Getting the meaning of words from the context…is really what the plays were written to do…in Shakespeare’s time the English language was just coming together…the audiences were hearing words they didn’t recognize…

Doug Scholz-Carlson

Artistic Director, Great River Shakespeare Festival

In this episode, we talked with Doug Scholz-Carlson, Artistic Director at Great River Shakespeare Festival, we touch on the language of Shakespeare, bringing the event back from covid, upcoming performances and what is next for this amazing festival in Winona, MN.

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Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by People’s Food Co Op, a community owned grocery store in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota that promotes local farmers and producers through an emphasis on fresh, healthy, sustainable food. Anyone can shop, everyone is welcome. For more information, visit them online at This podcast is also brought to you by Trempealeau County Tourism. Whether your idea of fun is bicycling, hiking or canoeing, afterwards head into the heart of one of their welcoming communities to experience historic architecture, independent shops and locally owned dining establishments. Visit Trempealeau County Tourism online. The Great River Shakespeare Festival is running now through July 31st. Featuring Twelfth Night and the African Company presents Richard the Third and more at Minnesota’s premier Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota. Buy tickets online at Great river, great drama. In this episode, we talked with Doug Scholz-Carlson, Artistic Director at Great River Shakespeare Festival, we touch on the language of Shakespeare, bringing the event back from covid, upcoming performances and what is next for this amazing festival in Winona, MN. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website I’m Amy.

Brent Hanifl 01:25
And I’m Brent.

Amy Gabay 01:25
And this is La Crosse Local.

Doug Scholz-Carlson 01:28
I’m Doug Scholz-Carlson. I was actually born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but I lived most of my life in Minnesota. I grew up in Northfield, my father was a professor at St. Olaf College, and I went there. So when I got into Shakespeare, well, I guess a little bit in college it was mostly in grad school, I went to grad school as an actor. That was where it when we were working, working as an actor started to really dive into the language really understand what the language was and how it worked. And that I got fascinated with that. I did three seasons of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is one of the biggest Shakespeare festivals in the country. And then when I moved back to Minnesota, I founded my own company called Minnesota Shakespeare Project. We would take short productions of Shakespeare plays around to rural Minnesota, and we performed to community centers and schools and all kinds of things. When Great River Shakespeare Festival was being founded, I knew one of the founders from the Utah Shakespeare Festival, he invited me to be part of the acting company and then sort of went from there.

Brent Hanifl 02:23
Some for me, which you kind of just mentioned, it’s the language, you know, to me, it is like almost a different language. Is it something for you that just kind of snapped? How can people go about kind of experience Shakespeare a little bit better?

Doug Scholz-Carlson 02:35

Brent Hanifl 02:36
I know, it’s kind of a barrier for people.

Doug Scholz-Carlson 02:38
Yeah, I know, the language is, the language can potentially be a barrier for people. I think it’s really interesting. It is less of a barrier for young people, I think for kids, I think find it as less of a barrier. Because young people, they’re acquiring language still. So they are used to getting the meaning of words from the context. And that’s really what the plays were written to do that in Shakespeare’s time, the English language was just sort of coming together. So there are all of these words that came into the English language for the first time or their first recorded use was in a play by Shakespeare. So the audience was also they were hearing words that they didn’t recognize, for instance, in the play Macbeth, Macbeth calls the murder of Duncun an assassination. And we all know what the word assassination meant. But Shakespeare’s audience that was a brand new word, it didn’t exist in the English language. So they had to figure that out from the context. I think if you’re if you’re playful with language, if you’re interested in language, then Shakespeare’s plays become really fascinating because he is constantly playing with language. And the people that really play with language the most our young people, I mean, teenagers are constantly playing with language, they are constantly shortening words, combining words together using words in different ways. And it’s all a means of creating a language that grownups don’t necessarily understand. And so the slang, it’s part of being the in group is that you use certain kinds of language. And in Shakespeare, there are characters that are doing that as well. You think of like hip hop artists and spoken word artists, always playing with language. And that’s probably the modern sort of inheritor of what Shakespeare is doing. So if you’re fascinated with language, then I think that’s where you get really fascinated with Shakespeare, because the language is beautiful and evocative. And it expresses things in really concise ways. I know sometimes it feels like the language is really long, but in a lot of ways, it’s expressing things in really very concise ways. And if you’re fascinated with that, then you’ll get fascinated with Shakespeare,

