Morning Lecture Previews

In final Interfaith Friday, Candler to bring liberal Christian perspective


The Very Rev. Samuel Candler is contemplative.

“I appreciate the presence of God in silence and in the outdoors,” said Candler, a lecturer and the dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. “I grew up on a farm, so I still appreciate being outside. To me, there’s something about the early morning darkness that speaks of God’s power.”

And God’s power is exactly what Candler will speak on today.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Candler will conclude Chautauqua’s Interfaith Friday lecture series with another unique Christian perspective on the problem of evil in religion. Candler will be joined in conversation by the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua’s vice president of religion and senior pastor.

“It’s a familiar problem,” Candler said. “And it gives me a chance to collect one of my most provocative talks on that subject.”

Candler has included his liberal view on Christianity and his sense of optimism in lectures all over the world, including in England, Costa Rica and Canada.
“A lot of times, people want to hear from a different culture,” he said. “There are a lot of different attitudes towards the United States these days, so I consider myself a spokesperson for the progressive Episcopal Church.”

One message Candler champions in his preaching and lecturing is the importance of interfaith relationships.

“I enjoy interfaith relationships,” he said. “I believe the future of spirituality is to understand and to appreciate different faith traditions.”

Along those lines, Candler is a member of The Faith Alliance, the interfaith network of the City of Atlanta.

“That group was especially active after 9/11,” he said. “It was important for people from different faith traditions to appreciate each other, especially during accusations of violence. We went on some trips with Christians, Jews and Muslims together: 10 Christians, 10 Jews and 10 Muslims living and traveling with each other.”

Candler said that those relationships are critically important “to understand people and to understand people’s sense of faith, so that when issues come up, we have a sense of something in common — as opposed to antagonism.”

‘We’ the People: Ariana Curtis to Speak on Race and Gender in Museum Studies


In her work, Ariana Curtis focuses on the idea of community — especially within black and Lantix narratives in the predominantly white field of museum studies.

Curtis, curator of Latinx studies at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, August 22 in the Amphitheater as part of Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

“I’m talking about what it means to create ‘we’ — the idea of community — speaking specifically about my own academic expertise, which is on this continuum of African American and Latinx identities,” Curtis said. “I’m talking about race and gender and how we represent those things in museum spaces.”

Curtis is a Fulbright scholar and anthropologist. She has worked in two museum spaces: her current role as curator in the NMAAHC, and her past role as curator of Latino Studies at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. Each museum centers African American culture, identity and history — making each an exceptional space in the museum field, Curtis said.

“I’ve always worked in black museums, so it wasn’t really until I had to contextualize the work in my TED Talk that I realized how exceptional my curatorial experiences have been,” Curtis said.

Curtis explained that in a 2018 study, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation — and several other organizations — surveyed over 300 art museums regarding gender and racial demographics of their staff — and found some severe disparities.

“Eighty-seven percent of the museums’ collections were male, and 85% were white,” Curtis said. “Ninety-three percent of all museum directors were white, 92.6% of board chairs were white, and 89% of board members were white. In some of the higher-paid positions like curators, educators and museum leaders, 84% of those jobs were (held by) white people.”

In her 2018 TED Talk, Curtis spoke on the need for authentic representation of women in museums, focusing on more than just the most famous women in history.

“Representation matters,” Curtis said, opening her TED Talk. “Authentic representations of women matter. I think that too often, our public representations of women are enveloped in the language of the extraordinary.”

Curtis said the talk gave her an opportunity to dive into the diverse realm of narratives — which are often filtered through a predominantly white lens.

“It was an opportunity for me to showcase collections that center black women and non-white women, given how museums generally tell stories and who is generally telling the stories,” Curtis said.

For that talk — and for any public speaking event — Curtis said she had to consider the context of museums and of her own curatorial experiences.

“I’m going to end with talking about curating these stories for TED, for a digital audience that’s outside of museum spaces, and what it means to contextualize the complete lack of diversity in the museum field for someone who’s always worked in black museum spaces,” Curtis said.

Unlike curating an exhibition, Curtis said, public lectures are a highly visible form of education, one in which her own appearance and identity become part of the narrative.

“When I curate an exhibition, people don’t necessarily know what I look like or who I am — they’re just enjoying the information on the wall,” Curtis said. “But when you do a public talk like Chautauqua or TED, who you are as a person has everything to do with the message you’re delivering and how it’s received. I had to think hard about what I wanted to say about museums, what I wanted to say about my position in museums as an Afro-Latina, as a curator, knowing these statistics of the field.”

In Curtis’ experience, multidisciplinary cultural studies can surprise museum visitors.

“Because we don’t often study non-white populations against each other, sometimes people are interested — or confused, even — about what Latinx studies can look like in an African American space,” she said.

Curtis said she hopes to educate listeners on the multitude of experiences her field of study includes — more than just the “exceptional” experiences often highlighted.

“ ‘Black’ is a very diverse category,” Curtis said. “ ‘Women’ is a diverse category — that’s kind of the point of the ‘everyday’ narrative. It’s really about diversity and inclusion, that you have to change the narrative in order to be inclusive, rather than just adding one or two exceptional people on top of a narrative that never included them.”

Runningwater to Talk Sundance Indigenous Program in Lecture


In a 1981 snapshot of Robert Redford and filmmakers — including Chris Spotted Eagle, of the Houmas Nation, and Larry Littlebird, of the Laguna and Kewa Pueblos —  a space for indigenous voice in film was born. The Sharon M. Beard photograph documents Sundance Institute’s first Filmmakers Lab, and the subsequent labs and programs have launched a decades-long independent film movement.

By 1994, Sundance Institute had developed initiatives to officially support Native American and indigenous artists, and in 1995, Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie’s “Smoke Signals” became the first film written and directed by Native Americans presented at Sundance; it won the 1998 Sundance Festival’s Dramatic Audience Award and Dramatic Filmmaker Trophy. 

Thirty-eight years after the first Sundance lab, N. Bird Runningwater heads Sundance’s Indigenous Program as director, and he aims to further the legacy of the Redford-founded nonprofit.

“The work that I do is lending toward dismantling a level of invisibility of Native Americans in our own country, and in our own American popular culture,” said Runningwater, who has also received a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellowship in Public Policy, and serves on the board of directors of the First Peoples Fund. “That’s what inspires me to do the work that I do.”

Runningwater, who has served as a director and writer himself on several film and television projects, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, August 21 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

Runningwater’s role in one of Sundance’s core programs is vitally important to “supporting indigenous filmmakers in telling their stories and, by doing so, reframing the American story,” said Matt Ewalt, Chautauqua’s vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

“During a week in which we look at the intersection of race and culture in American society, Bird Runningwater brings critical insight into how Native Americans are all but invisible in American culture, including cinema,” Ewalt said.

Raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, Runningwater will bring his personal story to today’s lecture, as well as insight into how his own tribal histories — Runningwater was born of the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache peoples — have inspired him in his Sundance directorship. As he endeavors to provide support for native American artists, Runningwater asks: How can Native stories be “made and seen?”

The core goal of Sundance’s Indigenous Program is to provide mentorship and resources to artists who typically have specific projects in the works, Runningwater said. And Sundance’s support manifests itself in a variety of ways — through grants and fellowships and in film labs.

