Religion, history and theater will come together under a circus
tent at Civic Park in O'Fallon next week with a uniquely American
cultural event - the chautauqua.
In a monologue format similar to Hal Holbrook's "Mark Twain
Tonight" and Julie Harris' "Belle of Amherst," five costumed
scholars will portray historic figures who affected history in
Each evening at 7:30 p.m. from June 27 to July 1, one of the
scholar-actors will take the stage with an extemporaneous talk
based on the life of his or her character. Musical entertainment
will precede the program at 7 p.m. Following the 45-minute
presentations, the characters will take questions from the audience.
The chautauqua scholars also will speak during the day at
various sites in St. Charles and St. Louis. All chautauqua events
are open to the public at no charge.
The Missouri Chautauqua is co-sponsored by the Missouri
Humanities Council and the O'Fallon Chautauqua Committee,
consisting of members of the O'Fallon Historical Society, Chamber
of Commerce, Parks and Recreation Department and O'Fallon Branch
This is the second year the Missouri Humanities Council has
sponsored the chautauqua, which is an Indian name for "meeting
place." O'Fallon is the last gig on a month-long tour that included
Kansas City, Neosho and Hannibal.
The Chautauqua has been described by audiences as a scholarly
circus, the first adult education program in America and and the
rural 19th century broadcasting system.
According to Christine Reilly, executive director of the
Missouri Humanities Council, older Missourians remember when
traveling chautauquas brought education and entertainment to small
midwestern towns by presenting great oratory, music and drama under
a big tent.
"Permanent chautauquas were based at lakeside pavilions
throughout the country. But even the tiniest village could look
forward to an annual visit by the traveling versions," Reilly said.
Famous chautauqua orators from the past included William
Jennings Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt, who said, "Chautauqua is the
most American thing in America."
Reilly explained that this season's program is not intended to
proselytize or advocate any specific religion or to resemble a
"We want people to understand it is possible to study religion
or religious history the way you study art, politics or
literature," Reilly said. "And we choose characters that are
important to the whole country's diverse religious heritage as well
The council advertised nationwide for history and religion
scholars to represent the five chautauqua characters. Candidates
were asked to submit videotapes as part of their auditions.
"You have to be a bit of a ham as well as a scholar to play one
of the parts," Reilly said.
The historical figures who will take the Civic Park stage are:
Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints. Smith's followers, also known as Mormons, were
ousted from Jackson County, Mo. Smith is portrayed by Gary
Holloway, associate professor of church history at the Institute
for Christian Studies, Austin, Texas.
Father Pierre De Smet, a famous Jesuit priest based in St. …