A crowd comprising residents of multiple counties in western Kentucky sat down to hear stories from great Kentucky leaders, all of whom are deceased. Actors with Kentucky Chautauqua, a program made possible by the Kentucky Humanities Council, brought five figures in bluegrass history to life.
Kentucky Chautauqua stems from the original program from Chautauqua, New York. It started as a way to give Sunday school teachers more training in theology and biblical history. The performing arts presentation has since become a dramatic, educational experience for school groups, historic sites and churches. The Kentucky Humanities Council has fostered the popular program for 20 years.
Every performer in the acting troop represents someone who significantly contributed to Kentucky’s heritage. The audience at Wednesday night’s event welcomed Private William Greathouse, Reverend Newton Bush, Harland “Colonel” Sanders, Sister Mary Settles and Grandpa Jones for stories and memories about the Commonwealth.
Lake Barkley State Resort Park hosted the first of five Kentucky Chautauqua performances. Gina Winchester, executive director of MSU’s Office of Regional Outreach, said the crowd was enthralled with the performances.
“It was great to see community members of all ages taking advantage of a historical, educational opportunity,” Winchester said. “Murray State is honored to partner with Kentucky Humanities Council in offering support for this type of programming through our Office of Regional Outreach.”
Ken Wolf, former MSU history professor, serves on the Kentucky Humanities Council board. Wolf said he met audience members who asked him how they could get Chautauqua in their schools. The program is accessible, and people of all ages enjoy it, he said.
“It brings the past alive in a way only a dramatic presentation can,” Wolf said. “I’m a historian, and I deal with words all the time. But these are spoken words, and they are delivered with passion and emotion that meet you on all sorts of levels. That’s the best way to learn, is to engage your mind as well as your senses and your feelings.”
The Kentucky Chautauqua tour is five days long and includes performances at the remaining venues across the state. Actors go on at General Butler State Park, Carter Caves, Cumberland Falls and finish at Old Fort Harrod.