Since 2004, the Indigenous Program’s Native Filmmakers Lab Fellowship has allowed first-time filmmakers space to create short films; each year, the Indigenous Program Full Circle Fellowship brings three U.S.-based Native youth to the Native Filmmakers Lab and Sundance Film Festival; and the Merata Mita Indigenous Women Artist Fellowship grants one Native woman the opportunity and resources to create a feature film. 

Named as one of TIME’s 2019 Leaders Who Are Shaping the Next Generation of Artists, Runningwater has helped curate the Sundance premieres of more than 110 indigenous-made films; under his leadership, Sundance’s Indigenous Program has fostered mentorship and support to more than 140 indigenous filmmakers. 

Though choosing a favorite project is like “picking your favorite child,” Runningwater said three recent artists to have been part of Sundance’s Indigenous Program, in some capacity, have gone on to establish especially “wonderful careers.” Looking to Diné filmmaker Sydney Freeland of “Hoverboard” fame, Sterlin Harjo and his Oklahoma-set, Native American-based works, and Taika Waititi and his Academy Award-nominated “Two Cars, One Night,” Runningwater described their collective works as “exceptional.”

In all cases, the Indigenous Program is committed to bringing indigenous stories — as told by indigenous people — onto screens and into the forefront of modern film. 

“We want to really nurture distinct, authentic voices who are trying to say something different,” Runningwater said.

Scholar Sarah Lewis to Distill Award-Winning ‘Vision & Justice’ Issue in Talk


In 1926, high school junior Shadrach Emmanuel Lee asked his Brooklyn public high school history teacher why their textbooks featured no African Americans. Lee’s challenge of early 20th-century representations of excellence was met with a simple justification: African Americans had done nothing to warrant their inclusion. The question so disturbed Lee’s teacher that the young man was expelled.

It was Lee’s interrogation of the discriminatory narratives he saw institutionalized within his own life, as well as his career as a jazz musician and painter, that would lead Sarah Lewis, his granddaughter, to orient her scholarship around the intersection of art and justice.

At 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, August 20 in the Amphitheater, Lewis will offer a seminar-style lecture on race and culture within the United States. Her talk will be a “distillation” of the “Vision & Justice” course she teaches at Harvard University — a class that was incorporated into the school’s core curriculum after the award-winning Aperture issue of the same name, which Lewis guest edited, earned nationwide acclaim in 2016.

Inside the final week of Chautauqua Institution’s 2019 season, Lewis’ lecture lives next to a morning lecture from trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, as well as performances from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Lewis described speaking during a week spotlighting Marsalis — who performed at her April 2019 “Visions & Justice” event, a “creative convening” that featured Carrie Mae Weems, Ava DuVernay and Bryan Stevenson — as “so exciting.”

“Jazz has played a part in getting America to understand itself more fully,” Lewis said, noting that her own syllabus includes examples of the genre’s impact on advancing social justice.

An alum of New York City’s K-12 Brearley School, Lewis received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, where she studied the history of modern and contemporary African American art. Armed with a Master of Philosophy from Oxford University and a Ph.D. from Yale University, Lewis has served on President Barack Obama’s Arts Policy Committee, and has held curatorial positions at The Museum of Modern Art and London’s Tate Modern.

Her book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, is “an atlas of stories about pioneering individuals” — the product of a “unique” process during which Lewis interviewed approximately 200 individuals and scoured scholarly journals for unusual anecdotes about “conversions,” or corrections from past mistakes. Lewis acknowledged that it’s “not common to write a book about failure,” and characterized the book as “deeply personal, emotional and spiritual.”

“Learning from failure was the one topic I had not been taught at Harvard, Oxford or Yale — these great institutions,” Lewis said. “If you don’t learn to manage failure, it can unravel everything else. I wrote The Rise for myself. I never expected it would become the book that it did.”

Just as she reconsidered moments too quickly judged as defeats in The Rise, so too did Lewis re-frame American photography in her seminal “Vision & Justice” Aperture issue. Organized around Frederick Douglass’ understanding of the importance of images in the struggle for dignity and equality in a culture of white supremacy — a concept he outlined in his Civil War-era speech “Pictures and Progress” — “Vision & Justice” is a compendium of how art “expands who counts and who belongs through culture.”

“(Douglass’) idea is that an image that moves you or me creates a kind of imagined picture of possibility,” Lewis said. “It’s the distance between the picture you’re seeing and the new view that you have of the world that can make the difference between progress or not. For every person, there’s a different image that will impact them. The dynamic is what’s so important. That’s the thing that counts.”

Looking ahead, Lewis hopes technology and increased support for the arts will “help break down the silos within our community” and that “the arts continue to let us understand what we don’t know we don’t know.” But humanity will continue to create for progressive ends.

“You can’t move past the technology of the soul,” she said. “I think artists today are doing what they’ve been doing from the beginning of time, which is to force us to see what we would rather shy away from. I don’t think that’s changed in any way.”

World-Renowned Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to Lecture on Society, Culture and History


During most performances with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, trombonist Chris Crenshaw sits right in front of the organization’s managing and artistic director, nine-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis.

“I always tell people that I have the best seat in the house,” Crenshaw said.

Although snagging even front row Amphitheater seats is a far cry from playing in the world’s preeminent jazz orchestra, Chautauquans will have the chance to replicate a sliver of Crenshaw’s intimate experience in the final week of Chautauqua’s 2019 season, “Exploring Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center,”

featuring Marsalis and the program he co-founded in 1987. At 10:45 a.m. Monday, August 19 in the Amphitheater, Marsalis — an educator and American culture advocate — will deliver a lecture that marks the beginning of a week encompassing the second-ever performance of “The Ever Fonky Lowdown,” as well as a Friday morning Amp conversation to bookend the week. Today, Marsalis will share his insights about the state of society through a historical lens.

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, expressed gratitude for Marsalis’ “leadership and partnership in convening this important conversation.”

“It’s a conversation that brings together the arts, education and religion at Chautauqua and demonstrates the power and potential of an interdisciplinary approach in addressing — together — our greatest challenges as a larger community,” Ewalt said.

From an early age, Marsalis performed music in the jazz-steeped city of his birth. At age 8, he played traditional New Orleans music in a band led by banjoist Danny Barker. When he was 14, he performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic; by the end of high school, he had played with the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, New Orleans Community Concert Band, New Orleans Youth Orchestra and New Orleans Symphony.

At 17, he became the youngest musician ever admitted  to Tanglewood Berkshire Music Center, and was awarded the school’s Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student. Studies at The Juilliard School followed, as did a recording contract with Columbia Records and the formation of his own touring band in 1981. Just 18 years after he first moved to New York City to pursue a professional career in music, Marsalis became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

“Anything a human being can conceive of or imagine, anything that has to do with human interaction, that has to do with creativity and creation, is in the province of jazz,” Marsalis told Charles Donelan in an interview for the Santa Barbara Independent. “It’s not possible to find a human thing without some connection to jazz, because that’s just how art forms are. Also, an art form that includes as many people as jazz ​— ​where to participate all you have to do is learn how to play an instrument ​— ​that’s a situation where you’re going to have a lot of different people involved.”

Marsalis also reflected on his work with Jazz at Lincoln Center during the interview.

