products, you’ll get a peek into the life behind the man who invented the “money back guarantee”!

DowntownWinona

Downtown Winona is charming and historical, with the largest collection of Victorian commercial architecture in Minnesota outside of Saint Paul. You can even take a virtual tour of over half a dozen of the most prominent buildings at winonamntours.org/tour, including the Joan Soranno-designed Laird-Norton addition of the Winona County History Center. It’s worth a look both inside and out as this museum is not only an architectural pleasure, but also features great artifacts and displays from the town’s history.

BlueHeron

While you are downtown, don’t miss out on a quick bite to eat or a pint at one of the several fine, local establishments. The Blue Heron Coffee House is a favorite for a homemade treat or lunch, and the Bluff Country Co-op is just down the street if you need quick supplies for a picnic or adventure (or a Mon Petit cupcake!). The Acoustic Café is also a great spot to hang out and grab a house-roasted coffee or sandwich. The bustling café atmosphere and free wi-fi brings in the college crowd, and weekend evenings often host acoustic music. For a throwback-dining affair, don’t miss the popular Lakeview Drive Inn. It holds all the retro appeal of a typical drive-in – you park, someone takes your order at your car window, and then brings your tasty food on a tray that attaches to the door – with some more modern twists added in – there’s a walnut burger on the menu, for example. It’s a busy spot, so make sure you’ve scheduled time, and while you wait, sit back and enjoy the views of – what else? The Lake! (And Sugar Loaf too!)

GranddadsBluff

If it’s the river view you’re looking for, check out local favorite The Boathouse. Their menu features fun, new American cuisine and tasty drinks to boot! (Check out our Chef on the Block feature on them from last year!)

While on the topic of food – we here at Inspire(d) HQ may have been known to go the distance for a really good donut. And it just so happens that Winona is home to the Bloedow Bakery on East Broadway, where, since 1924, they’ve been perfecting the Long John in addition to other delicious donuts. (They even sell a giant “Party Long John! Sold!”)

Bloedows

Then if you’ve worked up a thirst, you’ll find no shortage of watering holes in Winona. Being a river town, Winona holds a long-standing tradition of small taverns and neighborhood spots – many that feel almost like a time warp upon entrance. Check out the Mankato Bar (Mankato St.) or the Handy Corner Bar (East 5th) for some serious local flavor. And if you love good beer, art, and music, Ed’s (No Name) Bar on 3rd Street is perfection. Owner and local artist Ed Hoffman opened his doors in 2007 and has found a loyal following ever since with fantastic beers on tap, local art on the walls, and the best of the Midwest music scene stopping through his funky establishment.

Eds

Don’t spend all your time inside while you are in Winona though! Incredible views of the Mississippi River valley that surrounds the city can be had at Garvin Heights overlook just above town (pictured at top of the page). It’s a short drive up Huff Street just past Lake Winona to the top of the bluffs and an easy paved walk to check out the impressive view – bring your camera! For those with a little more sense of adventure, Winona holds some challenging off road mountain biking and hiking action on the Holzinger Lodge Trail, Great River Bluffs State Park, Cherry Hill Trails, and Perrot State Park. For all the latest trail info check in with the folks at Adventure Cycle and Ski on Center Street; they’ll point you in the right direction. And of course, Winona is right on the banks of the mighty ol’ Mississippi with easy access to the river in many locations for boating, canoeing, and fishing – or even just a drive along its banks. A short field trip up the river will land you in Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center, and the US Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam system is also fascinating to check out along the way, especially when large barges are going through the locks. From the south, the Great River State Trail will get you out on the trail and take you all the way from La Crosse to Trempealeau and just south of Winona via some beautiful and more remote parts of the river valley.

So what are you waiting for? Get packing for a great adventure in Winona – here are a few details to get you going:

Museums & Things To Do:

Marine Art Museum • 800 Riverview Dr • (507) 474-6626 • www.minnesotamarineart.org
Features marine related works by international and local artists, including Monet, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Pissarro, Renoir, and Van Gogh.

