Homegrown theater hero: Doug Scholz-Carlson

Doug Scholz-Carlson may be said to be an organically-grown force in the Southern Minnesota world of theater. He was a little sprout of six when his dad came to the Economics Department of St. Olaf. By middle school Doug was involved in his first show.

Today Doug is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival, with events this year from June 13-27. He credits his Northfield roots for his involvement and growth. “Myrna Johnson started a drama club at the high school long ago. She chose ever more challenging works for us to stage, and tailored those choices to her [evolving] actors,” he says.

“We performed in a lecture hall until 1985, and worked on everything from our lines to the sets, lighting, and staging” for each production. He went over to the Arts Guild Theater for another intimate venue. “Using these spaces made it possible for young actors to learn to act without having to push our voices to the back row” of a much larger auditorium. He remembers tripping over other youthful actors during his performance in “Oliver!” and laughs to think that the high-energy boys ran up a wooden ladder to make their entrance. He participated in the Summer Theater Institute at St. Olaf with Pat Quaid and Cora Schultz, and posits that it was a forerunner of YPT–Young People’s Theater, now under the auspices of the Northfield Arts Guild.

His interests coalesced during his young adult experiences, plus a “gap year” as a Rotary Club Foreign Exchange student in Germany. “I knew after high school that I’d want to do something with theater, so I attended lots of shows around Frankfort,” he says. Now considering two distinct academic passions–Computer Science and Theater–he came home to Northfield to attend St. Olaf. At last, theater won out.

“Germany and Shakespeare share quite a tradition,” he says, pointing out that the Güttenburg Bible was translated into much the same language in which Shakespeare’s plays appeared. “And Shakespeare had such a facile knack for inventing words, and for recording them as they were used in his lifetime,” Doug says.

Winona became the default location for the Great River Shakespeare Festival, he relates, because that city was looking for a major festival to draw visitors. With city backing, the founders chose the river town as its base. Equity actors come from across the nation for the two-week run.

Doug will be directing “Romeo and Juliet” this year. The 400-seat house is a much larger locale than his budding theater experiences in Northfield; but thanks to his Northfield youth experiences, he set computers aside to pursue a rewarding theatrical career.