Northwest NEWS

July 22, 2002

Front Page

Chautauqua comes to the Snoqualmie Valley – an American tradition revived

by Carolyn Butler
   Duvall Arts Commission
   On August 2 and 3, for the first time since the 1920s, the Snoqualmie Valley is a scheduled stop on the Chautauqua circuit. Presented by the Duvall Arts Commission and co-sponsored by Evergreen HealthCare, the New Old Time Chautauqua (shuh-tawk-wuh) revives an American tradition from the early 1900s.
   There are few Americans left who remember the circuit Chautauqua, but longtime Duvall residents Velma Hill and Verle Bowe both recall the excitement of the train arriving in town carrying an enormous tent, work crews, famous orators and a variety of entertainers. In Duvall, the Chautauqua tent was set up just north of the present-day Woodinville-Duvall bridge. For three to seven days, the community would gather to enjoy lecturers, humorists, actors, interpretive readers, musicians, magicians and movies. Classic plays, Broadway hits, grand opera stars, Swiss bell ringers, orchestras, string quartets, ethnic bands, gospel singers, barbershop quartets and art demonstrations were all part of a typical Chautauqua tour.
   In his memoir "Duvall Immigrant," historian Ralph Taylor wrote, "The Chautauqua included Duvall on its regular itinerary, bringing a touch of culture in its programs which were held in pitched tents. … Local children were so influenced by the music and instrumental renditions that many of them took up music lessons."
   With its emphasis on education and uplift, offering challenging, informational and inspirational stimulation to rural and small-town America, many consider Chautauqua to be the forerunner of today's adult education movement. Many of the social and political issues that were the topics of the Chautauqua speakers in the early twentieth century remain issues of public concern today. Publicity brochures from the 1900s list the following lectures:
   • Graft and Political Corruption
   • Judicial Procedure reform
   • Prison Reform
   • Juvenile Delinquency and Reformation
   • Labor relations
   • Economic Social Policies
   • Ecology and Animal Rights
   • Neighborhood Cooperation
   • Poverty in the Slums
   • Pure Food and Drug Administration
   Begun in 1904, by the 1910s circuit Chautauqua could be found almost everywhere across the United States. At its peak in the mid-1920s, circuit Chautauqua performers and lecturers appeared in more than 10,000 communities in 45 states to audiences totaling 40 million people.
   In the late 1920s, radio and film took their toll on Chautauqua as did the Great Depression. As a sort of wholesome, morally respectable vaudeville, the circuit Chautauqua was an early form of mass culture.
   In 1981 a group of performers, health care practitioners and educators founded the New Old Time Chautauqua as a vehicle for reviving the spirit of the old Chautauquas and once again bringing entertainment and educational workshops to rural and remote communities. For over 20 years, this all-volunteer troupe has staged a three to six week summer tour to areas throughout the Pacific Northwest and has played a vital role in the renaissance of vaudeville.
   The New Old Time Chautauqua begins its Snoqualmie Valley residency by presenting workshops and a vaudeville show for residents of Echo Glen Children's Center, a juvenile rehabilitation facility in Snoqualmie.
   On Friday, Aug. 2, at 6 p.m., the Duvall Arts Commission invites the entire community to meet the Chautauquans at a potluck picnic in McCormick Park. After dinner the performers will put on a "teaser show" to pique curiosity about Saturday evening's vaudeville show.
   Saturday, August 3, promises non-stop fun with the Chautauqua's outrageous 20-piece Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Chamber Band/Orchestra leading the "Everybody's Welcome" parade through town at noon. Individual participants, families, friends, civic and service organizations, dance troupes, and cultural heritage groups are encouraged to participate in the parade.  The goal of this parade is NO SPECTATORS, so dress up, dress up your pet, decorate your bicycle or scooter and be outlandish!
   Following the parade, there will be a variety of free workshops and entertainment in McCormick Park. Come and learn about mask-making, juggling, quilting, composting, writing poetry, drumming, salsa dancing, and more. The New Old Time Chautauqua culminates in a full tilt vaudeville show featuring everything from juggling to tap dancing, rap to rope spinning, cowgirls to bubble blowing, magicians to poets, accompanied by the rousing music and wisecracks of the Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Chamber Band/Orchestra.
   The vaudeville show at Cedarcrest Performing Arts Center on Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. is the only ticketed Chautauqua event. Tickets are $5 general admission and are available at Duvall Books, Pumps & Grinds, and Gardens & Sunspaces in Duvall and at Simply Grand in Carnation.
   It's worth the detour to come to Duvall and experience this new approach to an old tradition. Just allow extra time to drive south across the Novelty bridge or north across the High Bridge Road. Visit for more information on Chautauqua and directions to McCormick Park.
   To volunteer to help, please call 425-788-2983 or e-mail Opportunities range from distributing flyers to staffing concessions to setting up and tearing down stages and much more. As Keith Vawter, the "father" of circuit Chautauqua said in the 1920s, "Over twenty years ago I told some friends that Chautauqua would be a success just as long as it was of sufficient importance in the community that a group of men and women would do a lot of hard work for the good of the Community." Come on out and help make Chautauqua a great success.
   # # # #