“There’s no way I could have known we were going to do all that when we started,” he told Donelan. “There were so many people working in so many ways to realize this dream. I was only one part of it.”

Trombonist Crenshaw described Marsalis as having “a way with explaining how he wants the band to sound like,” a leader who meets high expectations with an all-inclusive attitude.

“We all can have input,” Crenshaw said. “We all feed off each other, but we’re keen to his vision.”

Climate Activist Bill McKibben to Talk Environmental Disruption


This morning, environmental activist and author Bill McKibben will be on the Amphitheater stage. One week ago, he spent a few hours in jail.

McKibben was participating in a peaceful protest against the immigrant detention centers on the southern border outside U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik’s office in Glen Falls, New York, last Thursday.

He and five others went into the representative’s office and said they would stay until they could talk to the congresswoman, who an aide said was unavailable. The congresswoman’s staff called the police, and McKibben and his fellow protesters were arrested and charged with criminal trespass.

This was McKibben’s seventh or eighth arrest, he said. It is a frequent enough occurrence for him that he cannot remember the exact number off-hand, but nonetheless, it is an experience that he still finds alarming.

“It’s always a little scary,” he said. “If a policeman tells you to do something, the correct instinct is to do it. That’s how societies work best. You have laws, people follow them. But on occasion, history indicates you need to think otherwise and do otherwise.”

McKibben will speak at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, August 15 in the Amphitheater, as part of Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.” He is the founder of, an international organization that encourages the use of renewable energy and divestment from the fossil fuel industry through political action and grassroots organizing.

The organization’s name comes from NASA climate scientist James Hansen’s assertion that the highest safe concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is 350 parts per million. Currently, the Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is more than 400 parts per million.

This dangerous level is what drives climate change. This global phenomenon is forcing people to flee their homes to find more hospitable environments.

“Changes in the climate are now fueling dramatic increases in migration around the world,” McKibben said. “When it gets too hot or too dry to grow food, people are going to leave.”

A 2015 study by the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University found that forecasts of the number of environmental migrants by 2050 range from 25 million to 1 billion, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate.

“Even if it wasn’t cold and cruel, there just aren’t enough cages you can put people in,” McKibben said.

McKibben started out his career as a journalist. He wrote a long-form piece about climate change for The New Yorker, which turned into his first book, The End of Nature, published in 1989, and largely considered the first book on climate change written for a general audience.

“I just knew it was the biggest story in the world,” he said.

Since then, McKibben has written nearly 20 books on the environment, climate, media and culture. He has also become an active political protester. For example, in 2006, he led a five-day walk across Vermont, where he lives, to raise awareness and call for climate change action. The next year, he initiated the Step It Up 2007 campaign, which sparked hundreds of rallies across the United States to demand Congress curb carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050.

Founded in 2008, has organized 20,000 rallies around the world, in every country except North Korea.

McKibben said he has noticed a change in the willingness of people to embrace action on climate change over the past few decades.

“What’s interesting is right at the beginning, when we were first learning about climate change, people were pretty open to the idea of doing something,” he said. “Within a couple of years, the fossil fuel industry had mobilized and begun what’s been this 30-year propaganda effort to keep us from doing anything.”

In 2016, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a suit that accused Exxon Mobil of violating state consumer protection rules and misleading investors about the impacts of fossil fuels on climate change. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Exxon’s appeal to block the release of records on its knowledge of the effect of burning fossil fuels on the climate.

Now, there are more droughts and floods because of climate change, McKibben said.

“We’ll see a lot more of these things, and they’ll begin to build on each other and create more crises,” he said.

He cited a devastating drought in Syria that caused 75% of Syria’s farms to fail, and 85% of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011, according to the United Nations. During this natural disaster, 1.5 million Syrians migrated to cities, which escalated conflict that led to war, and has since precipitated a mass migration of Syrian refugees into Europe.

“There’s nothing theoretical about what’s going on,” McKibben said. “Now, anybody with a TV can see the floods and the fires and the famines. And that’s why people are becoming more and more engaged and angry and active.”

At his talk, McKibben will encourage people to get involved in speaking out against the fossil fuel industry. He will also invite Chautauquans to participate in the Global Climate Strike this September, which is being organized by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

“There’s a lot of things we can do as individuals, and most people know what those are,” he said. “Truthfully, the most important thing an individual can do is become a little less of an individual and join a movement.”

MIT’s Joi Ito to Talk Importance of Humanities in Tech


Joi Ito used to think the internet would save the world.

“In the early days I thought that we could just connect everybody together and we would have world peace; we just needed to give everyone a voice,” Ito said. “It turns out, that’s not true.”

Ito is an activist, entrepreneur and venture capitalist who has served as the director of the MIT Media Lab for the last eight years. He will be speaking at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, August 14 in the Amphitheater as part of Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.” 

Ito calls himself a “reformed techno utopian.”

“This techno utopianism that we had 30 years ago was misguided,” he said. “I think I’m still long-term optimistic, but short-term, quite disconcerted with the ways that things have developed.”

Ito said many of the things he finds disconcerting about the state of current technological development are a result of the increased importance of quantitative sciences over the humanities.

“Economics, law and engineering (are) the primary stewards of society,” he said. “We’ve come to a very scalable, but a very reductionist, way that we manage resources and power.”

Even before he became the director of the “anti-disciplinary” research lab at one of the world’s top science and engineering schools, Ito had an extensive career overseeing, investing in and writing about new technology.

In today’s lecture, Ito will discuss the ideas outlined in his recent Ph.D. dissertation, The Practice of Change, and his two books, Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future (co-authored by Jeff Howe) and Resisting Reduction: Designing Our Complex Future with Machines, which came out this year. 

Much of his work centers on the need to reintroduce the humanities and social sciences into conversations about solving the world’s problems.

“Thinking about it from an MIT perspective, we’re a university where we have social sciences, but they really don’t have resources or power,” Ito said. “Ethics and those qualitative things are sort of bolted on when necessary.”

Ito said he and his fellow techno utopians’ belief in the benevolent power of the internet could have benefitted from the influence of the humanities.

“All the engineers thought it was just a great idea to connect everyone together (through the internet) — a pretty naive idea,” Ito said.

In talks with Susan Silbey, MIT’s Leon and Anne Goldberg Chair of Humanities, Anthropology and Sociology, Ito said Silbey quickly came to a realization when she heard that the internet would connect people across the world: “I knew it was going to be a mess,” Silbey would say.

“I think the role of social science and the humanities is not just the check- box ethicist on engineering programs,” Ito said, “but to actually ask whether we’re even asking the right questions or trying to solve the right problems.”

In his work, Ito focuses on issues like climate change, social inequality and redesigning the systems that support technology and science. He said the philanthropic and impact investment groups attempting to solve these problems often try to boil them down to figures.

“What we need to do to solve society’s problems is really to embrace complexity and understand that we can’t reduce the world to an optimization or a scalar function,” Ito said. “Whether we’re talking about climate change or societal inequity or public health, we’re not going to solve it through economic policies or laws or just fiddling with the rules. I think we’re going to have to have a dramatic paradigm shift of behavior change.”

Avoiding reducing the world to a scalar function, or a one-dimensional outcome, requires collective behavioral change. And as Ito sees it, this behavioral change means shifting away from a culture that celebrates financial wealth and material abundance. Ito cites adoptive godfather Timothy O’Leary and his contemporaries as influences.

