The Chautauqua program was created more than a 100 years ago (in upstate New York) as a way to bring culture to rural America. It evolved into a traveling show that arrived by railroad – complete with enormous tents to house the events and where the people could set up cots to sleep. It also brought cooking facilities so that people could stay for many days and not have to go home. When the Chautauqua train came into town for it’s annual visit, it was the high point of the year. It brought music, lectures, historical representations and many other activities. It spread over the entire United States, with many traveling groups that visited even the smallest of rural towns.

 This lovely format lived on even into the 40’s but it eventually succumbed to the allure of television. Luckily it lives on (albeit in a much smaller format) in many states. Here in New Mexico, the Humanities Council has had a Chautauqua program for more than 30 years. Here is how they describe it:

 Chautauqua was a lakeside village in upstate New York, where the idea of traveling humanities programs originated in the late 1800′s. An NMHC Chautauqua program brings history to life at your event with a performance by a scholar/performer posing as a historical figure or an expert speaker on an intriguing topic. A lively discussion follows each show.

Imagine: the Master of Ceremonies introduces the Chautauquan: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud to introduce Clyde Tingley!” The Chautauqua scholar, acting in character, relates the period history for about 45 minutes to an hour, using your podium, table, slide projector, or whatever you have jointly arranged. The Chautauquan spins yarns, sings songs, and recounts personal events, all with the voice of firsthand experience. At the end of the talk, the Chautauquan, still in character, take questions from the audience. The fun of the extended performance is the illusion that a famous historical character is really present, willing to answer questions, not only about his or her time period, but about our times, too. When there are no more questions for the character, the performer “breaks character,” and the audience has a chance to ask personal questions of the scholar. Now the Chautauqua experience is complete. The performer has transported the audience with a “humanities time machine” to experience, explore, and enjoy our history.

Their programs are available at a very modest cost to schools, universities, community organizations, parks, recreation centers, museums, etc.

We have been a part of this program since 2010. Currently we offer two of our historical plays based on important characters of the Southwest: the Conquistador Conquered: The epic Journey of Estevanico and Cabeza de Vaca, and Lady Blue’s Dreams.

Contact us to see if your organization qualifies for this program.