Like the Chautauqua gatherings of the early 20th century, the Chautauqua Series at OAEC presents a mix of education and entertainment as a means of enlightening and enriching the local community.
The Chautauqua Revue has taken place in the OAEC’s North Garden Theater annually since 2003. The show is an homage to the great Chautauquas of a hundred years ago that were week long rural encampments that were a mixture of entertainment and education. Much of the audience for the Revue is now made up of folks who come year after year for an evening not only of quality entertainment, but to be part of the community spirit of the Chautauqua.
HISTORY OF CHAUTAUQUA
Chautauqua gatherings were a wildly popular phenomenon throughout the United States in the late 19th century and into the 1920s. These community-produced events combined the entertainment of Vaudeville and the inspired education of the Lyceum lectures with the sociability of a county fair and the homegrown feeling of rural environments.
The first Chautauqua happened in 1879 in Lake Chautauqua, New York and was initially a summer school program for Sunday school teachers. It quickly took on secular aspects while maintaining religious instruction and services. Entertainment and Populist lectures became part of the multi-day program, setting the tone for what was to come.
Within a few years, nearby communities were putting together their own programs, borrowing components from each other. As the turn of the century approached, Chautauqua’s spread throughout the greater northeastern United States. By 1910, summer encampments could be found as far away as Ashland, Oregon.
As the phenomenon took off, the range of content within a given Chautauqua grew proportionately: lectures, vaudeville, music, drama, and even opera. Chautauqua production companies replaced locally produced events, encouraging more popular, nationally known performers, speakers and politicians to participate.
With the onset of the Great Depression, the introduction of radio, and escalating costs introduced by commercialization, the Chautauqua’s faded away. However, beginning in the 1970’s, there has been a revival of the spirit of the Chautauqua. While nowhere near as ambitious as the multi-day encampments that brought hundreds of people together, these modern descendants aim to awaken a sense of what is most positive about rural American culture.