The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Chautauqua performers put together presentations of approximately 45 minutes portraying characters from Kentucky history, and they need to be well-versed in their characters so they can conduct question-and-answer sessions of up to 30 minutes after the presentation. The characters don’t have to be famous, but according to the Humanities Council, they do need to have statewide appeal and illuminate some aspect of Kentucky history. And they must be deceased – no sense in working up a presentation on someone who can still speak for his or herself.
In July, the Humanities Council will select five new performers to join its roster of more than 20 characters.
Chautauqua performers receive $1,000 for script development and drama, costume and scholarly consultants paid for by the Humanities Council, to ensure historical accuracy. Performers are paid $350 per performance, plus lodging. They must be available for at least 45 performances between Aug. 1, 2011, and July 31, 2013.
Applications must be postmarked by May 7 and include contact information, a resume, three references, and a two-to-three page description of the proposed character along with a bibliography of sources — i.e., a job application. Mail your application to:
Kentucky Humanities Council
206 E. Maxwell St.
Lexington, KY 40508-2613
Oct10Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, Music, Opera, Reviews, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Aaron Copland, Alan Gershwin, American Spiritual Ensemble, Angela Brown, Angelique Clay, Everett McCorvey, Gregory Turay, Jane Gentry Vance, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Jonathan Palmer, Kentucky Chautauqua, Kentucky Humanities Council, Lexington Singers, Lexington Vintage Dance Society, Margaret Garner, Mark O'Connor, Michael Breeding, Nick Clooney, Our Lincoln, Peter Thomas, Richard Danielpour, River of Time, UK Chorale, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
The presentation of Our Lincoln at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in February was undeniably a big deal for Kentucky arts and humanities.
Artists who live and work here were presented on one of the nation’s most prestigious stages along with hometown kids who have made good and a few international stars, such as violinist Mark O’Connor. A production conceived and produced in Central Kentucky went to an international arts showplace and acquitted itself admirably.
I sat with a Washington cameraman who went on at length about how great the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is. It was one of numerous anecdotes about seasoned Washington arts observers who were impressed with Our Lincoln.
But it is understandable that this might be lost on people who weren’t among the 1,463 people who saw the performance, given while the state was in the throes of an ice storm. Overseeing recovery efforts forced Gov. Steve Beshear to cancel his plans to attend.
But now Beshear and anyone else who would like to see the show can catch it in Michael Breeding’s PBS-quality DVD, which has just been released.
After raising the money to get the program to Washington, the Kentucky Humanities Council had to go back to the well for an additional $6,500 to produce the DVD, with the total costs to be recouped through sales.
What we can now see is that Breeding and his crew captured the proceedings in stunning detail, with shots that take the viewer onto the stage with the performers and also relay the grandeur of the occasion.
Click here for a look at all five new characters for Kentucky Chautauqua’s 2009-10 season.
If you call the Smiths in Cynthiana asking for a Chautauqua performer, you’ll have to be more specific.
Are you calling for Edward Smith, who plays Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan and former University of Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp in the Kentucky Humanities Council‘s living-history program?
Or do you want his wife, Betsy B. Smith, who plays Emilie Todd Helm, Mary Todd Lincoln’s sister and the wife of Confederate Gen. Benjamin Hardin Helm?
Maybe you want their oldest son, Ethan Smith, who plays Johnny Green, one of the few survivors of the Confederate Orphan Brigade, and Price Hollowell, a key figure in Western Kentucky’s Black Patch War.
“Chautauqua is just kind of our thing,” says Edward, an associate theater professor at Georgetown College.
Chautauqua performers present significant characters from Kentucky’s history in 45-minute presentations. The roster includes Abraham Lincoln and Grandpa Jones.
George McGee, a Georgetown College theater professor who has played Henry Clay in Kentucky Chautauqua for years, brought the Smiths into the program.
“Betsy and I actually met in his drama class,” Edward says . “So when I came back to teach at Georgetown, I knew he (McGee) was playing Henry Clay, and he said, ‘Whenever they do a call for characters, you should audition.’”
It was a good way for the professor to keep his acting chops sharp. Smith developed the Rupp character, which he has played since 2001.
Ethan noticed what Dad was doing and decided he wanted to get in on the act. But he was 13 at the time. Chautauqua characters are people who have had a significant impact on Kentucky history. Not many young teens fit that description.
But Ethan found one in Price Hollowell, a boy who testified against the infamous Night Riders who attacked Western Kentucky farmers who did not participate in a tobacco-company boycott.
“It started as a summer project,” says Ethan, now 18. “Being a Chautauqua performer is a lot of responsibility because you represent the Humanities Council and all the other performers. So I would have understood if I wasn’t even picked to audition. But it was still a good research project, because Price Hollowell’s story is not known to many Kentuckians.”
Then, Mom got in on the acting.
“I had a V8 moment,” Becky says. “I was the history major with the communications degree who was so immersed in Civil War history as a kid. If you had told me at 9 or 10 I could have a job wearing a long dress, talking about Abe Lincoln, I’m in.”