Brent Hanifl 04:29
That kind of just like you said, it draws parallels to music in a way because, you know, I was I’m always a person who rarely listens to the words. But like you said, you know the words in some ways they’re made up or they’re kind of changed or fixed to rhyme with, you know, a previous word. It’s kind of interesting, when you think about it that way.

Doug Scholz-Carlson 04:46
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, you know, in Shakespeare, the way you’re constructing language, that sometimes you’re sort of meeting a rhetorical form, that you are using language in a particular way. So the sound of the language means as much as the actual meaning of the words. And I think for us, the way we’re taught to write in school is we’re taught to write. And we’re taught to speak really based on the meaning of the individual words. So you’re trying to create meaning. And then we take out all the words that are that we don’t need. And we express it in the shortest way possible. But it’s also interesting to use language in a rhetorical form. And to give just one example of sort of a modern version of this, in Martin Luther King, Jr, is I Have a Dream speech, you can look at the notes of his speech. And you’ll see that when he gets to that I have a dream that when he gets to that rhetorical form, which he says over and over and over again, in his notes for the speech, he only has it about three different things that he was going to say. But when he was giving the speech, then he realized that he had hit a rhythm, like he realized he hit something that the crowd found meaningful. So he kept saying it, I have a dream that and then it kept going. And in trying to meet the rhetorical form, then he actually said things that he hadn’t planned to say. And that’s some of the most interesting stuff that he’ll say is that sometimes when we’re speaking in a rhetorical form, and we’re just trying to speak in that form, we express an inner truth that we didn’t even realize that we had to express. And that again, is one of the fascinating things about Shakespeare is that the characters get going. And because they’re speaking in this form, because they’re speaking, they actually express the inner truth that they never really knew that they were going to express.

Brent Hanifl 06:23
You know, I never really thought about it like that. So I mean, just kind of looking at your passion for Shakespeare, you being the artistic director for the Great River Shakespeare Festival. What has been the process like bringing it back? I know you referenced I got a little bio about you about sitting on your couch for two years. What is it been like? What is the feeling that they’d like to bring it back?

Doug Scholz-Carlson 06:42
Yeah, it’s, it’s crazy. I mean, we talk about theater all the time. Like, you know, there is something different about being together with other people and experiencing a story. If you’re in community and you experience a story, you see the reactions of the people around you. So we all know that, like, if you’re watching something together, people you laugh a lot more, it’s a lot funnier, you’re moved by it a lot more deeply, emotionally. And that happens, because there’s other people around you experiencing it. And the other thing that happens when there’s other people around you experiencing it is sometimes they have a very different reaction, you know, you’ll be sitting there, you’ll see something, you don’t laugh at it, because you didn’t think it was funny, and everybody around you laughs and you’ll go I wonder what that experience was. It gives you insight into how other people see the world or other people are having a strong emotional reaction, and you’re not. And you realize, oh, I see the world differently. So you get two different kinds of things, either, like when you see a story, and you’re experiencing it together with people, either you see yourself in the story being told, and then you feel kind of community because you realize, oh, I’m not alone in the universe, like, oh, that’s exactly what it feels like to fall in love. Like, I know that feeling. And other people know that feeling to. So you feel a sense of community, or you don’t see yourself in it. And then you feel a sense of you gain a sense of empathy, because you’re like, I don’t understand the world through someone else’s eyes. So to be deprived of that experience for two years, because we have been getting stories. We’ve been watching Netflix, we’ve been watching, you know, everything from Tiger King to you know, whatever all we’ve been watching, like as the as a community, as a nation, as a people like we’ve been watching these stories together, but we haven’t been doing it at the same time. And that’s a really different experience. So the process I know about, like I’m answering a very philosophical question when you’re asking a practical one. But the process of bringing it back has been really interesting, because we’re not used to being in the room together, we’re not used to being in that kind of community. So as we’ve come back together as a company, you know, to a certain extent last summer, and then even more, you know, in a more intense way this summer, it’s been really interesting just to see how we’ve changed how we see the world differently, how we communicate differently, how we work together in the room, and how we, you know how we tell the stories.

