Storyfest workshop precedes Chautauqua

Monday, May 8, 2006

As Cape Girardeau's Chautauqua approaches local events are gearing up to generate interest in the week of living history.

This month both the Cape Girardeau Storyfest committee and the Historic Preservation Commission will hold events with ties to Chautauqua.

Storyfest will hold the first event May 15, a storytelling workshop at the Cape Girardeau Public Library from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Professional storyteller Lynn Rubright will talk to the public about the importance of preserving family history through storytelling.

Storytelling and Chautauqua Week go hand-in-hand, said Marsha Toll, Storyfest organizer.

"Storyfest is all about educating people in Cape Girardeau about the importance of oral history and keeping their stories and family stories alive, and Chautauqua gives people a very good idea about how oral history is presented," said Toll.

Rubright, who has taught storytelling at Webster University for 35 years, said everyone has history to share. They just need to be shown how to do it.

The storyteller said she'll start the class by illustrating oral history with some of her own family stories to "prime the pump of memory" for those in attendance.

"My job is to help people frame and shape those memories into stories," Rubright said.

Storyfest, a series of events throughout the year focusing on storytelling, will also tie into Chautauqua Week this June by working with KRCU to air the stories of local people. Taping of the stories will begin shortly after the storytelling workshop, Toll said.

The week those stories are aired, June 19 to 24, Cape Girardeau will be abuzz with Chautauqua activities during the day and night.

Dr. Joel Rhodes, chair of the local Chautauqua Week committee and a history professor at Southeast Missouri State University, said most of the details for the event have been finalized. Rhodes will talk about the event at the Historic Preservation Commission's Annual Preservation Month Reception at 6 p.m. May 17 at City Hall.

The week will kick off Monday, June 19, with a community tent-raising at 6 p.m. in the field behind the Osage Community Centre. About 100 volunteers are needed for the tent-raising. The Missouri Humanities Council, which bankrolls most of the cost of Chautauqua Week and takes the event to three cities each year, wants the tent-raising to be a community event, Rhodes said.

Chautauqua programs will get underway the following day. Throughout each day Chautauqua scholars will impersonate historic figures and talk to clubs and organizations. At night they'll take their historic presentations under the big tent, where local music groups also will perform.

The evening events will start at 7 with musical performances.

Rhodes said performers will take on the persona of the characters they portray then assume their own personalities for question-and-answer sessions afterward.

He's seen Glenna J. Wallace's portrayal of Mary Elizabeth Lease, which comes across as a late 19th century populist political rally.

The communities participating in Chautauqua Week are chosen by the Missouri Humanities Council. Most of the time communities just apply, but Rhodes said the council actually suggested bringing the event to Cape Girardeau.

"We were contacted by the humanities council because they felt strong enough about the interest in history and historic preservation here," said Rhodes. "I think our turnout will be much bigger than the other communities that are hosting the event this year. I think there is such an interest, and that's what's satisfying, being a historian."

The event costs $24,000 to put on, with about $4,500 coming from local sources. So far several sponsors -- the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Southeast Missourian, the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department and the Rose Bed Inn -- have offered support. Rhodes said sponsors are still needed to take on about $2,000 of the cost.

For more information on Chautauqua Week activities, call Rhodes at 651-2715. Each evening's events are free and open to the public.

335-6611, extension 182

Chautauqua defined

The word Chautauqua refers to a big-time cultural movement that swept the United States from the late 19th century until about 1932. The movement took its name from Lake Chautauqua, New York, where Sunday school teachers gathered annually for a week of Bible study. The Chautauqua movement grew into a touring program of lectures, music and socializing under a big tent in the summer. People would bring camping gear and furniture and would set up great tent cities for a week or more. At its height in 1924, the movement saw these week-long programs visit 12,000 towns and entertain 32 million people.

Schedule of events:

June 19

Tent-raising ceremony at 6 p.m. in the field behind the Osage Community Centre.

June 20

Tuesday will feature Theodore Roosevelt, portrayed by Doug Mishler of Reno, Nev. Mishler is a history professor at the University of Nevada-Reno. The night will start with a musical performance by the Cape Girardeau Municipal Band.

June 21

John James Audubon will be portrayed by California State University professor Richard Johnson. Music will be provided by Creole fiddler Dennis Stroughmatt.

June 22

Retired teacher Glenna J. Wallace from Seneca, Mo., will portray Mary Elizabeth Lease, an American populist writer, lecturer and activist. The Shade Tree Folk Company will perform, playing the folk music that was so important to the populist movement.

June 23

Fast food pioneer Fred Harvey will be portrayed by University of Missouri-Kansas City faculty member William Worley, with music by the Jerry Ford Dixieland Band.

June 24

Dr. George Washington Carver, portrayed by Paxton Williams, will get the final spot Saturday, with music by a dulcimer group called Vintage Strings.

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