The Winona County History Center • 160 Johnson St. • (507) 454-2723 • www.winonahistory.org
Located in the historic former National Guard Armory, this great Winona area museum features the recently opened (Joan Soranno designed) Laird Norton Addition. Great local history and fun for kids, families, and beyond.

Watkins Heritage Museum • 150 Liberty St • (507) 457-6095 • www.watkinsonline.com
Both the Watkins Administration building (a grand Prairie School specimen designed by George Maher), and the
Museum on 3rd St. are a fun trip through the history of one of the oldest companies in the nation. Step into the world that J.R. Watkins built – including the origination of “the money back guarantee” – and don’t miss the restrooms – stocked kindly with Watkins products!

National Eagle Center • 50 Pembroke Ave, Wabasha • (651) 565-4989 • www.nationaleaglecenter.org
Opened in 2007, this awesome interpretive center is home to 5 rescued eagles that you can meet up close and personal. The center is a not-for-profit entity that offers a wide variety of programs and outreach as well. Make the scenic drive up the river – you won’t be disappointed!

GRSF_Use
Great River Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Kathy Greden Christenson. Shakespeare for Young Actors, 2014, The Tempest. 

Festivals in Winona:
As mentioned above, there are tons of fun festivals in Winona. This weekend, the Great River Shakespeare Festival opens with the WOW (Will’s ((Shakespeare, of course)) Opening Weekend) events! There are so many great things to do in conjunction with WOW, so check out GRSF site for details.

Great River Shakespeare Festival, June 24 – Aug 2, www.grsf.org

Minnesota Beethoven Festival, June 28 – July 19, www.mnbeethovenfestival.org

Dixieland Jazz Festival, June 27, winonadixieland.webs.com

Boats and Bluegrass, September 24-27, www.boatsandbluegrass.com

Great Dakota Gathering and Homecoming, September, www.dakotahomecoming.org

Frozen River Film Festival, February 24-28, 2016, www.frff.org

Mid West Music Fest, Spring 2016, www.midwestmusicfest.org

Steamboat Days, June 15-19 (2016), www.winonasteamboatdays.com

Lakeview2

Dining & Drinking:

Acoustic Café • 77 Lafayette St • (507) 453-0394• www.theacoustic.com

Bloedow Bakery • 451 E Broadway St • (507) 452-3682 • www.bloedows.com

Blooming Grounds Coffee House • 50 East 3rd St • (507) 474-6551 • www.bgcoffeehouse.com

The Boathouse • 2 Johnson St • (507) 474-6550 • www.boathousewinona.com

Blue Heron Coffee House • 162 West Second St • (507) 452-7020 • www.blueheroncoffeehouse.com

Bluff Country Co-op • 121 West 2nd St • (507) 452-1815 • www.bluff.coop

Bub’s Brewing Co. • 65 E. 4th St • (507) 457-3121 • Find them on Facebook

Ed’s No Name Bar • 252 E 3rd St • edsnonamebar.com

Garvin Heights Vineyards • 2255 Garvin Heights Rd • (507) 474-WINE • www.ghvwine.com

Jefferson Pub & Grill • 58 Center St. • (507) 452-3723  www.jeffersonpub.com

Lakeview Drive Inn • 610 East Sarnia St • (507) 454-3723 • www.lakeviewdriveinn.com
Cruise in nights every Wednesday!

Mon Petit Cupcakes • (Available at Bluff Country Co-op and Winona Sandwich Shop) • monpetitcupcake.com

Signature’s Restaurant • 22852 County Road 17 • (507) 454-3767 • www.signatureswinona.com

Winona Sandwich Company • 619 Huff St. • (507) 452-1170 • Find them on Facebook

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Benji Nichols is a seeker of River Town Fun and has found it on more than one occasion at Ed’s in Winona!