A large group of traveling performers and educators is visiting seven communities in Southeast Alaska this summer. The New Old Time Chautauqua will be holding parades, performances and workshops and encouraging residents to participate.
The New Old Time Chautauqua was founded in 1981 and is made up of volunteers. It goes on tour once a year with 55 performers and educators. This year’s tour will go through Southeast Alaska in June and July.
Paul Magid, coordinator for this year’s tour, explained that a chautauqua is only similar to a circus in that there are some performers who do circus type acts. “It’s more about education and entertainment kind of mixed together and it’s a wonderful combo,” Magid said. “It’s actually a lot more like public radio, or a TED Talk, where there’s this mix of great performers and great ideas.”
“And community gathering together,” added Anne Gavzer, who serves as wrangler for the troupe. “One of the prime things I work on is our community service aspect, which is where we, it’s a real important part of our mission to go and be able to entertain people who otherwise would not have the opportunity, they may not be able to leave their homes.” Gavzer said. “So we go into senior homes, we work with homeless youth, we do free lunch programs, we go to boys and girls clubs, we go to prisons. And so that’s one of the pieces I work on.”
The visitors will be doing community service projects in the seven towns, in between parades, Vaudeville style performances and workshops. People are encouraged to participate and Magid said the more a community puts into their visit, the more they’ll get out. “So if you got kids who wanna be in a parade that’s really fun,” he said. “If the VFW wants to be in the parade that’s great. Anybody who has a community organization or for any reason wants to be in the parade to promote something or to promote community we really encourage that.”
The traveling group ranges in age from one to 74 and Gavzur said the events are family friendly. The Chautauqua features a 25 piece marching band and plans to break out into smaller groups and welcome other musicians to join in. They’ll even send music in advance. Magid said he’ll be teaching workshops on history of the chautauqua and another workshop on how to fold things. Community members are also encouraged to lead their own workshops.
Magid said the chautauqua movement dates back to 1874, predated by the practice of lyceums, or gatherings for lectures and classes, which started in 1826. “It’s about a free man tilling his own earth basically is the idea. And that in order to be a good citizen you have to be a well educated citizen. So, this whole movement basically started out of that idea. Lyceums were events that were actually gatherings of people, just regular people, who had regular jobs, who wanted to keep improving their education and improving their minds.”
Magid said in 1924 there were one thousand traveling chautauquas serving 40 million Americans but the practice died out during the Great Depression. “Anyway we founded out Chautauqua in 1981 so its our 34th year. And we are the only circuit traveling Chautauqua in America. So if you wanna see something super unique and have loads and loads and loads of fun you should come out and see us cause who knows when we’ll be back. Last time was 23 years ago.”
Organizers are seeking donations of food while they’re in the seven communities to feed the large visiting group.
The New Old Time Chautauqua will be in Ketchikan June 21st, Wrangell June 25th, Petersburg June 28th, Juneau for July 4th, Hoonah July 5-6th, Haines July 8-11 and Sitka July 12-13th.
Here in Petersburg the Chautauqua will arrive on June 28th and will be setting up camp at Sandy Beach Park. There’s a community potluck with music at the park that afternoon at 3 p.m. and everyone is welcome to participate, bring food and play music with the group. On the 29th the group hopes to perform at Mountain View Manor and work on a community service project at the park. A parade will be the following day on June 30th at 12:30 p.m. on main street and anyone can take part. That will be followed by workshops and then a performance at the Wright Auditorium. That show will benefit the high school music program. The visit to Petersburg is being sponsored by the Petersburg Indian Association. Anyone interested in helping out or putting on a workshop should contact PIA at 772-3626.