Amongst the myriad of activities which Thoreau College is engaged in at any given time, the last 7 months of college life have certainly seen an uptick in instances of theater-making.
The first ever Viroqua Shakespeare Festival took place last October when the Thoreau campus opened up to just under 100 guests on the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, with the sun gifting us early autumn highs of 75 degrees!
The afternoon event started with a bring-your-own picnic on a scenic overlook at the new Thoreau campus. The rolling hills of the Driftless extended outward from the picnic area seemingly forever bathed in different shades of lush green. A cloudless bright blue sky with sparkling hot sunshine completed the picture perfect vista.
The cast of guest professional performers and Viroqua area locals was assembled by the Jones Classical Theater Company of Chicago, a theater company founded in 2022 by Willie E. Jones III, with a mission “to welcome audiences of all backgrounds and worldviews” and an expressed intent to “create a theatrical environment in which all people can gather and laugh, talk, debate, cry, and breathe together”.
The festival offered fresh-pressed apple cider from Thoreau college farm and gardens. There were Tarot readings from a local (La Farge) cast member, Sarah Barker. Beautiful harp music from area musician Charlene Elderkin provided a soothing backdrop to a picnic punctuated by the laughter of children. A Sonnet-Sharing open to the public was a prelude to the main event. IT specialist from Madison, Travis Bedard, and Minnesota BFA graduate, Arcadia German, shined in these preliminaries catching the strength and poignancy of their lines.
In the late afternoon, the company performed “As You Like It”, a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare. It took place in a natural amphitheater snuggled neatly into the side of a tree bordered hillside. Seating consisted of many large bales of hay interspersed with chairs of various sizes, shapes and comfort. Blankets spread out on the ground were favored by many. A small blue tarp created a changing space.
Fast forward to February, when members of the Jones Classical Theater Company returned to Viroqua for a completely different endeavor; a production of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams. This time, the setting was indoors at the Landmark Center Theater, managed by Peter ‘pita’ Daniels who supported the production in a variety of ways.
Willie Jones returned to direct, and Thoreau College resident Liam McGilligan starred as Tom Wingfield opposite local Elizabeth Hipwell as mother Amanda. The remaining cast traveled from Orlando, FL and Minneapolis, respectively. Ian Baird, a Viroqua resident who portrayed both Dukes in “As You Like It”, associate produced and also served as production dramaturg.
Thoreau College and the Jones Classical Theater Company wish to acknowledge the generous support from Viroqua and beyond that made the production of “Glass Menagerie” possible. Thank you to Paul and Paula Grenier at Quality of Life Chiropractic, Elegant Stone Products, Southwest Sanitation, Royal Bank, Citizens First Bank, Viroqua Food Cooperative, Ayelet, Karen and Aaron Parker, Mary Louise Griffin, Dennis McGilligan, and Fiona McGilligan.
Only two weeks after the closing of “Glass Menagerie”, it was time for the Thoreau College students to take their turn on the stage. Thoreau Faculty Frank Wildingway, assisted by Liam McGilligan, led the students through a 3-week performance arts course culminating in a March 31st presentation of “Metamorphosis”.
Building on their academic course of the same title in February with Professor Jacob Hundt, the troupe performed a 45-minute piece beginning in crisis, dissolving through revelation, and ending on a hopeful chord with a choral performance of “Yonder Come Day”.
“Yonder Come Day
Day Is a-Breaking
Yonder Come Day
O My Soul
Yonder Come Day
Day Is a-Breaking
Sun Is a-Rising
In My Soul!”
It was a perfect exclamation for the last day of March. As students and staff returned from spring break and Easter festivities, the April sun shone down on us with a warm embrace.
With the air nearing 80 degrees, the earth greening, and the birds singing, the stage is being set for the 2nd Annual Viroqua Shakespeare Festival, fast approaching this June 23rd-25th.
On Friday, June 23rd, Chef Wildingway will be serving a seasonal banquet on the lawn at the Thoreau campus. Over the weekend, a fiddle or a flute or a brave voice will fill the air, and again the campus grounds will be open for picnicking and socializing under the summer sun. At end of day, down on the hillside, a cast of guest and local performers under the direction of Willie E. Jones III will give a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
Admission for all weekend festivities, including the festival production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, are free of charge, save for the banquet on Friday evening.
Visit thoreaucollege.org/viroquashakespearefestival for more information about this year’s Festival!