Shakespeare Comes to Winona

“To be, or not to be…”

If the question is to be or not to be in attendance at this year’s Great River Shakespeare Festival, then the answer is simple: to be.

Since 2004, the GRSF, a nonprofit theater company in Winona, Minn., has brought more than 20 of William Shakespeare’s plays to the stage during its summer festival. As a former resident of Winona, I know what a big deal this event is not only to the community, but also to the devout band of followers who travel to attend it each year.

Even though I moved to Winona in the winter, a time when the festival was still nearly six months away, I quickly learned that it was not some simple affair that was forgotten soon after its running. This, however, didn’t entirely surprise me. Despite its small population, Winona has an incredibly vibrant arts scene, making it a perfect location for a festival of this sort.

The GRSF kicked off its ninth season yesterday and runs through Aug. 5. Anchoring this year’s festival will be King Lear and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Considered to be one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, King Lear is a tale of love, devotion, inhumanity, and redemption. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, on the other hand, is a romantic comedy that examines the power of love and friendship. Also featured in this year’s festival will be The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which intertwines all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, offering a comedic spin to his storylines and dialect. Throughout the last two weeks of the festival, GRSF’s apprentices and interns will perform All’s Well That Ends Well, a story that follows the trials and tribulations of a young couple. All shows will take place at Winona State University’s Performing Arts Center.  

Aside from the performances, there will be plenty of other festival activities going on around town, starting with Will’s Opening Weekend (June 22-24), which will include food, drinks, music, dancing and mingling with GRSF company members. Other activities include free outdoor concerts every Friday and Saturday, a tree tour of WSU’s campus—which features every species of tree native to Minnesota—sonnet readings and writing tips from Winona’s Poet Laureate, and AfterWill post-show wine and cheese parties.  

Another incentive (as if you need more) is that summer is a fantastic time to visit Winona. It allows you the opportunity to hike up into the bluffs to the top of Sugar Loaf, or get a birds eye view of the area at Garvin Heights’ overlook. Head over to Lake Winona for a walk, bike, or rollerblade ride around the lake, or take a We-no-nah canoe or fishing line to the waters.  

So take the drive along the Great River Road to this historic town and experience the great works of William Shakespeare as they were intended. Check out this video to see just what I mean:


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