Greenville Chautauqua has spent past two decades bringing history to life

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Ken Johnston will portray Francis Marion at the 2018 Greenville Chautauqua Festival.

Seth Harrison had gone down to the amphitheater behind the Peace Center expecting a jazz concert. What he got was a history lesson.

It was 1999, the first year of Greenville Chautauqua.

“There was a guy on stage talking about being a teenager in the 1920s. I thought that if he was a teenager then, there’s no way he’d be here now,” said Harrison, who was one of a dozen or two people in the audience. “I paid attention to what he was saying.”

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

Turns out the man he was listening to was Charles Pace, a historic interpreter who was portraying poet, novelist, and playwright Langston Hughes. The performance was one of five at the inaugural Greenville Chautauqua festival.

“I wasn’t disappointed because I didn’t hear music that night,” said Harrison, who has been a volunteer with the festival ever since.

This year marks the 20th year of the festival, which has “brought” icons such as Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Houdini, John James Audubon, Amelia Earhart, Benedict Arnold, and Walter Cronkite to Greenville.

This year, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman, American suffragist and women’s rights activist Alice Paul, and Red Cross founder Clara Barton will be brought back to life by part-actors, part-scholars in costumes. Performances are held in Greenville County, Spartanburg, and Asheville, N.C.

After the actor performs a monologue, the floor is opened to audience questions. Because of that, Chautauqua is not just an actor working from a script. The performers immerse themselves in the characters, learning them well enough not to be stumped by one of the questions.

The first Chautauqua started as an adult education program for Sunday school teachers at a campsite on Chautauqua Lake in Upstate New York. Tent Chautauquas toured America, including one that regularly stopped in Greenville. Chautauqua stopped during the Great Depression. It was revived in the 1970s as a way to promote humanities education. Greenville’s Chautauqua started in 1999 after George Frein, a founding member of the National Chautauqua Tour, moved to Greenville.

“It’s the people of Greenville who sustain it,” said Caroline McIntyre, Greenville Chautauqua administrator. “Greenville Chautauqua happens because people want it to happen and are willing to work to make it happen.”

So you know:

What: “Courage,” the 2018 Chautauqua History Alive Festival
When: June 15-24
Admission: Free
Information: www.greenvillechautauqua.org

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

Winston Churchill events in Greenville

Friday, June 15, 7:30 p.m., Under the Tent at Greenville Tech

Saturday, June 16, 10 a.m., Runway Cafe, Greenville Downtown Airport

Tuesday, June 19, 7:30 p.m., Falls Park

Wednesday, June 20, 9 a.m., Upcountry History Museum

Thursday, June 21, 11:30 a.m., The Kroc Center

Saturday, June 23, 2 p.m., Pelzer Auditorium

Harriet Tubman events in Greenville

Saturday, June 16, 2 p.m., Greenville Tech TRC Auditorium

Monday, June 18, 11:30 a.m., Phillis Wheatley Community Center

Wednesday, June 20, 11:30 a.m., The Kroc Center

Friday, June 22, 9 a.m., Upcountry History Museum

Sunday, June 24, 7:30 p.m., Tent at Greenville Tech

Clara Barton events in Greenville

Saturday, June 16, 7:30 p.m., Tent at Greenville Tech

Thursday, June 21, 9 a.m., Upcountry History Museum

Friday, June 22, 11:30 a.m., Centre Stage

Sunday, June 24, 2 p.m., Greenville Tech TRC Auditorium

Alice Paul events in Greenville

Sunday, June 17, 2 p.m., Greenville Tech TRC Auditorium

Thursday, June 21, 9 a.m. Upcountry History Museum

Saturday, June 23, 7:30 p.m., Tent at Greenville Tech

Francis Marion events in Greenville

Sunday, June 17, 7:30 p.m., Tent at Greenville Tech

Tuesday, June 19, 11:30 a.m., Younts Center, Fountain Inn

Wednesday, June 20, 8 p.m., Trailblazer Park, Travelers Rest

Friday, June 22, 7:30 p.m., Tent at Greenville Tech

Saturday, June 23, 9 a.m., Upcountry History Museum

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