Shakespeare in Winona: A Road Scholar Opportunity

Deane Gradous, Maple Grove, MN

After breakfast in the hotel, our Road Scholar group of 25 older adults met with Aaron Young, the managing director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival. After a hearty welcome to a program featuring three Shakespeare plays, Aaron launched into an informative talk about role of the movement director. Who knew there was a behind-scenes-expert to guide actors through stage fights and sex scenes? The goal of the movement director is to keep the actors safe and bounded while they realistically portray highly active sword fights and emotional sexual interactions on the stage. With every action carefully choreographed, the actors safely thrust and parry their swords. And when the actors realistically portray and never go overboard during the sex scenes, the audience can relax and enjoy the action on the stage.

After lunch in the cafeteria with the students at Winona State University, we met the stage manager, the assistant technical director, and the hair and costume director. Each offered an inside scoop on staging a Shakespearean drama. First, the stage manager gave an overview of staging the play in Shakespeare’s time. Scripts were immediately destroyed to prevent theft. But the plays were deliberately learned by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, written wholly from memory, and printed. Thus we have accurate scripts of the plays to enjoy today.

The technical director explained her role in guiding the actors in the language and the rhythm of  Shakespeare’s verse, iambic pentameter (the human heartbeat). Who knew that the definitions of words in Shakespeare’s scripts have now been defined in two huge dictionaries?  

To end the afternoon, the stage manager took us through the scene building  workshop space, the scenery and lighting apparatus backstage, led us to the stage and get the actors’ view of working in the  stage space and seeing the audience. Who knew there was a real, but invisible “fourth wall” between the stage and the audience?

In the evening we joined the local Winona ticket holders in seeing Cymbaline. Shakespeare’s last play is about grace and forgiveness. Our enjoyment of the play was greatly enhanced by the education we had received throughout the day.

And that was our first full day in Winona. Three more days to explore Winona and learn more about the staging of Macbeth and The Servant of Two Masters.

Road Scholar programs are educational travel experiences for older adults. Some small group programs, like the one in Winona, MN, are short (four or five days) and relatively inexpensive. Larger touring programs include travel by bus, train, or boat, and staying in big city hotels. They are longer (six to eight or more days) and more expensive. All Road Scholar programs are safe for singles traveling alone and provide experiences for couples to enjoy together; and some are designed for grandparents to enjoy with their grandchildren. (RoadScholar.org)