Family Entertainment Series

R&B Artist Alex Harris to Perform as Part of Family Entertainment Series


For Alex Harris, music is more than a form of entertainment.

Since he was 7, the rhythm and blues artist has had a passion for the way that music can speak when other words fail. Whether it’s through his chart-topping soul songs that soothe the spirits of his listeners, or through efforts like founding the Arts Conservatory for Teens — which seeks to improve the lives of young artists throughout his home state of Florida — Harris has wielded music as a tool for good.

Now, Harris is bringing his musical stylings and soulful energy to Chautauqua Institution as a part of the Family Entertainment Series, in partnership with the African American Heritage House. He’ll be taking the stage at 6 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 in Smith Wilkes Hall, and providing audiences with an assortment of songs in his smooth, Southern style.

As an artist who is well-versed working with young people and performing for a crowd, Harris will fuse his two passions to bring Chautauquans a family-friendly show aimed at feeding the soul.

In one of his behind-the-scenes videos on his website, Harris said his music draws inspiration from his experiences growing up around church music.

“What I like to express is my own, personal experience,” Harris said in the video. “That experience runs deep with my roots in gospel; growing up in church, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, tambourine, shouting, ‘Amen, hallelujah.’ ”

He went on to say that the community-building hymns of churches share some similarities with the R&B and soul music he makes now.

“It’s just great music that ‘feeds’ the soul of anyone who listens,” Harris said in 2016, ahead of a performance at the Palladium in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Having opened for performers like Al Green and Aretha Franklin, Harris’ music has been enjoyed across the country by young and old alike. He’s capable of covering famous pieces like the works of Otis Redding and Ray Charles, while also producing original songs that have topped the American Blues Network Charts and landed in the top 20 songs nationwide.

Harris said being able to mix existing work and personal experience is part and parcel of an artist’s job.

“As artists, we are re-creators of what’s already been created,” Harris said in his behind-the-scenes video. “We’re taking words, we’re taking experiences and we’re observing and participating.” 

Those interested in seeing Harris perform are in for an evening of rhythm, blues and tapping their shoes.

“Expect to experience something you have never experienced before,” Harris said before his 2016 Palladium show. “It’s fun, it’s magical, it’s soul.”

More than Magic: Illusionist Bill Blagg to Take Amp Audiences on Mystical Journey in Family Entertainment Series Show


A magician never reveals his secrets, but for Bill Blagg, the reason magic continues to interest and engage audiences isn’t a secret at all.

“It’s the fascination of the impossible,” Blagg said. “Magic is something that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. When people see it, they either say, ‘Oh, how did you do that?’ or they don’t even care; they’re just fascinated by the impossibility of it.”

Blagg, an entertainer and acclaimed illusionist, will be bringing his mystifying magic to Chautauqua at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 14 on the Amphitheater stage, as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

Performing at Chautauqua will be an experience unlike any of his previous performances, Blagg said.

The unique setup of the Amp means Blagg will be creating and presenting a show that is fundamentally different than the performances he gives in theaters and showrooms.

Blagg said the unique opportunity is one he’s looking forward to.

“Bringing magic into this type of venue is going to be a new experience for us,” Blagg said. “We’ll be creating a custom performance, so to speak, for Chautauqua.”

Within that custom performance, Blagg plans to astound and amaze audience members with a variety of illusions. From making members of the crowd levitate to reading their minds onstage, to shrinking himself down to 6 inches tall, Blagg said there will be something for everyone to enjoy.

“I tell people all the time that if you don’t like magic, come to this show,” Blagg said. “And if you do like magic, come to this show, because it’s more than just a magic show; it’s a journey that forms a connection between the audience and the performer. The audience is genuinely and truly a significant part of how the show unfolds.”

For those hesitant to attend and experience a traditional magic show, Blagg said there’s nothing to worry about. According to Blagg, the show is different from the standard razzle-dazzle of most magic performances. It is highly interactive and forges a unique connection between audience and performer, Blagg said.

“No two shows are the same,” Blagg said. “We’re not the typical, standard magic show. It’s more of an interactive experience that feeds off of the audience and magic actually happens to people in the audience. I walk away feeling like I’ve formed a bond and a friendship with audience members, and that’s what makes it really unique.”

Throughout his time as a performer, Blagg has pulled off hundreds of successful illusions and delighted thousands of engaged audiences. But despite his extensive history in the industry, Blagg said the thrill never gets old.   

“What I look forward to most is just thinking, ‘What new things will tonight bring?’ ” he said.

Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet to Connect with Young Family Entertainment Series Audience

Dancers from the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet perform Tzigane during CRYB’s Spring Gala on June 14 in the Amphitheater. CRYB will open its Family Entertainment Series performance at 6 p.m. tonight in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall with Tzigane. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Throughout the course of the season, the Family Entertainment Series has provided engaging acts and energetic evenings that cater to younger Chautauquans.

But more often than not, the performers are adults, stepping over the age barrier to provide content that resonates with an audience far younger than themselves.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, August 13 in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, that barrier won’t exist at all.

As the dancers from the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet spin and leap onto the stage, the age difference between the performers and some of their young audience members is, at times, only a handful of years.

But despite their ages, the members of CRYB deliver professional-quality performances that take audiences on journeys through a variety of dance styles and music genres.

Maya Swanson, one of the dancers who will be performing in tonight’s show, said that the program the ballet puts on for the FES is a unique one. 

“The audience will see a more intimate ballet performance,” Swanson said. “We are closer to the audience than we are in a typical performance without the lights and extra effects. It’s a more raw performance.”

As the ballerinas and ballerinos dance their way through Lenna Hall, they’ll be performing numbers from a variety of sources. According to CRYB Executive Director Elizabeth Bush, the night will include excerpts from The Nutcracker ballet and Swan Lake, as well as dances set to music from several notable composers. 

“The program contains primarily classical repertoire,” Bush said. “However, the opening number, Tzigane, is a contemporary ballet work choreographed for us by alumna Brittany Bush. … The closing number is always a crowd pleaser — it is a modern dance work by Dara Swisher to music by Philip Glass.”

Cate Walter, another of the evening’s performers, said she’s looking forward to the up-close and personal nature of the show.

“The Institution is so beautiful, and performing in Lenna Hall is always an intimate experience,” Walter said. “It’s fun to be able to see the audience members for a change.”

Bush, Walter and Swanson all agreed that performing for an FES audience is a fun, rewarding experience.

“(The audience is) very enthusiastic and appreciative, which of course is wonderful for the dancers,” Bush said. “After the performance, many of the children like to come up and take photos with the dancers. We hopefully might inspire a future dancer or two that night.”

Japanese Drum Group Taikoza to Take Stage in Old First Night’s Family Entertainment Series Act


The weather forecast for today calls for thunderstorms in the evening, but the rhythmic rumbling that emanates from the Amphitheater won’t be coming from the clouds.

Dynamic drummers from the musical ensemble Taikoza will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 6 as a percussive part of the Family Entertainment Series.

As their name suggests, Taikoza is a group of drummers who specialize in Taiko drumming, a style that originated in Japan and involves elaborately choreographed movements and large, ornate drums.

Roughly translated from Japanese, Taiko means “big drums,” and it’s a name that certainly doesn’t lie. Each polished drum stands several feet tall, allowing for a deep and powerful sound to rumble from the instruments with each strike.

Marco Lienhard, Taikoza’s musical director, said that energy and excitement play central parts in each performance.

“I always try to bring the energy that Taiko generates to our audiences,” Lienhard said. “We try to energize audiences through lively drumming and music.”

According to Lienhard, audiences usually get pretty energetic. The adults in the crowd tend to tap their feet and clap along, while the children typically demonstrate even more enthusiasm, often expressing their excitement in gasps of “oohs” and “aahs.”

In addition to the powerful percussion, Taikoza’s evening performance will feature woodwind music as well. Members of the group play different kinds of fue (Japanese for flute), including the shakuhachi, a long, end-blown bamboo flute.

Lienhard said audiences can expect a show that entertains them visually as well as aurally. Each Taikoza performance features large, choreographed movements as the drummers strike their drums in unison. According to Lienhard, the show has elements of an elaborate, synchronized dance as much as it does a musical performance.

When these factors come together, Lienhard said, audiences often find themselves swept up in the moment.

“People tend to forget themselves in the show and just enjoy the sheer energy that these drums and the music brings,” Lienhard said. “I like it when audiences just let themselves be taken on a journey to discover new sensations and feelings.”

Lienhard said he enjoys seeing how each performance resonates with audience members. To him, a Taikoza performance is more than a piece of entertainment; it’s an unspoken conversation.

“(Taiko has) the ability to communicate with people without actually using words,” Lienhard said. “This power and energy of the music unites people in a good way. In general, all music has that power, but Taiko seems to have an extra level to it.”

