What is the Chautauqua Method?
The Chautauqua Method (pronounced “sha-talk-wa”) has a long and proud history. Originating in New England, the movement was originally largely an educational enterprise, with traveling lecturers. Performances and lectures were often given in large tents, with citizens from miles around coming for an evening of education and enlightenment.
The Chautauqua Method divides the performance into three phases. First, the historical interpreter will appear before the group in costume in the persona of the character. He will begin by speaking for 5-25 minutes (depending on the group) on a specific historical topic or in general about the character. His remarks will be tailored to type of audience and the event. Following this portion, he opens the floor to any questions the audience may wish to ask. These questions can focus on the time period in which the character lived, or may ask a more modern question. . This question period can last any desired length up to perhaps 1 1/2 hours. Following the last question the final portion of the Chautauqua begins, with the performer breaking character and answering questions as a scholar himself. These questions are also unscripted.
Modern Chautauqua is a blending of impersonation with scholarship recently brought to near-perfection by the great Jefferson scholar, Clay Jenkinson, who is acknowledged as a master of the modern of Chautauqua.