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Oregon Shakespeare Festival[1]

Oregon Shakespeare Festival[1] - 1 Embrey-Stine Sean...

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1 Embrey-Stine Sean Embrey-Stine Theater 301 December 7, 2012 Origins of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has made the small Southern Oregon town of Ashland a tourist destination for theater lovers from all over the world. While it is now a full-fledged regional theater company, it still bears the name Festival, giving a clue as to its beginnings. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival can trace its origins back to the Chautauqua movement, which brought entertainment to rural communities all over the country. The spirit of the Chautauqua movement may have played a role in what compelled the Ashland community, led by Angus Bowmer, to come together and create something astonishing in the world of American regional theater. Lewis Miller, a businessman, and John Heyl Vincent, a Methodist minister, founded the Chautauqua movement in 1874 along the edge of Lake Chautauqua in New York. (Canning, "Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century, What Was Chautauqua?") The purpose of the first Chautauqua meetings was to train Sunday School teachers, but the movement quickly expanded and became a program designed to bring arts, culture, and education to rural areas of the United States. Circuit Chautauquas were held in tents, and generally consisted of a series of lectures and performances over the course of several days. Afterwards, they would pack up their tents and move to the next town. There were also independent Chautauquas, which built permanent structures
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2 to house their events. The Chautauqua circuit targeted rural, protestant Americans, many of whom did not want theater because of a persistent belief that theater was “big city evil” and the “handiwork of the devil,” according to a Chautauqua memoir. (Canning, “Platform Vs. Stage.”) However, these audiences did want entertainment, and for a while, Chautauqua provided it, presenting lectures, recitations, and various musical offerings. Chautauqua, as an institution, performed for hundreds of thousands of people annually, and those who experienced it firsthand believed that they were participating in something historically significant. It is rather astonishing that something that was “so defining, so affecting” has been so forgotten (Canning, “ Most American Thing” 2). Apart from the few remaining people who actually remember it, there are very few Americans who have even heard of Chautauqua. Scholars and historians have neglected it as well. There are, however, many of what Charlotte Canning calls “palimpsestic traces” of the movement all over the country (“Most American Thing” 3). Institutions such as The Chautauqua Foundation and Chautauqua Airlines are examples of such traces. In San Marcos, Texas, there is a local newspaper called the Chautauquan , and in Carmichael, California, there is a community theater called The Chautauqua Playhouse. Perhaps the most interesting of these palimpsestic traces is located in Ashland, Oregon, where a small
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