Brent Hanifl 08:45
Digging through your season for this year, you touched on what people can expect when they’re in it. But also like are shows a little heavier, are shows little lighters, or some stripped down versions of it, like what can people expect that way? Are there different venues?

Doug Scholz-Carlson 08:58
A little bit of a mix, we’re back in our main theater in the Performing Arts Center on the campus of Winona State University. So we’re really happy to be back in that theater. It’s a great theater for everybody to be together. You can hear really well in there, you can see I mean, there’s not a bad seat in that house. So it’s terrific to be back in that space. And the season is a little bit of a mix. Twelfth Night is just a joyful, fun, goofy story. It’s one of Shakespeare’s funniest plays, it’s moving people fall in love, you know, it’s just a romp. Like it’s a really, really fun story. We’re also doing always Patsy Cline, now, which is a little bit of a departure for us in terms of pieces that we’ll do. I think Patsy Cline has been called the Shakespeare of country music. I don’t know if that’s actually true or not. But, you know, it’s great, great American music and that show is just, I mean, it’s 26 songs, and then very funny sort of monologue that kind of holds the whole thing together. So again, that will just be a great experience in the theater to come in and laugh, enjoy the music. You know, here’s some songs that are really familiar and it’d be really fun. And then African Company is probably our more serious offering of the season. Although I have to say, it’s surprising how funny that show is. Carlyle Brown is a playwright from Minnesota. He’s one of the I mean, he’s internationally known playwright, one of the most prominent playwrights probably ever to come out of Minnesota. And this is, you know, in a lot of ways his most famous play. So it tells the story of, in 1820, there was this company of black actors, some free slaves, and then other people that had come to New York City, and they were putting on this production of Richard the Third. And there’s a white company that was also putting on a production of Richard the Third and the competition between those companies about the white company trying to shut down the black company. But it’s a really beautiful story about who owns these stories, who gets to tell these stories? How do we get to tell these stories? You know, what does Shakespeare mean, kind of culturally for us, but it’s a terrific piece, and another really beautiful language piece.

Brent Hanifl 10:54
So kind of digging into, you know, you have experience as a director, a fight choreographer, actor, you know, and also a certified intimacy director. So how does it affect your approach to Shakespeare? I mean, you’re coming at it at so many different angles, right?

Doug Scholz-Carlson 11:09
Yeah, you know, I started my training as an actor. And I do think that is one of the best places to start, if you’re gonna work on Shakespeare, because it’s so much an actor’s medium. But the way the language works, is going to control kind of what happens in the place. So to really get into the nuts and bolts of actually speaking, that language is a great place to start. I kind of always knew that I wanted to be a director, because just the way my head works, I like seeing that bigger picture. You know, I like putting the plays together. I really like being able to create the way the room rehearse is, you know, what you really get to do if you are the director of the piece. And then my work has really kind of spread out actually fight choreographer kind of came somewhere in the middle of being a fight choreographer is the thing that kind of led me into directing. And then intimacy direction is the latest piece that I’ve added, you know, as a fight choreographer, there’s a whole movement to keep actors more physically safe. I think, a long time ago, we didn’t worry that much about the physical safety of actors while they were performing. And then with fight choreography, we start to pay more and more attention to that, so people don’t get injured. Intimacy direction is really taking care of the emotional health of actors. So the difficult moments that people are going through, and then specifically moments of intimacy, which can be you know, they can be a lot of fun to perform on stage. And it can also be really challenging emotionally to perform on stage to have somebody who is specifically there to choreograph those moments and help people through the emotional journey that they as a human being have to go through when they are trying to portray these other people. There are all kinds of different ways of approaching the work. And I certainly really like being able to look at it with all those different angles. And I think it really leads to richer work.

