Chautauqua brings historical figures to life in Upstate

June 18, 2014 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a conversation with President Harry Truman? How about Red Cross founder Clara Barton? Or maybe Robert Smalls, the African-American who brazenly made off with a Confederate ship during the Civil War?

The Chautaugua Festival: Rising to the Occasion makes it possible to meet those, and other, historical characters this week in Upstate South Carolina. Greenville Chautauqua has been putting on historical theater productions since 1999, and the annual festival has grown to feature presentations in Spartanburg and Asheville, N.C.

This year’s roster of one-person shows include George Frein as Truman, Pat Jordan as Barton, Donald Sweeper of Columbia as Smalls and Ken Johnson as Revolutionary War patriot Patrick Henry. In a slight departure from the norm, Dan Shabkie brings Leonard Bernstein to life not through acting but through conversation and tunes in “The Joy of Music.”

The concept of the festival is to learn history through the voice of the historic figure. Each of the actors/scholars portrays their character, then members of the audience ask questions and the actors/scholars steps out of character to provide answers.

Want to be an informed audience member? Go to greenvillechautauqua.org and read up on the historical characters.

The shows began last week and run through Sunday. All of the shows are free.

Wednesday, June 18, you can encounter Barton at the Spartanburg Library; Truman at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, and Henry at Trailblazer Park Amphitheater in Travelers Rest. Thursday, it’s Smalls in Spartanburg and Henry in Asheville. Henry will be at Falls Park in Greenville on Friday. Barton (2 p.m) and Smalls (7 p.m.) will be at Greenville Tech on Saturday, and Truman will be there at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. “The Joy of Music” event will be Sunday at Greenville’s Fine Arts Center.

Joey Holleman

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