“I spend a lot of time with ex-hippies,” he said. “I think the hippie movement was a shot on goal to pivot away from a materialistic approach, and I think the feminist movement and the Civil Rights Movement and others were (similarly) shots on goals.”

He is heartened by current movements like Friday Amp speaker Tarana Burke’s Me Too Movement and the March for Our Lives. He recognizes the important role social media plays in spreading social justice movements in the 21st century.

“That comes from the (same) tool that brought us this polarized society that we’re all afraid of,” he said. “We can and should improve the tools, but … I don’t think it’s as much about the tools as it is about the mindset and paradigm of the people who use the tools. I think that the intervention is going to be a cultural one, and I think the cultural one happens through arts, and it happens through empathy.”

Though he believes younger generations are already beginning this cultural shift, when it comes to issues like climate change, Ito doesn’t sugarcoat how much damage has already been done.

“I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better; it’s very unlikely that there’s a way forward where it doesn’t really suck for a lot of people,” he said. “We’ve borrowed against the future and I think the further you go into the future for the next few generations the worse it’s going to suck, and the worse it sucks, the more likely they are to have different values than us — because they’re going to think we screwed up.”

To prevent even more damage in what is a critical time frame, Ito believes it is vital to combat engineers and scientists who still hold his former beliefs in techno utopianism and think that “if we just develop a superintelligence, we can compute our way out of all our problems.”

“I am a reformed techno utopian that is reaching out to the cultural and social side of society, seeking both collaboration and forgiveness and hoping that it’s not too late to bring humanity back into the goal of our system,” he said. “The only way that we’re going to get there is by working together and reintegrating culture and values as the primary driver for what we do. … And it’s going to be a really hard battle, and it’s going to come through conversation and shared values — not through fighting.”

Kenneth Weinstein to Explore Intersection of Technology and National Security


In a week centered on evolving global power and its new stakeholders, Kenneth Weinstein will explore the intersection of international authority, national security and technology.

The president and CEO of Hudson Institute, the Washington D.C.-based conservative think tank, Weinstein will lecture on “National Security and Next Generation Technology” at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

“Our work is focused at the intersection of technology, strategy and policy: strengthening the U.S. nuclear posture; protecting intellectual property and critical technologies; and ensuring American leadership in the development of 5G capabilities, cyber defenses and quantum computing,” Weinstein wrote in the nonprofit’s 2018 Annual Report.

Weinstein is a political theorist by training and has established a reputation as a thought and opinion leader on international affairs, writing for major publications in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Weinstein and Hudson Institute have been particularly outspoken about foreign cyberattacks on U.S. agencies and elections, especially within the last year after revelations that Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election, attempting to bolster then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign. Hudson Institute has also been critical of Russia and the threat it poses to international security.

“President Vladimir Putin seems to be relishing the role of international troublemaker,” Weinstein wrote in a 2018 column published in The Wall Street Journal about an alleged attempted Russian cyberattack on Hudson Institute’s website. “My colleagues have been promoting tough-minded policies in all these areas and others.”

In the same stroke, Weinstein praised efforts by the Trump’s Administration, writing that “… the Trump administration has rightly adopted aggressive policies to address the renewed threat Russia poses to U.S. national interests, to European and other allies, and to regional stability.”

Weinstein has also commended Trump’s positions on security policy in Asia, writing in The Wall Street Journal that “… the overarching goal is managing Asia policy in a way that enhances the security and prosperity of the U.S. and its allies. … But at least when it comes to security policy, the president has his priorities straight.”

Founded in 1961 by 20th-century futurist and RAND Corporation military strategist, Herman Kahn, Hudson Institute “challenges conventional thinking and helps manage strategic transitions to the future through interdisciplinary studies in defense, international relations, economics, health care, technology, culture and law,” according to its mission statement.

As the president and CEO of Hudson Institute, Weinstein oversees the nonprofit’s research, management of external affairs, marketing and government relations efforts.

Weinstein,  whose academic work focused on the early Enlightenment,  was decorated with knighthood in arts and letters by the French government, and co-edited The Essential Herman Kahn: In Defense of Thinking. Weinstein was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors — now known as the U.S. Agency for Global Media — and serves on additional international humanities and trade committees.

Robin Wright to Use Correspondent Career to Discuss Period of Global Change


Robin Wright considers herself lucky for the opportunity to watch history unfold.

She has witnessed political transitions, such as the end of communism in the Eastern Bloc; she watched the Egypt-Israel peace treaty signing on the south lawn of the White House; and was present when Nelson Mandela walked to freedom. She has traveled with almost every president since Jimmy Carter and every secretary of state since Henry Kissinger — oh, and a pope.

But above all, she considers herself “very, very lucky” that her dad loved sports.

Wright, contributing writer to The New Yorker and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Monday, August 12 in the Amphitheater. Wright will open Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

Wright described her career as a “total accident” and a way to “get revenge” on her father, who loved sports and brought Wright with him to every game and match he wanted to see.

While attending the University of Michigan, her roommate suggested she go to a meeting for The Michigan Daily. Even though she walked in with no interest in journalism, she saw an opportunity in the paper’s sports section and figured she would write one article to joke with her father.

“The joke was on me, because I became the first female sports editor for the student paper,” she said. “There are times in life when a confluence of events come together and shape your life — this was one of those moments.”

Wright has since covered a dozen wars and several revolutions, reporting from more than 140 countries on all seven continents for numerous publications, including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, TIME and Foreign Affairs.

However, Wright still considers herself a historian. While chronicling contemporary history, Wright has been present for every Middle East war, uprising and revolution since 1973.

Throughout her career, Wright has wrestled with the morality of war. Instead of reducing death tolls to statistics and figures, she has always strived to take her coverage a step further, asking, “How do these conflicts affect the human existence?”

“Whether I’m seeing kids going to school and creating a better next generation, or destroying an infrastructure so people don’t have homes or access to water, I always live in war zones, just like everybody else does,” she said.

After witnessing “extraordinary change” in government and global policy in her 50 years of being a correspondent, Wright has a certain sensibility — to anticipate when change is on the horizon.   

“As a historian, I am struck by how this century is going to be the most important period of change in reshaping the means of governance, the way we fight war and the adversaries we fight in those wars,” she said.

And power will not only shift this century, according to Wright, but the definition of power will change completely.

“In many ways, we are going through a transition that is as important and as big as the one we went through 500 years ago when nation-states were formed out of city-states, when you had the printed word and beginnings of the Enlightenment,” she said. “We went from a God-centered world to a human-centered world, and we are going through that kind of epic change.”

In her lecture, Wright wants to educate people on the “big picture,” as she said people do not spend enough time stepping back to grasp the scope of change ahead, a lesson she learned from her father.

“My father, who was a wonderful professor, taught his students and his children that to solve any problem or any issue, you had to stand on top of the world and look down,” Wright said. “That’s what I try to do wherever I go and not get sucked into the moment, but try to put it in a much bigger perspective.”

And her father’s lessons didn’t end there. He emphasized the importance of never letting her personal biases shape her point of view — a lesson that has carried over in her work as a foreign correspondent.