Brent Hanifl 12:43
I’m sure there’s, you know, with this festival being basically months long, in some sense, was there one thing that you’re specifically most excited for this year, either a show or even just an experience you had?

Doug Scholz-Carlson 12:55
You know, I don’t know, there’s lots of things, I mean, just the coming back together. And the whole process of that is really exciting. I am really excited for the community engaged project that we are doing at the end of the season. That’s a new thing for us. It’s a project that we’ve been working on for about three, four years now, a community engaged project is where a professional company will come in, we did story circles, so we went to people in Winona, and we just encourage them to tell stories. And we did that for a matter of years, gathered all these stories together. And then we have a playwright who takes all the stories that people told and craft that into a play. So it’s a play that is about the community, it really comes from the community. And we had no idea of the kind of issues that we were going to get into, I think the play in the end, we now have a script for it. We’re just about to go into rehearsal for it. The play really is about belonging, I think and what it means to belong in a community and who belongs and who doesn’t belong and the different experiences that people have in this community of belonging or not belonging, you know, that takes you into issues of race and gender and you know, kind of all of the complicated societal issues that we have going on right now. But really, those it comes down to, you know, stories of actual people in Winona, and I’m, it’ll be performed by people from Winona as well. And I’m just really excited to see that play get on its feet.

Brent Hanifl 14:14
That’s interesting. You know, I think there’s something special about Winona, a sense of, you know, the people there. I actually went to college there for my undergrad. But it just seems like there’s a different festivals, different events, it’s not surprising that that’d be putting something together like that.

Doug Scholz-Carlson 14:30
Yeah it’s kind of a remarkable community. Like, as I say, I grew up in Minnesota, but I hadn’t really spent any time in Winona, or in this region. And this region is really fascinating. I mean, you find an example of anything, the stained glass windows that are going on when we were looking for, you know, a couple of years ago, we were looking for a hurdy gurdy player, which is a renaissance instrument and it happened to be that one of the best hurdy gurdy players in the country happened to live in Winona. And we’re just kind of, you know, we had a character that spoke Welsh and one of the players, and then we found somebody who was a native Welsh speaker living in, we’re not like you just always, it’s such an amazing community.

Brent Hanifl 15:05
So what’s next for the festival? Do you see anything coming down the road or for yourself in particular? Anything that you’re excited for?

Doug Scholz-Carlson 15:12
Yeah, I think you mean in terms of future seasons and things like that?

Brent Hanifl 15:15

Doug Scholz-Carlson 15:16
Yeah, I think, you know, it’s to be honest, I do think there is a little bit of a process of rebuilding the audience and rediscovering what we are, you know, a thing like a Shakespeare Festival is. Because we’re a destination that people are traveling to go and see, we are part of people’s regular summer plans. But over the last couple of years, everybody’s plans have been kind of upended, like, everything changes, and lots of things have changed in society, what people want out of their vacations, you know, sort of everything changes. So I think it’s going to be a process of discovery for us to see, you know, what does that mean for us in the future, because we’re not going to be the same thing in the future that we were in the past. We’ll continue to do great plays, we will continue to, you know, explore meaningful questions for the community will continue to attract great theater artists from around the country. Like we’ll keep on doing all of that. But what form that actually takes, I’m really curious to see what that’s going to mean in future years.

Brent Hanifl 16:09
And also, I think it’s just great. The different opportunities to see a show this event runs, has been going on since June, and it’s going through July 31 in Winona. People can check out

Doug Scholz-Carlson 16:21
Yeah, and people should know that there’s all kinds of great ways to get tickets. If there are financial barriers. There are lots of ways to get tickets, we have discounts, we have all kinds of stuff. And then we have other events going on in the community has lots of other events going on. So it’s really worth you know, traveling up to Winona spending the weekend, checking out the new restaurants, seeing some plays. It’s a good time.

Amy Gabay 16:43
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