Great River Shakespeare Festival

The Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) is a nonprofit professional theater company that blends educational programming with community events, performance art and musical entertainment.

Michael Fitzpatrick as “Antipholus of Ephesus” and Christopher Gerson as “Dromio of Ephesus” Photo by Alec Wild

Each year, the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN brings together equity actors from across the nation – LA, New York, Chicago and Milwaukee, to name a few – alongside apprentice performers for a season of Shakespearean love, tragedy, mystery and adventure. These thespians spend their summer immersed in the world of Shakespeare – culminating in two dynamic productions of his most famous plays for the city of Winona. “What makes GRSF so different is the time spent with the literature,” says Judy Rusert, Front of House Volunteer Coordinator for the Shakespeare Festival.

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“The actors really delve into the words – they have study groups and they understand what it means.” This year, the company put on two performances: Henry V and Twelfth Night.

“I hated Shakespeare in high school,” laughs Rusert. “But to see it performed and to understand it – to get involved – it’s completely different. I love it now.” And GRSF works hard to get the community involved, too. The Festival features free live concerts “on the green” every Friday and Saturday night, as well as food, educational programs and training for community members at the indoor theater.

“I would recommend [VolunteerLocal] to others with exclamation points in bold, 36-size font!” – Judy Rusert, Front of House Volunteer Coordinator, the Great River Shakespeare Festival

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Perhaps the most impressive feat of all is the Shakespeare Festival’s volunteer engagement. From concession stands to parking hosts, ushers to shift leaders – GRSF utilized the helping hands of nearly 100 volunteers (who clocked in around 2,000 hours) last summer using VolunteerLocal. Hey-ho, sing hey-ho!

“This is my fourth year here, and I really have to say from the bottom of my heart that VolunteerLocal has made it so fabulous,” says Rusert. “At the very beginning, we had a 3-ring binder and everybody would sign up at the beginning of the week. You’d sit on the phone and call to confirm – and you’d just pray that you didn’t make a mistake.”

Last year, Rusert made about 138 phone calls – this year, she made three. “It’s all about people for me and the Great River Shakespeare Festival really brings people together,” she says. “Volunteers, families, Shakespeare enthusiasts – what can be better than getting a community involved in art, theater and music?”

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