History is all about stories, and there is no more enjoyable way to learn some history than to hear those stories told by the people who lived them.
Local residents will have an opportunity to do just that this weekend when the Kansas-Nebraska Chautauqua comes to town. Each night, Thursday through Sunday, actor-historians will take the stage in South Park and take on the persona of well-known figures of the 1930s. Through their stories, they will bring the history of that era alive for their audiences.
The theme for this year's Chautauqua is "Bright Dreams, Hard Times," and the stories of the 1930s may have a special resonance during the current economic downturn. The program will feature five historical figures: Will Rogers, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Aimee Semple McPherson, Huey Long and Zora Neale Hurston. The people who perform in these roles are more than actors; they are historians who have spent years researching the people they will portray. Their knowledge is so extensive that they even are prepared to answer audience questions that often range far beyond their prepared monologues.
Organizers should be congratulated for bringing the Chautauqua back to Lawrence after only four years. It's rare for the program to make a return engagement so soon, but the enthusiastic community response to the 2004 "Bleeding Kansas" show helped convince the Kansas Humanities Council to make Lawrence one of only two Chautauqua stops in Kansas this year.
The Chautauqua movement was conceived as a way to bring cultural enrichment and knowledge to audiences in the days before television and radio, and it still fills that role admirably. This weekend would be a great time to take a trip to South Park and a step back in time to hear some wonderful stories from another era.