“I know what American troops or Western governments are going to do and what they want to achieve, but what I need to understand is the other side,” she said. “It’s so important to see the big picture, but also to see up close all sides; only then do you see how we get out of it, what the implications will be and understand how we got there.”

Wright stressed that this ongoing transformation has nothing to do with Donald Trump; it’s a global change that is here to stay — into 2020 and beyond.

“We are a part of something so much bigger, and we can’t allow ourselves to default into anything smaller,” Wright said. “We can be bolder, we can be braver and we can get through this.”

With Krista Tippett, Union Theological’s Serene Jones to Speak on Reality of Grace


Theologian Serene Jones has written the book on grace — three times actually.

“I think grace is in the title of everything she’s written,” said Krista Tippett, journalist, creator of The On Being Project and curator of Week Seven’s morning lecture series. “She’s really wonderful about the complexity of this notion and drawing in the great tradition of theology around it.”

Jones will appear in conversation with Tippett at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, as part of Week Seven, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

Jones is the president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, the first female president in the seminary’s 180-year history. She formerly taught theology at Yale Divinity School.

Her past books include Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace and Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World. Her theological memoir, Call it Grace: Finding Meaning in a Fractured World, came out this year.

When Tippet began planning this week’s speaker lineup, she knew exactly who to call.

“Serene was my first thought,” she said, “because she did write this great book, and it is so on-topic.”

Jones is excited to return to Chautauqua, having preached at the Institution several years ago.

“I love the community,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful place with such an important history. I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones.”

Jones didn’t set out to write a memoir; she wanted to write a book that introduced the layperson to some of the theologians that had been most formative for her beliefs.

“As I began to write that introduction to theology, I realized that I could not explain those theologians without explaining why they have been important in my own personal life,” she said.

The memoir follows her spiritual journey from her childhood in Oklahoma to present day. Along the way, she discusses the teachings of John Calvin, Søren Kierkegaard, James Baldwin, Saint Teresa of Ávila and more.

“It’s a great loss to our society that many of these theologians are no longer read or taken seriously,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “Their teachings make sense of so many of the troubles we face; to not read them is to close off access to the very truths that may save us. Time and again, they have saved me.”

Jones credits growing up in the Disciples of Christ denomination as a reason for her focus on grace.

“In that denomination, it’s a central concept and a central reality,” Jones said. “So I grew up with it being a big part of my theology.”

The concept boils down to a simple definition:

“(Grace) is God’s radical, unconditional love,” Jones said, “for all humanity and all creation.”

She hopes Chautauquans will leave the morning lecture with a better understanding of the reality of grace.

“I think grace is very personal, but it also can be political,” Jones said. “I think if one accepts that all human beings and all creation is radically loved, it changes in profound ways the way you interact with other humans beings and the world around you.”

Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco to Join Krista Tippett in Talk on Grace in Poems and Among Readers


The idea of home is, for Richard Blanco, as elusive as the definition of love. 

Born in Madrid to a Cuban family that would soon after immigrate to the United States, Blanco grew up in a “tight-knit,” working-class Cuban-exile community in Miami. At 5 years old, he was already aware of his trio of origin stories — he “yearned” for the America he saw on television, and so wished to return to the country of his birth that he acquired the nickname “Little Spaniard.”   

“Watching ‘The Brady Bunch,’ I thought that was any family north of Miami,” Blanco said. “I took my Cuban culture for granted because it was around me every day.”

In a week titled, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts,” the poet, now the author of 12 books, will appear in conversation with Krista Tippett, founder and CEO of The On Being Project, as well as host and co-curator of Week Seven, at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, August 7 in the Amphitheater, as part of the Recognition Day celebration of the CLSC Class of 2019.

After publishing three prize-winning books of poetry — City of a Hundred Fires, Directions to The Beach of the Dead and Looking for The Gulf Motel — all braided with themes of heritage, place and identity, Blanco received the call from the White House that would make him “finally (feel) like an American.”

In 2012, President Barack Obama selected Blanco to serve as the fifth presidential inaugural poet in United States history. Among the brief roster, which includes Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, Blanco is the youngest, and the first Latino, immigrant and gay person to earn the distinction.

Tippet called Blanco “one of our great American poets” — his newest book, How to Love a Country, is, according to her, a “juxtaposition of beautiful language and deep thought and real life.”

“Poetry is a way of taking care with language and using words to say the deepest and truest things, the things we want to give voice to together,” she said. “Poetry is really rising up culturally and globally, and among younger people. (It’s) the way to talk about the things we want to talk about that we don’t seem to be able to talk about in the old traditional places. I’m very excited about him being here.”

For Blanco, it is inside interactions with readers and “the act of creation itself” that he finds “the miracle of grace.” He recalled a moment when, after participating in a reading to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, a woman stopped to thank and hug him through tears. Her daughter was one of the 49 murdered on June 12, 2016.

Blanco insisted that it was he who should be thanking the mother. Here was a “transference of energy,” a tangible “circularity” to the creation and consumption of his art. It amazed him. 

“When that kind of (connection) happens is when I feel that what I do is real,” Blanco said. “It’s the completion of the poem, in a way. When readers own it and reflect on their own lives and see themselves mirrored in an experience that I’m trying to convey honestly and beautifully — that keeps me going.”

Grace visits when he writes, too, usually when he is “just about to give up.” In the midst of this twin sense of “timelessness and connectedness,” he discovers something “deep and eternal in him,” and sometimes breaks down in tears.

“I’m not in control,” he said. “I’m a vehicle, I’m a vessel and I’ve been graced by the powers that be to deliver this. It’s then that usually the poem starts writing itself.”

For Blanco, that “bundle of grace energy” is then gifted forward through the poem to the reader — and also from poet to poet. When Blanco is angry, he turns to Patricia Smith. When he is in search of language that is “understated, controlled,” he reads Elizabeth Bishop. And when he wants to “go back to music,” he reaches for T.S. Eliot. He cites Sandra Cisneros, José Martí and Federico García Lorca as inspirations, but cautions against reading only those who “you see yourself in.”

“It’s the surprise of reading that which you don’t expect to see yourself in that is also very powerful,” he said. “At the heart of (their poems), it is very much the same.”

Although How to Love a Country addresses lynching, immigration and contemporary gay love, Blanco “never considered (himself) a political poet.” Growing

Interdisciplinary Scholar Imani Perry to Converse with Krista Tippett on Theology and Grace


Award-winning author Imani Perry will give her lecture in conversation with Krista Tippett at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Perry is the Hughes-Rogers professor of African American studies at Princeton University, and is also affiliated with the University Center for Human Values, the Program in Law and Public Affairs, gender and sexuality studies and jazz studies.

She is a scholar of cultural studies, legal history and African American studies. Perry is the author of six books, including Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry; Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation and May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem. She was the winner of the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography for Looking for Lorraine, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of 2018.

In 2016, Perry was pulled over by Princeton police for speeding. They found that her license was suspended due to unpaid traffic tickets, which were two to three years old at the time. She was detained for the warrant and handcuffed to a bench during the booking process. Perry posted bail and was released. She later paid a $428 traffic fine. Perry uses her experience to have ongoing conversations about police brutality toward African Americans.

Perry’s books range from exploring African American experiences of injustice and racial inequality in America, to discussing feminism through a literary analysis of cultural artifacts from the Enlightenment to the present. The majority of her books are centered around African American culture and history.

Perry sent Tippett a copy of her forthcoming book, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, and said that her ideas for the book started to form during the pair’s last conversation at Chautauqua in 2014.

“It’s a very different cultural moment (than 2014), and I think it’s a much more painful and problematic topic now, openly for all of us, but also it’s a reckoning that we’re openly doing it,” said Tippett, American journalist, author and public radio host of “On Being.”

Tippett said she knew Perry would be a perfect fit for Week Seven at Chautauqua because of what Perry brings to the conversation on grace.

“She has a really interesting theological tradition, and approaches the language of grace and the language of theology in a way that I think might surprise people,” Tippett said. “She’s not someone who is known as a religious thinker, or even a religious person, but it floats all the way through this wiring, so I just knew as we started talking — literally the book was in my hands — as we were thinking, who do we want to have in Chautauqua? And I said, ‘Well, I think we have to have Imani.’ ”

Staff writer Eleanor Bishop contributed to this report.

People’s Supper Founders and Krista Tippett to Talk Community



The Rev. Jennifer Bailey met Lennon Flowers in exactly the kind of place one might expect to meet someone named Lennon Flowers: meditating in the desert.

“I don’t know if I believe in soul mates — but I do believe in soul friends,” Bailey said. “Pretty early on, I knew Lennon was someone I wanted to learn from and be friends with.”

Bailey and Flowers will appear in conversation with Krista Tippett at 10:45 a.m. Monday, August 5 in the Amphitheater. Their talk will kick off Week Seven, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

Tippett is a journalist, author and the host of “On Being with Krista Tippett” a Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. She curated the morning lecture lineup and will appear in conversation with all of Week Seven’s Amp speakers.

“The (speakers) are interesting, and people who I think are having a nourishing force in the work they do,” Tippett said. “I’ve been following (Bailey and Flowers’) work for a really long time, separately and together. They, for me, represent the way new generations are bringing up conversations and coming at some old things in very fresh ways. … They are just really wonderful social creatives and I can’t wait to talk to them about the subject of grace and how that illuminates what they’re doing.”

Bailey and Flowers met while attending a meditation retreat led by Fr. Richard Rohr OFM, an author and Franciscn friar who served as Chautauqua’s chaplain for Week Four. They immediately connected over shared experiences with grief and loss; Bailey had recently lost her mother to cancer, and since 2014, Flowers has been the co-founder and executive director of The Dinner Party, a nonprofit organization that brings together 20- to 30-year-olds mourning the loss of a loved one.

“(Flowers) had a really serious loss in her early life, and at some point started realizing that so many people she knew (also) had some kind of tragic loss,” Tippett said. “She realized that they hadn’t really been given the space to let that be part of their experience and what forms them.”

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Bailey noticed the same grief she had personally struggled with reflected across the nation.

“Not just (grief over) the outcome of the election, because that almost seemed secondary in some ways,” Bailey said. “But there were people whose votes were motivated by grief, whether that was the loss of a particular way of life they thought they would have … or folks who were grieving the real vitriol and hatred that we saw vocalized in that election cycle.”

As the founder and executive director of the Faith Matters Network, an organization that provides support for the mental and spiritual well-being of faith leaders, community organizers and activists, Bailey isn’t one to sit idly by. She immediately began looking for solutions.

“My first instinct was to call the person I knew that had a lot of experience dealing with grief and loss,” Bailey said. “And that was Lennon.”

During a six-hour drive from Nashville to Little Rock, Arkansas, Bailey called Lennon, and the two brainstormed ideas for what would become The People’s Supper, an organization that uses shared meals and gatherings to cultivate community and trust among groups with diverse identities and perspectives.

“The intersection between my and Jen’s (work) is very much rooted in our capacity to witness and be witnessed by one another,” Flowers said, “to hold each other through struggle and suffering, and find healing through company and accompaniment.”

The original iteration of The People’s Supper was the hashtag #100Days100Dinners, a project where Bailey, Flowers and their co-founder Emily May organized 100 dinners with strangers in the first 100 days of the Donald Trump presidency to facilitate conversation and healing.

“We did that, and lo and behold, the problem was not solved at the end of those 100 days,” Flowers said, “nor was the appetite to continue gathering.”

In less than three years, those first 100 dinners blossomed into 15,000, in more than 120 communities nationwide.

As the project continued, Flowers said it became clear that the healing they sought to spread would require more than a single dinner.

“We realized this can’t actually be done just by gathering with strangers one night at a time,” she said. “If the problem is a relationship problem, … relationships require time.”

The People’s Supper now focuses on cultivating long-term change by organizing multiple gatherings within the same communities.

“(We ask), ‘What are the elephants in the room that have been allowed to run rampant?’ ” Flowers said. “What are the conversations that are longing to be had that are sometimes hard? And how do we begin to forge … the trust and relationships necessary to actually tackle all of these hard challenges facing our lives, locally and on a national scale?”

Flowers said the aim of these dinners is never to debate ideologies or win some kind of argument — they’re merely to facilitate relationships.

“When you look at the science of how we make decisions — we like to believe that we’re rational creatures who look at the evidence presented and make a decision — but that’s not actually true,” she said. “We intuit and then we reason backwards, so the thing that actually does change minds is encounters with another.”

Flowers said that approaching others through the lens of grace is central to their mission.

“For me, grace is the capacity to be with each other in our full humanity,” she said. “(It’s) such a gift that we can grant to one another in an age (where) we’re deeply inclined toward perfectionism. What does it look like to see the beauty in our vulnerability and our struggles?”

Bailey agreed. As an ordained minister, she said she has “a little insight” into the definition of grace.

“In our society, we place such a high premium on the value of things that are earned,” she said. “In that way for me, notions of grace are actually counter-cultural. It has embedded in it a sense of radical, redemptive hope that speaks to a large vision of the world in which we can and ought to be in right relationships and love with one another.”

Bailey hopes that Chautauquans will leave the Amp asking the question, “Who will we be to one another?”

“How can we envision what it means to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy in the United States?” she said. “If we don’t get the answer to that right, … I can only see that leading to more violence, death and destruction.”

Lewis Black and David Steinberg to Discuss Legacy of Late Comic Genius Robin Williams


The lights of the Metropolitan Opera House gleamed as the golden curtains parted, and comedian Robin Williams leaped across the stage.

Williams was recording his third official album live at the Met, which went on to win the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. For Williams’ manager David Steinberg, “Robin Williams: An Evening at the Met” was one of the comedian’s greatest moments.

“I was proud of that because putting him on stage at the Met was really interesting to do — no comedian had ever done that before,” Steinberg said. 

Steinberg said they spent time working on the show together, but Williams truly wrote on the stage, in the moment.

“Robin truly was a genius,” Steinberg said. “When he was on stage, that’s where he felt the safest because it was his world.”

At 10:45 a.m. Thursday, August 1 in the Amphitheater, Steinberg will be joined by Williams’ close friend, comedian Lewis Black, as they discuss Williams’ legacy, in “Managing Genius: 43 years with Robin Williams.” The two will be interviewed by radio personality and comedian Ron Bennington.

Steinberg met Williams when he began as a talent manager. In his career, he has managed stars like Sammy Davis Jr. and Billy Crystal, and became close friends with Williams over the 40 years that they worked together.

