I’m writing from Saint Louis, where I’m about to head into technical/dress rehearsals of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, featuring GRSF actors Tarah Flanagan (in the title role), Christopher Gerson (as Chaplain John de Stogumber, the man who sends Joan to the bonfire), and Jonathan Gillard Daly (as Brother John LeMaitre, the Inquisitor, who leads Joan’s trial for heresy). It’s a great play and an interesting one to be working on at this particular time in our country’s history, as it grapples with issues of individual genius, religious fanaticism, and torture of political prisoners, all framed within Shaw’s incredible intelligence and wit. Once again, clear evidence that the theatre provides a mirror in which we see our own lives and a complex range of human experience reflected back at us.
In between rehearsals and celebrating the holidays, I’ve been following news from Winona (and from across the country), and have been sobered by signs of the times: i.e., the decision to defer Gilmore Creek Summer Theatre’s 2009 season, the postponed plans to move the Thompson Dredge to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum site, and the need to put on hold plans for the downtown arts/sports facility. All of these wrenching but prudent decisions make clear the uncertainty of the times, and all of them reflect the need to not get over-extended at a time when battening down the financial hatches is a wise, defensive position of self-preservation.
And they also reflect a loss to the quality of life in Winona (and elsewhere, as communities across the country make similar, painful choices).
As you know, we’re battening down the financial hatches at GRSF while moving forward with plans for 2009.
Our Board has approved a very conservative budget for our sixth season, reflecting at least $80,000 in cuts from previous seasons, and giving us our smallest operating budget since we premiered in 2004. We’ve had ongoing conversations in which we’ve examined every facet of the Festival’s operation, from staffing to play selection, to scheduling, to budgeting. It’s clear to us that people wish to see us succeed and that there are many who will do what they can to insure that we produce a vibrant and successful Season Six, including our Board of Directors.
So I’m writing to thank you for all the votes of support that have come our way in the last several months, and to ask for your continued support. One of the few bright and gleaming lights that appeared on the rather bleak horizon of not-for-profit organizations in the last week or two was the emergency “rescue effort” mounted by supporters of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, a 25-year old festival that performs on campus at the University of California, Santa Cruz in Northern California when the call was issued to raise $300,000 in ten days’ time or see SSC close its doors permanently. Not only did the Festival meet its deadliine, it exceeded its goal by $114,000, insuring that the Festival would be able to continue operations in 2009 and into the future.
We don’t need to raise $300,000 (although it would be nice if we did raise that amount), but we will continue to turn to you, our dedicated supporters, to help meet our financial goals for 2009. If, before the books are closed on 2008, you’ve got a little to spare, please visit our website: http://www.grsf.org and click on “donate”. In one of my more fevered moments, I estimated that if half of the people who attended plays at the Festival in 2008 (approximately 4,000 playgoers), pledged to give $100 in 4 $25.00 increments between now and June 25, when we open the 2009 season, we’d raise enough to not only close our earnings gap on Season Six, but we’d also be able to bank money for the future. Broken down into bite-size pieces, nothing seems that daunting.
At any rate, thank you for thinking of us — and thank you for taking action. If it’s not possible to donate money, please encourage friends to do so — even friends who may have never attended the Festival (“This is something I’ve come to believe in. Won’t you help?”) — or, consider donating time by becoming a volunteer on behalf of the Festival. With cutbacks in staff, we’ll need your help more than ever. The Friends of Will volunteer wing of GRSF is an incredibly well organized force without which we simply wouldn’t exist. You can sign up at the downtown office at 79 E. Third Street.
As we all face uncertain times and make difficult choices in every aspect of our lives, it is enormously inspiring to know that GRSF has come to matter in your lives. May the challenges of the now unfolding new year continue to bring us together in our quest and our commitment to sustain the quality of our communities and our lives.
Great River Shakespeare Festival