Betsy took on Helm, the “rebel in the White House,” according to her Chautauqua billing. The character has taken her all the way to the stage of John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where she and several other Chautauqua performers were part of the Our Lincoln presentation Feb. 2.
Chautauqua usually doesn’t have the actors performing that far away.
As a historian, Betsy has enjoyed the chance to help her husband and son develop their pieces. Ethan says that in developing Hollowell, he used books from his mom’s shelf that he couldn’t find anywhere else. When he decided to develop another character, she pointed him to Johnny Green’s Journal, which “you can’t just find in bookstores,” Ethan says. “It’s not Harry Potter.” He also devoured a 1,200-page history of the Orphan Brigade.
Ethan as Green and Edward as Harlan debuted their new characters Monday at the Lexington History Center before a panel that included history and theater experts.
A big part of the job, the Smiths say, is figuring out how to tell their characters’ stories in 45 minutes.
Ethan’s Green comes off as a war-weary adventurer, describing some of the hardships of the Civil War and relaying what kept him going, from dedication to the Confederate cause to a deep desire to get home to Kentucky.
Edward was intrigued by Harlan’s status as a former slave owner who was the only dissenting vote in the high court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which upheld segregation, and other 19th-century civil rights cases.
“It intrigued me to see how he could go from this to this, to truly be a guy who changed his mind,” Edward says.
In addition to building a 45-minute monologue, the actors have to be pretty sharp on their characters’ history and the times they lived in, because people in the audience can toss in questions.
In the Smith home, that leads to lots of chatter and work as the actors read up and talk about their subjects. And that’s not lost on the younger Smiths: Harry, 13, and Ross, 11.
Edward proudly touts their success in speech competitions and says Harry has started to ask when he’ll get to do a character.
“We do have to tell him, ‘Harry, it’s not really a birthright,’” he says.
But don’t be surprised if this trio of Chautauqua performers eventually grows into a quintet.
Later this summer, we’ll catch up with Bet Stewart as Rosemary Clooney.
Here’s a slide show of this year’s new Kentucky Chautauqua performers. Mouse over the bottom of the slide show to get controls. Click on the little comment cloud to the left to activate captions (if you want captions on this show, it’s probably best to go to the large version of the show). If you click on a photo, it will take you to a larger version of it at Picasa, and you can click the link at the bottom left of the slide show window for a larger version of the whole show.
We spent Monday at the Lexington History Center checking out the new performers on the Kentucky Humanities Council’s Kentucky Chautauqua program.
Chautauqua performers present significant characters from Kentucky’s history in 45-minute presentations to groups that book them. The roster includes everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Grandpa Jones.
This year’s additions to the lineup include four 19th Century figures and one unforgettable star from the 20th Century. Here’s a look at them, in order they were presented.
Justice John Marshall Harlan, presented by Edward Smith — A glass of bourbon in hand, Harlan regales the audience with an often funny chat about the development of his political and legal career. Along the way, we get tidbits like the fact that Supreme Court Justices didn’t have offices in the 19th Century. The main point of the presentation though is exploring how Harlan, a former slave owner, turned out to be the dissenting vote on numerous Civil Rights cases, including Plessy vs. Ferguson, which upheld segregation.
Billy Herndon, presented by Robert Brock – Herndon was Abraham Lincoln’s law partner in Springfield, Ill., up until the time he became President and, like Lincoln, he was a native Kentuckian. In his presentation, Herndon speaks passionately about the man he hoped would make good on his promise to come back and pick up the law practice and whose biography he gave his life to writing. Brock, a Henry Clay High School and University of Kentucky, is director of Kentucky Repertory Theatre at Horse Cave.
Johnny Green, presented by Ethan Smith — Johnny Green was one of the surviving members of the Orphan Brigade, a Confederate troupe that endured some of the harshest conditions the Civil War had to offer. In the presentation, Green offers details about life as a soldier in the War Between the States, some stories told with a distinctly youthful vigor, his rationale for fighting on and his deep desire to return home to Kentucky.
Rosemary Clooney, presented by Bet Stewart – She was the woman who put the Clooney family name on the map in her career as a chart-topping singer and movie star. In Endangered Singer, Stewart focuses on the turbulent life that bubbled underneath her marquee career, including a failed marriage and drug addiction, and how she navigated her way to happiness. Stewart read a lot and talked to people who knew Clooney, including her brother Nick Clooney, to develop the piece. She is director of Cincinnati’s Intuition Theatre.
Lucy Audubon, presented by Kelly Brengelman – Audubon was the wife of famed bird expert John J. Audubon, and apparently it was not easy to be married to him. Brengelman’s presentation recounts long periods of time being separated from her husband, often living on the brink of poverty, as he pursued his work. He eventually achieved timeless fame with the publication of Birds of America. Brengelman is an actor who lives in Midway.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich