Skip to Main Content

Kentucky Chautauqua

Kentucky Chautauqua

Follow actors as they go through the audition and extensive preparation project to join the Kentucky Humanities Council's Kentucky Chautauqua program. The program includes portrayals of Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Col. Harland Sanders, Lucy Bakewell Audubon, Mary Settles, and other characters from Kentucky history.
S7 E1 Length 58:07 Premiere: 11.16.15

Kentucky Chautauqua

As part of Kentucky’s bicentennial celebration in 1992, the Kentucky Humanities Council introduced Kentucky Chautauqua, a touring series of solo performances celebrating the commonwealth’s rich history. Now, 23 years later, Kentucky Chautauqua is more successful than ever as its performers continue to educate, entertain, and enlighten audiences from Mayfield to Ashland.

The producers of KET’s Kentucky Muse recently spent time behind the scenes and on tour with Kentucky Chautauqua, and learned that there’s a lot of teamwork required to create each performance.

The word “Chautauqua” originated from its namesake town in upstate New York, which during the 1870s served as the home base for a roving band of actors, speakers, musicians, artists, and other creative types. The group toured the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, presenting performances that proved to be widely popular with the public, including repeat engagements at Lexington’s Woodland Park.

Some of these performances also had an educational slant, showcasing important historical topics or figures. Virginia Carter, who served as executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council from 1989 to 2013, saw an opportunity in 1992 to apply the Chautauqua model to Kentucky as a means to encourage learning and civic participation.

“Chautauqua began at a time in America when civic-mindedness was the greatest virtue,” she says. “I think that we’ve come full circle, and that Kentucky Chautauqua has that same intent – building stronger communities and building pride in Kentucky.”

Plumbing the Past for Compelling Characters

Ben Chandler, the current executive director of KHC and former Kentucky attorney general, says that the Chautauqua staff generally tries to create six new historical characters every two years, and submissions from the public are welcome. The program has developed over 70 characters since its inception, and in 2015-2016, there are 31 characters available for performances.

These performances are first-person dramatizations weighted with history, rather than mere impersonations. The Kentucky Chautauqua portrayals are done by a wide range of performers, including professional actors, history buffs, or just people driven to spread the word about a long-forgotten person’s story. The KHC collects applications for performers every two years, with the next open call slated for late 2016. Each prospective performer gets five minutes to audition.

That is only the beginning, though. Each new character takes about one and a half years to fully create, and that starts with research. The Chautauqua team includes notable historians such as James Klotter, a professor at Georgetown College and Kentucky’s state historian. Consultants and performers together delve deep into the personal lives of the Chautauqua characters, and just as importantly, study the historical currents that shaped those lives.

The challenges of portraying a historical figure can be formidable. Actor George McGee also serves as a consultant for Kentucky Chautauqua, working as a “cheerleader” of sorts, as he puts it, to help new performers fully inhabit their characters.

“It is a pretty scary process, it is overwhelming,” he says. “You just can’t narrow your focus to ‘I’m going to learn everything about this one character, at this particular point in his life.’ That’s not the way it works. You really have to do your homework, you really have to do your research.”

Coupling Drama with History to Engage the Public

Other consultants work closely with performers on costumes, script writing, and most importantly, acting. Jim Rodgers is a dramatic consultant with Kentucky Chautauqua and professor emeritus of theater at the University of Kentucky. Rodgers recognizes the importance of historical accuracy, but also reminds performers that they must enliven that history with the character’s own sense of purpose in order to captivate audiences.

“For many of them, I’m trying to help them find a moment of conflict in the character’s life and work out their [performance] from that point,” he says, “so that [the audience is] captured not only by the facts that they learn, but by how the character passionately struggled to try to convince the people of their time about what they wanted to change or introduce.”

As such, many of the performances incorporate the topical issues of their eras, such as slavery during the 18th and 19th centuries, women’s rights during the early 20th century, and postwar economic expansion during the late 20th century. These social schisms continue to have an impact on Kentucky, making Chautauqua’s educational component an enriching addition to history classes in Kentucky schools.

“We have great teachers in many parts of the state that are doing a great job of teaching Kentucky history,” Ben Chandler says. “But these folks come in – and even the teachers are thrilled to get them, because they come in and make history come alive. That’s what they really do. … We’ve found a great deal of excitement and acceptance from teachers throughout the state.”

Kentucky Chautauqua performances are also available for a variety of audiences and venues, including state parks, businesses, and arts and civic organizations. They are booked for audiences of 40 or more, and, in the “anything goes” spirit of the original Chautauqua, individual performers may encourage audience participation.

Over Two Centuries of Storytelling

This production of Kentucky Muse caught up with current Kentucky Chautauqua performers as they developed their characters and portrayed them before live audiences, including:

  • Daniel Boone (portrayed by Kevin Hardesty), the legendary pioneer who settled much of Kentucky’s virgin territory in the late 18th century.
  • Henry Clay (George McGee), the prominent 19th-century U.S. senator known as the “Great Compromiser” who delayed the onset of the Civil War thorough his negotiations.
  • Simon Kenton (Mel Hankla), a contemporary of Daniel Boone who led many excursions throughout Kentucky during late 18th and early 19th centuries.
  • Charlotte Dupuy (Elizabeth Lawson), an African American born into slavery who eventually sued her owner, Henry Clay, for her freedom.
  • Private William Greathouse (Harry Smith), a teenage soldier in the War of 1812.
  • Mary Settles (Janet Scott), the last Shaker to live at the Pleasant Hill settlement, and an advocate for equal rights and civil rights.
  • Lucy Bakewell Audubon (Kelly O’Connell Brengelman), the wife of ornithologist and artist John James Audubon.
  • Rev. Newton Bush (Robert Bell), an African American from Franklin County who escaped slavery to enlist with the Union Army at Camp Nelson in central Kentucky.
  • Harland Sanders (L. Henry Dowell), the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a business icon whose image is still world famous today.
  • The Carlisle Brothers (Martin Harley and Greg Breeding), popular country music performers of the mid-20th century.

