Great River Shakespeare Festival

121 East Third Street
Winona, MN 55987


Our Mission:

Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) is a nonprofit, professional Equity theater company in Winona, MN, dedicated to dynamic, clearly spoken productions of Shakespeare’s plays which enrich people’s lives, extensive community education, and community outreach programs, and comprehensive theater training.


The Great River Shakespeare Festival is the result of a conversation that took place on April 30, 2002 between Mark Ferraro-Hauck and Paul Barnes, two of the company’s three founding producing directors, at a restaurant on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Hauck first broached the idea of establishing a summer Shakespeare festival somewhere in the state of Minnesota.  It wasn’t long before the conversation expanded to include Alec Wild, whom Barnes met when they directed side-by-side projects of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and The Winter’s Tale at the newly-established University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theatre BFA Actor Training Program.

Intrigued by the idea of leading a professional theater company dedicated to the plays of William Shakespeare, the three re-convened a few months later for an extended weekend of brainstorming at Barnes’s residence in Ashland, Oregon, home to America’s flagship Shakespeare theater, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  By this time, the news that the trio was looking for a home base for their theater company had wafted down river to Winona, Minnesota, where city leaders seized upon the idea of a successful arts organization as a means of drawing visitors off Highway 61, and bringing them into town, where they could discover the numerous pleasures and attractions of Winona and also help stimulate the economy.

The rest is very fast-moving history.  The trio visited Winona, met with city leaders, and toured potential performance venues in early September 2002.  A little over five months after their initial conversation about starting a theater company, Barnes, Hauck, and Wild accepted the city’s invitation to call Winona home.  A Board of Directors, led by former HBCI CEO Gary Evans was formed, and fund-raising began.  In June, 2004, coinciding with the Mississippi River Grand Excursion celebration, the Great River Shakespeare Festival, the Midwest’s newest and largest Equity theater, opened its doors.

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