Throughout his career, and even after his death in 2014, Williams has been known as a comic genius. After dropping out of Claremont Men’s College to pursue acting, he studied theater for three years at a community college in Kentfield, California.

In 1973, Williams obtained a full scholarship to the Juilliard School. During his junior year, he left after a professor told him there was nothing more the school could teach him.

Steinberg said Williams was intelligent, constantly reading books and conversing with people about a variety of different subjects.

“Robin was a very concerned human being,” Steinberg said. “He loved to read — he was an information junkie.” 

In the mid-1970s, after he left Juilliard, Williams performed stand-up shows in San Francisco. After moving to Los Angeles, he continued to perform stand-up and made his television debut on the revival of the NBC sketch comedy show “Laugh-In.”

One year later, in 1978, Williams was cast as alien Mork in an episode of the ABC series “Happy Days.” His appearance was so popular that ABC decided to create the spin-off, “Mork & Mindy.”   

“It taped on Monday nights,” Steinberg said. “And it was the place to be — everyone wanted to get into ‘Mork’ because the script was just an idea, and he would just go off of it and everyone just had to follow — he wasn’t controlled by the words.”

In 1980, Williams had his first big performance in the movie “Popeye,” playing the title role. And as Williams entered the film industry, Steinberg said the comic “never lost that spark of wanting to do bits out of his head and off the page.”

In 2000, Williams made an appearance on the ABC improvisational comedy show “Whose Line Is It Anyways?” The show was like a heavenly playground, Steinberg said.

“He loved that show,” Steinberg said. “He loved those guys and he used to say, ‘I just want to play with them,’ and it was an incredible experience.”

His comedy was different, according to Black, who met Williams during an HBO Comic Relief show with Billy Crystal.

“There were very few comics that were that fast and able to change directions, dialects and characters like he could,” Black said. “No one could free associate on the level that he could — it was like watching fireworks, if fireworks were funny.”

Black and Williams became close friends throughout their comedy careers. For Black, working with Williams was a confidence boost, but it was even more meaningful to become his friend.

“Even as long as I’ve been doing comedy, at that point, it was a huge confidence builder,” Black said. “When I was doing Comic Relief, I was just coming onto the scene, but Robin paid attention.”

Both Steinberg and Black mentioned the power of Williams’ USO tours. Williams made six USO tours throughout his career, and Black said when they got off the helicopter or the transport at the venue, Williams would greet the troops with unbounded energy. He said the interaction between the troops and Williams was very special.

“It was special because of the love that he had for them,” Black said. “And the love they had for him — the troops were grateful that he showed up.”

To the world, Williams seemed to be always quick on his feet and exuding hilariousness.

“Everybody always thought he was on,” Black said. “And the Robin I knew was not always on — there was another side to Robin Williams, and it was a very thoughtful, kind man.”

Williams and Black worked together on the 2006 movie “Man of The Year.”

“When I was doing a scene with him, we would talk about what he would do,” Black said. “Sometimes we would just shoot the scene with just improv.”

In his career, Williams played everything from a nanny and a doctor, to a genie and a radio personality. His comedy styles have inspired many, including Jim Carrey, to create with more spontaneity and try new things on stage. Steinberg said he’s spent many moments in his life admiring and contemplating Williams’ comedy.

“There were hundreds of special moments when I thought ‘Where in the heck does this ability come from?’ ” he said. 

After decades of a successful comedy career, Williams died by suicide in 2014. The world paid tribute to the comic genius on social media and in numerous TV show episodes dedicated to Williams.

In 2018, HBO released the documentary “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” — produced by Steinberg, offering another look into the comic’s life. William’s legacy continues to be felt in comedy and show business, something that Steinberg said he wants Chautauquans to honor.

“I just want people to know Robin and know what he did,” Steinberg said. “Whether they agree with him politically or not, I want them to witness the genius and the courage that he showed his entire career.”

Smothers Brothers Reunite on 50th Anniversary Firing from CBS


Make no mistake, it was not the original Smothers Brothers who appeared at Chautauqua Institution Monday — that Dick and Tom died in 1969, along with their beloved show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

Now, 50 years later, there seem to be no hard feelings.

“I’m still pissed off,” Tom Smothers said.

Opening Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center,” Tom and Dick Smothers were joined by David Bianculli, television critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air” and author of Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, for “The Smothers Brothers Reunited: Comedy and Censorship on the 50th Anniversary of their Network TV Firing.” Journey Gunderson, executive director of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, announced at the beginning of the lecture that the Smothers Brothers will be donating their career archives to the National Comedy Center.

Banter ensued between the brothers without any help from Bianculli’s questions. As Tom Smothers explained that he met his brother in Buffalo so the two could arrive in Chautauqua together, he claimed he flew the plane from Wisconsin himself. Apparently, Tom Smothers has been a “pilot for 35 years.”

“That’s not true, you don’t fly planes” Dick Smothers said. “You’re not a pilot, so what are you talking about? We are going to keep this very brief; you fly as a passenger, a frequent flyer, and guess what? No matter how many miles you accumulate, they never upgrade you to pilot. Why make it up?”

“It didn’t take any effort,” Tom Smothers said.

“What possessed you to come out here and say you’re a pilot?” Dick Smothers said.

“I just didn’t recall that I’m not a pilot,” Tom said.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Dick said. “You forgot you’re not a pilot? Why did you come out here and lie about it?”

“National policy,” Tom said.

Bianculli watched as the audience erupted in laughter and realized, maybe too late, that he had no idea what he got himself into when he agreed to moderate the discussion.

“I have no idea if this is going to be the easiest or hardest interview I have ever done,” Bianculli said.

To open the discussion, Bianculli said despite the controversial history, “The Smothers Brothers Show” originally tried to “please everyone” when it aired in 1965.

“We wanted a universal show,” Tom Smothers said. “We’re entertainers, we’re here to entertain.”

Slowly but surely, CBS’ leadership became more “oppressive” with the show’s content. According to Dick Smothers, saying anything with “substance,” such as tackling sex education or the fact that “Ronald Reagan is a known heterosexual,” became a constant battle for the brothers.

“The ’60s were happening with or without us, and we just happened to be ready, at CBS, to be the last victim to go against ‘Bonanza,’ ” Dick Smothers said. “We were instantly viewed as the show America was ready for. There was no political nature for the first part of it, so everyone wanted to get their foot in the door and be on the show.”

As the problems of the ’60s grew, so did the amount of political content in the show.

“Things happened with the president, the White House, the war in Vietnam, drugs, civil rights — all that was happening at that moment and we just happened to be put in a little crack of television programming that allowed us in,” Dick Smothers said. “We were the only ones standing up and we didn’t know we were standing up.”

Dick Smothers said for the first, and only, season of “The Smothers Brothers Show,” they had a “sitcom before they became irrelevant.” There was no music and no live audience, a mistake he said they would never make again.

“We learned from that sitcom, just the season before, what we didn’t want to have happen to us again,” Dick Smothers said. “If we ever had the chance to be offered a show, we came in armed with what we didn’t want. That’s why sometimes a negative in your life is the strongest positive you could ever hope for.”

In 1967, the pair got its second chance to get it right with “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” Even with all the bells and whistles attached, Tom Smothers said he lost sight of what they set out to do by the third season. 

