Welcome to the sixth week of our 146th Assembly. Writing these greetings to you each week gets harder and harder. Half the time I want to celebrate what we’ve just experienced in the prior week, and yet there is so much more ahead to celebrate. So please indulge me as I do a little of both.
Starting Thursday night, we launched our first-ever three-day Opera Festival. I am often in awe of Chautauqua Opera Company General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood, and this weekend is just one more example. To pull off three operas back-to-back, in facilities that have other uses and using crew and staff that have other duties, is simply remarkable. To do so with such grace and talent is sublime. It has been an honor to welcome the many who have traveled to Chautauqua just for this. I’m so proud of Chautauqua Opera Company and Steve. Bravo!
One of my favorite events all season is when 5-year-olds from our Children’s School march to the President’s Cottage to present me with their ideas of what might make a better Chautauqua. It’s a tradition we started when I first arrived, and there simply is no better way to feel good about the world than to visit with these little ones. Here are some highlights from this year’s list of ideas:
A few things (they) love about Chautauqua are:
-Sunny days and shining water
-Riding our bikes
-And, of course, … Children’s School!
Here are some ideas for potential improvements:
-More BATS and BUTTERFLIES and BEES!
-A house that looks like a donut and sells donuts
-Give more hugs to everyone
-A spaceship to travel around Chautauqua in
-Plant more trees so we have more oxygen
It has been a little hot this summer, so here are a few specific lake suggestions:
-Find diamonds in the water and turn them into fish
-Submarine in the lake
-Roller coaster in the lake
-A giant, pizza-eating shark that lives in the lake
This is just a sampling. I’m keeping the rest for our top-secret research and development files, but I thank this wonderful group of young people for their love of Chautauqua.
Now on to this week, where we explore “What’s Funny?” with the National Comedy Center. We’re excited to partner with our neighbors and friends at the National Comedy Center for the second time — this week, they celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of their incredible facility and experience in Jamestown. We hope you’ve come to learn and laugh with us, as we embark upon a week exploring how comedy changes us and, in turn, society. Comedy can do more than hold up a mirror to our world; it can, in fact, change it. We’ll look at the potential of comedy — particularly political comedy — to change minds and influence decision-making. Among the topics to explore are: What does your sense of humor reveal about you? How can we be challenged by things we don’t find funny? We’ll look at the challenging intersection of free speech, political correctness and humor, and what we can learn from that uncomfortable space.
In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we ask “What’s So Funny About Religion?” Even religion can have its less serious side, and during this week we will look for a lighter, smiling way to lift one’s heart and mind in the human enterprise that tends to take life and its meaning and purpose very seriously. Building upon our 2018 week on “The Spirituality of Play,” we will use words to play and to discover that seeing the humorous side of religion is a delightful way of joyfully leading the human to the divine. Be prepared to smile.
I have to say, I’m so excited to personally share the stage this week with actor, producer and director Frank Oz, who, one fan has posited, might be responsible for generating more joy than anyone on Earth. His film and TV credits are many, legendary and continuing — I first fell in love with his work on the Muppets. What a dream for a kid and a kid at heart.
His artistry has had a lasting impact on millions, including me — what a profound legacy.
For those who have been with us the whole season, Week Six is the perfect moment to “lighten up” and laugh in our shared journey. For those just joining us, we’re excited that you’re bringing your own sense of humor to our shared community. For those who can just pop in and out, we know you’ll laugh extra hard to make up for it.
I’m so grateful to have this community to share the laughter. As Milton Berle famously said, “Laughter is an instant vacation!” … or Week Six at Chautauqua!
-Michael E. Hill