In the era of fake news, this year’s Chautauqua examines power of words

And that’s the way it is — Or is it?

photo by Will Crooks

The organizers of the Greenville Chautauqua had no way of knowing that fake news would be an issue during this year’s Chautauqua season when they picked “The Power of Words” as their theme. Themes are selected more than a year in advance.

“Fake news wasn’t on our radar then,” says Larry Bounds, a Wade Hampton High English teacher who will portray beloved CBS newsman Walter Cronkite at this year’s festival. “It became very topical.”

One thing that struck Bounds during his yearlong research on Cronkite was how the newsman saw the dangers of unedited information when the internet was still in its infancy.

“He foresaw the internet as a dangerous, unedited, uncontrolled rumor mill where it was impossible to check sources,” Bounds said. “He warned us well in advance of the dangers of fake news.”

Cronkite even lobbied for schools to train students how to identify good sources of information. “He was the most trusted man in America, and he valued speaking the truth and using the right words,” says Bounds.

From 1962 to 1981, Cronkite anchored “CBS Evening News.” He delivered newspapers in the 1920s, was a copy boy in the 1930s, and was on the air in the golden age of radio. As the face and voice of CBS News, Cronkite reported some of the nation’s most important events, from telling the nation that President John F. Kennedy had been killed to being at a loss for words when NASA astronauts landed on the moon.

Bounds said because there are so many recording of Cronkite, he was able to soak up the newsman’s personality. But with more than 60 years of journalistic experience covering events around the globe, Cronkite is a challenging character to portray.

“He had a massive web of names and connections I’m still in the process of learning,” he said.

For Bounds, the real obstacle in becoming Cronkite comes not in his prepared monologue, but in the audience questions that follow. There’s no way to rehearse that. “Sometimes you have to answer the question you wished they had asked, not the question they did ask,” Bounds said.

What is Chautauqua? History brought to life through interactive theater. Scholars perform monologues in character and then answer questions from the audience.

Walter Cronkite

Friday, June 16, 7:30 p.m., Under the Tent at Greenville Tech
Monday, June 19, 11:30 a.m., Younts Center for Performing Arts, Fountain Inn
Tuesday, June 20, 9 a.m., Upcountry History Museum; Falls Park
Sunday, June 25, Greenville Tech TRC Auditorium

Maya Angelou

Saturday, June 17, 2 p.m., Greenville Tech TRC Auditorium
Tuesday, June 20, 11:30 a.m., Kroc Center
Friday, June 23, 11:30 a.m., Phillis Wheatley Community Center
Saturday, June 24, 7:30 p.m., Tent at Greenville Tech

Rachel Carson

Saturday, June 17, 2 p.m., Greenville Tech TRC Auditorium
Wednesday, June 21, 8 p.m., Trailblazer Amphitheatre, Travelers Rest
Thursday, June 22, 9 a.m., Upcountry History Museum

Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, June 18, 2 p.m., Greenville Tech TRC Auditorium
Wednesday, June 21, 11:30 a.m., Kroc Center
Friday, June 23, 9 a.m., Upcountry History Museum
Saturday, June 24, Pelzer Auditorium
Sunday, June 25, 7:30 p.m., Under the Tent at Greenville Tech

Cesar Chavez

Sunday, June 18, 7:30 p.m., Under the Tent at Greenville Tech
Wednesday, June 21, 9 a.m., Upcountry History Museum
Thursday, June 22, 11:30 a.m., Centre Stage
Friday, June 23, 7:30 p.m., Under the Tent at Greenville Tech

2017 Chautauqua History Alive Festival

“The Power of Words”
June 16-25



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