Nearly 150 years ago, long before the term “edutainment” came into use, an adult educational/entertainment movement was born on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in New York State (Wikipedia). They became so popular that “daughter Chautauquas” sprang up in other locations, spreading the movement to other areas of the country in the early part of the 20th century. Common elements of those early assemblies were lectures, religious themes, and music—and they were seen as a more wholesome form of entertainment than the vaudeville performances that were popular at the same time.
After the Great Depression the two world wars, the Chautauqua movement faded away as radio and TV became household entertainment, but it was revived in the 1970s.
Today Chautauqua is associated with living history—performances given in character of historical figures, with an interactive element in which the audience can pose questions to a living, breathing person. Greenville Chautauqua’s website describes it this way: “More than history. More than a performance. More than a story. We are Chautauqua, a nonprofit, experiential oral tradition that brings history to life through interactive theater and compelling discussion aimed at stimulating critical thinking.”
Chautauqua in the Upstate
The Greenville Chautauqua has been bringing history to life since 1999, expanding its programming to Asheville in 2000 and Spartanburg in 2009. The June festival includes events in all three cities, as well as Travelers Rest, Pelzer, and Brevard (NC).
This year’s theme is “It’s Revolutionary,” but it’s not all about the Revolutionary war—using an expansive definition, the festival features Alexander Hamilton (and some of his women), Andrew Jackson, Jackie Kennedy, and Malcolm X.
Click here for the full schedule, and go meet some of the most interesting characters in history.