The university setting allows for synergies and efficiencies. Students are eager volunteers and occupancy costs are reasonable. However, if the festival is to expand — perhaps into the autumn, when the colorful river bluffs draw tourists to Winona — the university is no longer an option because school is in session.
“I would like to take this to the next level, year-round,” said Will Kitchen, the festival’s top fundraiser and the civic activist who first courted Barnes, Hauck and Wild to come to Winona. Kitchen, a retired performance consultant with IBM, understands that his desire depends on money and facilities.
“We need to market ourselves as this vibrant, exciting place that has arts and recreation,” he said. “If we can get people here once, we can get them to come back.”
Challenge of making the trip
Getting people to the plays — even people who live in Winona — is the challenge facing Scholz-Carlson, executive director Lee Gundersheimer and their staff.
“You are here to be involved in the community,” said Rob Thomas, director of community engagement and company manager.
Thomas moved to Winona from Minneapolis. He and Scholz-Carlson do lots of presentations to employees at Winona’s industrial and manufacturing firms, pushing lower-priced, preseason ticket sales.
Breaking into the Twin Cities market, Thomas said, is tough.
“We have ideas great and small,” he said. “I’d like to get a bunch of theater people to take the Amtrak down. The journey has to be part of the experience.”
Scholz-Carlson also might be inclined to tap the Twin Cities market for talent more than Barnes did. Carlyle Brown, the Minneapolis playwright/actor/director, performed his show “Therapy and Resistance” on opening weekend as part of the Front Porch series.
“There’s a community here that’s appreciative and hungry for the arts,” Brown said.
Three actors (including Scholz-Carlson) have Twin Cities ties. Sigrud Sutter has moved to Chicago, but worked with Classical Actors Ensemble in Minneapolis. Steve Hendrickson, familiar on several local stages, is playing Polonius in “Hamlet” and “Rosencrantz,” and he is the most interesting actor on stage as Ford in “Merry Wives.”
“That’s something they are working to address,” Hendrickson said, when asked about the paucity of Twin Cities players. “They tend to be loyal to people who have stayed here, so it’s an ongoing challenge.”
Indeed, on opening night of “Merry Wives,” Rosemary Broughton of Winona, who sees every show a couple of times, said she looks forward to seeing the same actors return each year.
“They belong to us,” she said. “I miss the ones who don’t come back.”
Aubineau symbolizes a balance with Broughton. She has no history with the festival. She’s discovered something she only vaguely knew existed and she represents the new markets Great River needs to tap if it is to expand.
“I had heard of the festival,” Aubineau said, “but it was in Winona and I thought, do I really want to drive for two hours to see a play? It was just not on my radar. But it is now.”