The first season of Great River Shakespeare Festival, June 25-July 25, will offer A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Winter's Tale, and there are ambitions for the fest to be a major annual event complete with contemporary plays, commissions, world premieres and its own home.
But one step at a time, said co-producing director Paul Mason Barnes. For now, the focus is on the Shakespeare comedy (starting June 25 under the direction of Barnes) and romance (starting June 26 under the direction of co producing director Alec Wild), respectively.
"We think of ourselves as a contemporary but not conceptual theatre company," Barnes explained. "We want the productions to scream 'playwright' and not 'director.'"
A trio of producing directors — Barnes (of Ashland, OR), Mark Hauck (of Minneapolis) and Wild (of Amherst, MA) — settled their initiative in the historic southeast Minnesota college town after the city fathers expressed a passion for the idea that the arts are central a town's life, economy and well-being, Barnes told Playbill On-Line.
About 60 percent of the $1.1 million budget for the first three seasons has been raised so far, representing contributions from the government, businesses and residents (not including ticket income). The not-for-profit festival will play five weeks in its first year, offering Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Winter's Tale, in rotating rep, at the 435-seat proscenium space — dubbed the Festival Theatre for five weeks — at the Performing Arts Center on the campus of Winona State University. GRSF will operate as one of only a few LORT (League of Resident Theatres) in Minnesota, starting with a proposed LORT D status. The acting company in the first year totals 13, with seven members of Equity recruited from national auditions.
The 2004 season's acting company includes Matt Amendt, Heidi Armbruster, Michael Brusasco, Aya Cash, Tony Clarno, Dan Colman, Jonathan Gillard Daly, Christopher Gerson, Kern McFadden, David Mann, Kim Martin Cotten, Doug Scholz-Carlson and Rex Young.
The GRSF design staff includes Hauck (scenic), Rosemary Ingham (costumes), Marcus Doshi (lights), Andy Mayer (sound) and Andrew Hopson (sound). Frederic Barbour (formerly of Denver Center Theatre Company) is production manager.
Debbie White serves as festival manager. Hauck, with his extensive business and arts administration background, was responsible for initial startup and development details for the festival.
Winona (population 27,000, on the Mississippi River), has the second largest collection of restored Victorian architecture in Minnesota (second only to St. Paul), two colleges, tourism and outdoor activities, an active business and civic community and plenty of volunteers to help the festival take root, according to the company's website.
The city was eager for something new to be part of riverfront redevelopment in the next few years. In addition to working toward mounting the two Shakespeare plays this season, there are "preliminary thoughts about a permanent home for the festival on the waterfront."
In tandem with the plays, the festival will offer education programs, talkbacks, musical performances and more.
Founding producing artistic directors Barnes and Hauck met in the summer of 2000 when they worked together on a production of Bus Stop at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, MN. Joined by Wild, the three worked as professionals directing theatre projects for the Guthrie Theatre's new BFA program, in Minneapolis, in 2002, and clicked, sharing artistic, political and world views.
They first discussed creating a theatre while sharing a meal in a restaurant in Minneapolis, April 30, 2002, during a snowstorm. The question was, "What city do we start the theatre in?"
They began floating the idea of a summer Shakespeare festival in Minnesota, a state without a major summer festival, Barnes told Playbill On-Line. A member of the Winona city planning commission got wind of the notion and word of mouth spread. Soon, the mayor of Winona called the partners and lobbied to make the town, near LaCrosse, WI, the home of GRSF.
In startup conversations, in July 2002, one of the commitments the partners made was to have $1.1 million in unearned income in the bank by the time season No. 1 began. Dreams need practical support, Barnes said.
Festival performances play five weeks, performances Wednesday through Sunday in rep over five weeks, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 4:30 PM. Additional matinee performances play Saturday July 17 & 24 at 4:30 PM.
Tickets are on sale now at www.grsf.org. *
Paul Barnes has directed 37 productions for 21 theatre companies in 13 states over the past six years. His work has ranged from plays by Shakespeare (Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Henry V, Henry IV: Part 1, Henry VIII ) to American standards (All My Sons, The Glass Menagerie, Bus Stop, The Fantasticks), to large scale musicals (Camelot), small scale revues (Forever Plaid, My Way, Woody Guthrie's American Song), and contemporary plays (Copenhagen, Floyd Collins, A Skull in Connemara, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, The Memory of Water). His work has been seen at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Virginia Stage Company, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, American Players, Skylight Opera, Missouri Repertory, Utah Shakespearean Festival and Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Alec Wild's work as a director and assistant director has been seen at Bailiwick Repertory, The Globe Theaters, Yale Repertory and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He was founder and artistic director of Folio Theater in Chicago, where he directed Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Hamlet and Henry IV: Part 1, Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, George F. Walker's Zastrozzi, and the Midwest premiere of Frontiers, by Valery Daemke, Doreen Dunn, Kathleen Gaffney, and Nancy Sellin.
Mark Hauck has had a split career, returning to professional theater five years ago after 10 years as an arts administrator and education consultant. As a set designer he has designed critically acclaimed productions in venues across the region. Recently he has designed for the Great American History Theater, Mixed Blood Theater, Park Square, Eye of the Storm, Latte Da, The Paul Bunyan Playhouse, the Guthrie Theater BFA Conservatory, and the Commonweal Theater. As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota he was awarded the Century Prize for Excellence in Design. He has also directed at Regis University, The Backstage Theater, Colorado Mountain College, and the cabaret stage at the Berkshire Theater Festival, where he completed a directing internship with artistic director Josephine Abady and assistant directed on the BTF mainstage.