Through connecting with the music and the energy onstage, Lienhard said audiences will also witness an experience steeped in centuries of culture. Taiko drumming has been around as early as the sixth century C.E., and Lienhard said the group is committed to honoring the history and tradition of the emphatic art form.

“(Audiences are in for) something that they will never forget,” Lienhard said. “They’ll get a glimpse of ancestral culture that is still very alive, but also very modern as well; just sheer enjoyment I think.”

Artist Paige Hernandez to Combine Culture & Confidence in Musical FES Performance


In a time of Snapchat filters and social media scrutiny, inspiring self-confidence in children isn’t always an easy task. But that’s exactly what artist and director Paige Hernandez has been doing since 2008, with her original show “Havana Hop: A Children’s Tale of Culture and Confidence.”

“Havana Hop” comes to the Chautauqua stage at 5 and 7 p.m. tonight, July 30, in Smith Wilkes Hall, as part of the Institution’s Family Entertainment Series.

Taking the stage solo, Hernandez takes on the personas of three generations of women. The story follows a young girl named Yelia as she musters up the courage to attend an audition for a chance to dance at the White House, only to be told she isn’t unique enough to make the cut. 

Yelia turns to her mother for inspiration, and in turn, her mother decides to help Yelia connect with her cultural roots, via a trip to visit her grandmother in Cuba.

According to Hernandez, the show was inspired by her own experiences growing up. Her father is partially of Cuban descent, and Hernandez said that living in the United States and not being able to connect with her heritage in Cuba was something she struggled with.

The show was commissioned in 2008, as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative and inspired by President Barack Obama’s message of hope and change.

Now, Hernandez is using “Havana Hop” as a way to encourage young audiences to embrace their cultural heritage and to help them find more confidence in who they are. Hernandez said through art, children can discover how to be themselves.

“Arts are the best way for them to express themselves,” Hernandez said in a 2017 interview with The Huffington Post. “I can sing a song and do a dance and all they have to do is clap their hands and tap their feet. They feel so accomplished. It empowers them.”

Hernandez’s performance is highly interactive. The show features a number of call-and-response segments, and the children in the audience are encouraged to sing along and engage with the show as much as possible.

By connecting with her young audience, Hernandez said she hopes to leave them with an understanding that if they believe in themselves and embrace who they are, they’ll be rewarded many times over.

“I want all of the audience to walk away knowing that identifying who you are and what makes you unique, even if that means digging within your own family background and culture, can really help you feel grounded and find your ultimate confidence,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said being able to provide that message of confidence and empowerment is something incredible. But she also said that her relationship with her young audience isn’t just a one-way street.

“Performing for children is really great,” Hernandez said. “What the children who are watching me might not know is that they inspire me as much as I hope I inspire them.”

Jabali African Acrobats to Swing, Flip, Twirl onto Amphitheater Stage

Screen Shot 2019-07-23 at 8.14.41 PM
Jela Latham / design editor

They fly through the air with the greatest of ease, but it’s all on their own; they don’t need a trapeze.

At 7:30 p.m. tonight, July 24, in the Amphitheater, the Jabali African Acrobats will swing and jump their way onto the stage as part of Chautauqua’s Family Entertainment Series.

The troupe mixes the techniques of both Chinese and African acrobatics to produce a dynamic, energetic show complete with tumbling, flipping, dancing and swinging. Past performances have featured acts like the Congo Snake Dance, the Flaming Limbo Bar Dance and their signature Skip Rope Footwork.

Rosemary Hable, president of Class Act Performing Artists and Speakers, said the performance is one-of-a-kind. Class Act is the organization that connects the Jabali Acrobats to audiences in the United States.

“I think audiences who come see the show are in for an awe-inspiring performance,” Hable said. “Even now, when I see the show, I’m amazed at the talent and skill on display; it’s truly something you won’t find anywhere else.”

According to Hable, the Jabali performers bring a unique twist to the traditional acrobatics show. She said that in addition to feats of juggling, flipping and twirling, the performers add acts like chair stacking and complex rope-skipping footwork that is entirely unique to their troupe.

Hable said that despite the focus and intensity the acrobats pour into their moves, they also add an element of comedy to each show to ensure that audiences will be entertained in a multitude of ways.

One of the goals of the FES is to provide Chautauquans with experiences that will broaden their horizons and connect them with acts they might not be able to see anywhere else. Hable said that for those goals, the Jabali acrobats definitely fit the bill.

