Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

“History that Won’t Stay in a Book”

Posted 5/31/2012 12:21:00 PM

It’s almost time for the Greenville Chautauqua, a wonderful, nine-day long festival that is as educational as it is entertaining.

What’s Chautauqua? It’s part theater, part lecture. Costumed performers take on the persona of a historical figure and ask the audience to suspend their disbelief as they take you back in time to the era in which the figure lived. The audience then has a chance to ask questions of the historical figure. Finally, the performer steps out of character and fields questions that the historical figure might not have been able to answer.

This year’s theme is “They Came to America” and includes a lineup of historical figures that were not American but whose experiences and travels in America shaped their lives. The schedule includes chances to “meet” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, psychiatric innovator Carl Jung, Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Denmark Vesey, a free person of color who, in the 1820s, plotted a slave rebellion in Charleston.

I attended Chautauqua last year and got to see a lecture by Albert Einstein (aka Larry Bounds). The theater was packed, and the audience ranged from children as young as seven to couples in their 80s. It really did feel more like a play than listening to a lecture, but after the show was over I realized that I understood scientific principles that had eluded me over the course of several semesters at school.