“Near the end of that three-year run we had, I was starting to lose my sense of humor and became a little shrill,” he said. “I lost where the joke was and where the humor is, and part of sharing ideas sometimes counts as the humor we see more than the truth of it.”

Because of that, Tom Smothers said he sees the end of their show in 1969 as an unexpected “gift.”

“I started becoming uptight and that firing, in retrospect, was a gift in disguise and gave us an opportunity to breathe, to not be constantly trying to achieve something and fight the censors all the time,” he said.

Bianculli played their “Where’s my Bass?” skit, in which Tom argues with Dick about whether he borrowed or stole his missing bass. Alongside the audience, the brothers laughed as if it was the first time they had ever seen it. But the skit brought up a less humorous point — the brothers have argued like that their entire lives.

“We’ve been brothers all our lives, and we worked 52 years together professionally, but we argued and had a difference of opinion all our lives,” Tom Smothers said. “There were times I wished a truck would hit him, but we worked it out. It is like a marriage, a lot of fighting and no sex.”

Bianculli said at one point, the brothers went to couples therapy.

“It made a big difference,” Tom Smothers said. “After a while, you build up a prejudicial view of the other person, then you learn more and more and you think ‘I hate that part of him.’ But (therapy) loosened us up so much, made us a better comedy team and we actually started to like each other.”

“You want the best for the partnership, for the union and for the future,” Dick Smothers said.

Bianculli, who wanted just one insight out of the lecture, found it.

“Your comedy depended upon listening to each other on stage, your relationship depends on you listening to each other off stage,” Bianculli said.

Bianculli then played their “I Wish I Wuz in Peoria,” skit, just one example of the brothers’ quick, back-and-forth dynamic.

“I find myself laughing, and I’m in it,” Tom Smothers said. “We can’t do that stuff anymore.”

Shortly after that skit aired, CBS fired the brothers, claiming they had violated the terms of their contract by not delivering tapes of their shows in time for affiliates to preview them. Under those circumstances, CBS got them off the air — fired, not canceled, as Bianculli clarified multiple times throughout the lecture.

In 1973, in the case of Tom Smothers et al. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., the U.S. District Court in California ruled that CBS, not the Smothers Brothers, was the party in violation. By then, the duo’s prime-time platform was nonexistent, and these days, they certainly wouldn’t want it back.

As the Smothers Brothers watched the older clips and relived the best and the worst of their television career, they both agreed that even if they came back to television now, they still wouldn’t be able to get away with some of their controversial humor.

“When I look at today, I don’t know how anybody does it,” Tom Smothers said. “Everybody talks at the same time, how can you have a conversation? You can’t talk and listen. There is no conversation that Dicky and I know how to do that would make a dent, because everything has been said to the point where it’s darn unlistenable. The abuse we throw at each other and the lack of listening is even worse than it was in the ’60s.”

As the middle child, Dick Smothers said he knows the difference between yelling and listening very well.

“You don’t hear anything when you’re yelling,” he said. “Being on the liberal side of things, I tend to think that we do listen and we hear both sides and we don’t like to call names to people. Today, it is a different game, but that doesn’t mean we have to be any different. I like to hear different things. I think we grow with that.”

Bianculli played one last skit, “Big Time Crime,” a song they performed in 1974, after they were fired by CBS. The song took hits at Watergate, foreign relations and Wall Street corruption.

“You never could have guessed it would come to this, but what is there left to believe in?” the brothers sing in the video. “Washington fools are making all of the rules, and honesty isn’t in season, so we’re going into big-time crime. Car tap, forgery, hand grenades and TNT, we’re into running guns for liberty and the payoff is in bribery …”

Bianculli said it was “disturbing” how much of what the two sang about is echoed in present-day America. Although he tried to finish the conversation with that, Tom Smothers took it upon himself to finish the lecture in the way only the Smothers Brothers could: an impromptu yo-yo show — music, dancing, the whole nine yards.

“I still don’t know whether this is the easiest interview or the hardest, but at the end of it, I am convinced it is the strangest and most enjoyable,” Bianculli said.

Director Frank Oz to Recount Film Career in Talk With Stephen J. Morrison

Frank Oz

The title of Frank Oz’s morning lecture — the second of Week Six’s “What’s Funny?” programming — is “I Don’t Know Anything About Comedy.”

“It’s true,” Oz said. “It’s absolutely true.”

It’s a dubious claim from the man whose expansive career includes puppeteering Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Grover and Cookie Monster; performing Jedi Master Yoda in four “Star Wars” films; and directing “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “In & Out” and the 2007 “Death at a Funeral.” Armed with such a resume — he’s also won two George Foster Peabody awards, the American Comedy Awards’ Creative Achievement Award and the Art Directors Guild award —  Oz still professes he isn’t the one to ask about comedy. But he does know what makes him laugh.

“Things that are honest (make me laugh),” he said. “It could be from a movie by Steve Martin or a puppy dog.”


In a brief break from current projects, Oz will appear in conversation with Stephen J. Morrison, Emmy-nominated executive producer and showrunner of the CNN documentary series “The History of Comedy,” at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 30 in the Amphitheater. Morrison is also the executive producer of exhibit media for more than 50 interactive and personalized exhibits in the National Comedy Center, Chautauqua Institution’s partner for Week Six.

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said he was “struck” by a theory from a Smithsonian Magazine article by Patrick Sauer, in which Sauer posits that “more people on Earth have borne witness to Frank Oz’s characters, be it puppet or person, than any other artist in recorded human history.” After all, as Sauer points out, “Oz has had a part of three of the biggest entertainment juggernauts of the last-half century”: The Muppets, the “Star Wars” franchise and “Sesame Street.”

“Welcoming Frank Oz to Chautauqua’s Amphitheater provides the opportunity for us to hear from an artist whose work has touched the lives of millions, across generations, but just as importantly, to go well beyond the frequently asked questions and dig into the broader theme of the week,” Ewalt said. “His filmography as a director and writer is astonishing, cutting across genres of comedy, musicals and fantasy with such classics as ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ ‘What About Bob?’ and ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.’ ” 

For Oz, the classic 1980 parody disaster film “Airplane” remains one of his gold standards in a contemporary industry that is tilting, on average, toward “manufactured comedy,” and away from honesty. This is in part, he said, because corporations own the studios, creating a culture obsessed with the bottom line and forcing directors to work faster, with less capital and more constraints.

“There’s less subtlety,” Oz said. “I’m a huge fan of ‘Airplane,’ which is not very subtle — it’s very broad — but it is honest.”

He remembers many characters of his own filmography fondly, including “Bowfinger” ’s oblivious but kind Jiff Ramsey, played by Eddie Murphy, and the wide-eyed American heiress, played by Glenne Headly, of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” And of course, there are the Muppets — Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, Dr. Teeth — puppets who originated with another actor, but who still occupy a special place in Oz’s heart. 

“They’re not mine, but I love them,” he said.

Although being a good father and “bringing moments to life on theater and screen,” are, according to Oz, the two most significant aspects of his legacy, he finds it difficult to specify exactly what inspires him.

“It’s unknowable,” he said. “If I knew what it was, I would latch onto it and create. Creativity in every sense is quicksilver. It’s hard to catch. I’d probably bottle it if I knew it. All these things come from a very flawed human place. It’s not something you can package.”
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