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Bard fest eyes surplus in '12

WINONA — Despite ending its 2011 season with a budget deficit of $188,000, the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona is making plans for next year and beyond.

Those plans include a 2012 budget that would turn the deficit into a small surplus of $5,000, Eric Bunge, managing director of the festival, told 150 people gathered for the festival's first stakeholders meeting Monday at the Winona County History Center.

"It isn't much of a surplus on an $811,000 cash budget, but it is a start," Bunge said. "It is the ripple that will become the wave of our future."

During the festival's eighth season last summer, 9,620 people attended main stage productions, and 15,340 people attended all festival events.

However, ticket sales account for only 30 percent of the festival's annual budget. Most of the rest comes from donations.


Festival organizers hope to raise about 50 percent of the budget from ticket sales in the future, and have set a goal of increasing main stage attendance next year to 15,000. To do that, Bunge said, the festival will run one week longer and starting times will be adjusted to make the plays, which are presented at Winona State University, more attractive to out-of-town attendees.

However, contributions will continue to be the main avenue of funding.

The 2012 austerity budget calls for one less week of rehearsals, and will cause some production expenses to be curtailed. "The goal is that everything you see on stage will be of the quality you're used to seeing, but you might see less on stage," said Doug Scholz-Carlson, associate producing director.

Many of the same actors who have performed at the festival in the past will return next year, he said. The festival's 2012 plays will be "King Lear" and "Two Gentlemen of Verona," as well as a musical production yet to be announced.

It was also announced Monday that the Slaggie Family Foundation of Winona has awarded the festival a $300,000 matching grant for the Setting the Stage fundraising campaign. It is the largest single gift the festival has ever received.

Meanwhile, Bunge said 27 $5,000 Legacy Bonds, out of a total of 50 that will be available, have already been sold before the public announcement of the program. The bonds are intended to help secure the financial future of the festival.

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