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Chautauqua takes a step back to the 1960s

It’s the fun event with the difficult name to pronounce, or spell.

Boulder City Chautauqua returns for another year and will be held on Oct. 21 and 22 at the Boulder Creek Pavilion, at 1501 Veterans Memorial Drive. Tickets are $15.

“Chautauqua is a unique experience enjoyed by all who attend,” said Ihla Crowley, Chautauqua vice president. “Scholars realistically portray a historical character, and then entertain questions from the audience as that character, and as the scholar.”

In terms of choosing the talent each year, Crowley said the Chautauqua Committee determines a theme. A search is made for scholars who portray characters fitting that theme. The scholars are contacted to make sure they are available on the event’s dates, and agree to participate. Sometimes a theme needs to be adjusted a bit to fit the scholars who are available, she added.

“The committee wanted a musical theme this year, and worked out the title ‘Influencers of Note,’ concentrating on 60s musical artists, or those whom they were influenced by,” she said. “We heard about a scholar/actor who has developed an acclaimed portrayal of Woodie Guthrie and when we found out he also did John Lennon, in a very different style, we knew we had two of our performers. Luckily this busy scholar, Randy Noojin, was available.”

Also performing will be Karen Vuranch, another noted scholar/actor who is no stranger to Boulder City. Two years ago, she came to Boulder City to portray Julia Child for their 2021 Chautauqua.

“We heard she had developed the character of Mama Cass Elliot, another influencer of a musical genre. Bingo. We had our third character,” Crowley said.

The Chautauqua tradition has been in Boulder City for more than 30 years. Many in the audience have been loyal attendees since the beginning, in 1992, when it was held under a gigantic circus tent in Gazebo Park, she said.

“An even larger number have recently discovered the experience, and now come every year,” she said. “It is fair to say once you have seen it, you are hooked.”

The performers

Noojin said in an email that he’s very excited and grateful to be able to share Woody Guthrie and John Lennon with the audiences of Boulder City Chautauqua.

“I’ve been performing Woody for over a decade now and Lennon for just over a year,” he said. “Woody was created in 2011 as a response to Occupy Wall Street, the economic inequality protest, where I performed some of the early sections of the show for protesters in Zuccotti Park. The show played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it won awards in Chicago and Maui Fringes, it toured Mexico for Democrats Abroad and was performed for the Oklahoma Chautauqua.”

He added that Lennon was created for the 2022 Oklahoma Chautauqua and has since played in Chicago and Mazatlan, Mexico.

“As a young actor/performer, I was cast as Hank Williams in a handful of productions of the musical play, ‘Lost Highway,’ and I think the added fun of playing a guitar and singing the kind of roots music I have the deepest connection with while on stage, pointed me in the direction of creating these monologues with music about my musical and activist heroes,” Noojin said.

As for her coming to perform at the event, Vuranch said, “I am delighted to return to Boulder City. I performed in the Chautauqua two years ago as Julia Child. I was impressed with the history of the community and the hospitality of everyone there.”

As for how she took on the persona of Mama Cass Elliott, best known for her days in the Mamas and the Papas, she said several years ago, the Oklahoma Chautauqua put out a call for characters for the theme of Surviving the ‘60s.

“I have always loved Cass Elliot’s music,” she said. “But I also was intrigued by the fact that she did not look like the other pop stars of the day. While I am not as large as Cass, I have always struggled with weight, with diets and with society’s perception of what the perfect woman should look like. I loved that Cass broke so many of those barriers.”

As for what audiences can expect, Vuranch was very much to the point.

“I do want to be clear, this is not a musical performance,” she said. “I am telling her story in the Chautauqua style. I will sing a few bars of songs and encourage the audience to participate. But, I am not performing her music, I am telling her story.”

For more information and how to purchase tickets, visit bcchautauqua.org.

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