Program Details

Kentucky Muse

About Kentucky Muse

The KET-produced series Kentucky Muse celebrates the world of creativity found within the Bluegrass state. It offers thoughtful and provocative documentaries on artists, issues, events, and places that reflect Kentuckians' diverse and exciting means of expression while offering a fresh perspective on contemporary artistic life.

TV Schedules

Jump to Recent Airdates

Upcoming

Mountain Music Gatherin' - S1 E2

For more than three decades, players and fans of traditional music have assembled annually at the J.P. Fraley Mountain Music Gatherin' in Olive Hill for performances by master musicians and rising young stars as well as come-one, come-all day and night jam sessions.

  • Friday August 6, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 6, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 6, 2021 10:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 6, 2021 9:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 6, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 6, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY

Murder, They Wrote - S1 E3

A behind-the-scenes look at the drama, suspense, and fun of the first International Mystery Writers' Festival, held at Owensboro's RiverPark Center in June 2007. This KET production follows several plays, including an award-winning entry by a Kentucky native, from rehearsals to final presentation.

  • Monday August 9, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 9, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 9, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 9, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 9, 2021 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 9, 2021 8:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 13, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 13, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 13, 2021 10:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 13, 2021 9:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 13, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 13, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY

Coal Black Voices - S1 E4

The Affrilachian Poets, an ensemble of African-American and minority writers from Appalachia and the South, challenge the notions of an all-white region and culture and celebrate their African heritage and rural roots. Their work gives voice to the pleasures and power of family, land, good food, artistic community, music, and transformation.

  • Monday August 16, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 16, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 16, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 16, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 16, 2021 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 16, 2021 8:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 20, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 20, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 20, 2021 10:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 20, 2021 9:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 20, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 20, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY

Ellis Wilson - So Much to Paint - S1 E5

Follows the career of Kentucky native Ellis Wilson (1899-1977), an African-American artist whose passion for painting took him from his hometown of Mayfield to a successful career in New York. His work captured the daily lives of African Americans and helped open doors for many younger black artists. This update of a 2000 KET documentary includes a look at Ellis Wilson works discovered since the program's premiere.

  • Monday August 23, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 23, 2021 8:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 10:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 9:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 27, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY

A Novel Approach - S1 E6

Visits the homes of three Kentucky writers for conversations on inspirations and the writing process. Sheila Williams of Newport is the author of Dancing on the Edge of the Roof and On the Right Side of a Dream. Kirby Gann of Louisville is the author of The Barbarian Parade and Our Napoleon in Rags. And Silas House of Eastern Kentucky is the author of Clay's Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves, and The Coal Tattoo.

  • Monday August 30, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 30, 2021 8:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 10:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 9:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday September 3, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY
Jump to Upcoming Airdates

Recent

Mountain Music Gatherin' - S1 E2

  • Monday August 2, 2021 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 2, 2021 8:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 2, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 2, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 2, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 2, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY

Master of Still Life: Mary Ann Currier - S1 E1

  • Friday July 30, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 30, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 30, 2021 10:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 30, 2021 9:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 30, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 30, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 26, 2021 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 26, 2021 8:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 26, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 26, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY

Dale Daniel Leys: Drawing Life - S6 E3

  • Friday July 23, 2021 7:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 23, 2021 6:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 23, 2021 2:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 23, 2021 1:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 9:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 8:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 1:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 12:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 4:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 3:30 am CT on KETKY

Appalatin - S6 E2

  • Friday July 23, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 23, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 23, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 23, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 8:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 19, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY

Frank X Walker: I Dedicate This Ride - S5 E3

  • Friday July 16, 2021 7:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 6:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 11:13 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 10:13 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 2:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 1:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 9:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 8:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 1:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 12:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 4:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 3:30 am CT on KETKY

Julius Friedman: Picture This - S4 E4

  • Friday July 16, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY

Eighty-Eight Keys, Three Hundred Years - S3 E1

  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY

Painting with Glass - S4 E1

  • Friday July 9, 2021 7:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 6:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 11:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 10:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 2:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 1:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 9:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 8:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 1:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 12:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 4:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 3:30 am CT on KETKY

Joe Molinaro: Hands in Clay - S3 E3

  • Friday July 9, 2021 7:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 6:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 10:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 9:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 2:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 1:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 8:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 12:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 11:30 am CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 4:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 3:00 am CT on KETKY
Top

Season 7 Episodes

Travis Pickin'

S7 E4 Length 56:26 Premiere Date 2.8.16

Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame

S7 E3 Length 58:14 Premiere Date 3.21.16

Merle Travis: Guitar Man

S7 E2 Length 57:06 Premiere Date 2.1.16

Kentucky Chautauqua

S7 E1 Length 58:07 Premiere Date 11.16.15

Explore KET