“It’s a uniquely cultural experience,” Hable said. “I think that audience members today, children especially, don’t get the chance to be exposed to African culture very often. (The Jabali acrobats) bring a great chance for people to come and connect with a great source of some amazing culture.”

The acrobats train at a school in Mombasa, Kenya, where they master their craft and form connections with one another. After members of the school graduate, they travel around Kenya, performing at various venues and, through companies like Class Act, even bring their talents to international stages.

Hable said the show will be suitable for audience members of all ages, and that the performance will be one that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.

“I encourage anyone with even a small interest in the show to come out,” Hable said. “It really is an amazing, exciting performance.”

Sing-a-Long-a ‘Sound of Music’ to Bring Classic Movie Musical to Chautauqua

sound of music

In 1965, Julie Andrews graced the big screen with her iconic voice and taught the world about a few of her “Favorite Things.”

By November 1966, “The Sound of Music” had become the highest-grossing movie of all time and received five Academy Awards. Directed by Robert Wise, the film remains a musical lover’s staple with songs that people of all ages recognize.

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 17 in the Amphitheater, the movie musical will return to the big screen, and the Amp will be alive with “The Sound of Music” in the Sing-a-Long-a Sound of Music event as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

In Sing-a-Long-a events, a host leads the audience in vocal warmups and the use of their fun packs. The former Vice President and Director of Programming Marty W. Merkley will serve as host and lead “The Sound of Music” fans through their “magic moments fun pack.”

The fun packs will be given to the first 1,500 people to be used during the event.

Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts, said she is excited to have Merkley as host, particularly because of his musical background.

Marty is a singer,” Moore said. “So he will lead pre-show fun and activities, including walking the audience through what all of their participation points will be and how to use their audience fun pack.

Moore said that putting on this show, where costumes are encouraged, was an easy decision.

“I decided to have the show because it’s a great community-building event,” Moore said. “Chautauqua is the right place to celebrate and love ‘The Sound of Music.’ ”

The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, set in Austria in the late 1930s, follows a young novice named Maria, played by Andrews, as she becomes a governess for the seven children of Captain von Trapp, played by Christopher Plummer.

From rolling hills outside the Nonnberg Abbey to extravagant mansion parties with Austria’s elite, Maria is whisked away into a new world. Her free spirit sparks trouble for her in her new post, as well as interest from Captain von Trapp.

Maria teaches the children to sing, bringing music back into the house years after their mother died. 

“The Sound of Music” is based on a true story — Maria von Trapp’s memoir, which was published in 1949 to help promote her family’s singing group. In 1956, German producer Wolfgang Liebeneiner released his film, “The Trapp Family,” which was a major success. After he released a sequel called “The Trapp Family in America,” the story made its way to American film and musical producers.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical hit the Broadway stage in 1959 and won five Tony Awards. In 1960, the story made its way into a screenplay by Ernest Lehman, with one actress in mind for the role of Maria — Andrews.

Since its release on March 2, 1965, “The Sound of Music” has remained a top musical classic for both stage and screen. Now, Sing-a-long-a events sell out at the Hollywood Bowl each year, according to Moore.

“It happens in several different places all throughout the country,” Moore said. “It’s hugely popular.”

Audiences will get to cheer for their favorite characters and sing along to their favorite songs like “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “So Long, Farewell,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” and many others. Moore said she hopes Chautauquans will enjoy an evening of musical fun.

They’re going to get to applaud for their favorite characters and hiss for those they don’t like, and be a part of one of America’s favorite movies,” Moore said.

Grammy-winning Artist Dan Zanes and Claudia Eliaza Bring Folk Flair to FES Performance


Dan Zanes has trouble pinning down exactly what kind of music he plays.

“I think we call it folk music,” he said. “Or maybe social music? Folk music? All ages, social folk music. Something like that.”

But the Grammy Award-winning artist is sure of one thing: The music he plays is for everyone.

“It’s always important to us that everybody is a part of the show,” he said. “It’s an intergenerational experience. Very communal.”

Zanes and his wife, Haitian-American jazz musician Claudia Eliaza, are bringing their energetic act to Chautauqua at 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 9 in Smith Wilkes Hall, as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

In keeping with the goal of the FES to provide entertainment for individuals of all ages and inclinations, the musical duo said the show will be sensory-friendly. 

“We want to open the door as wide as possible,” Zanes said. “If someone who is on the autism spectrum wants to come see us, we make sure that they and their family are able to enjoy the show. Above all, we want these shows to be fun, and we want everyone to have access to that fun.”

As a part of that attitude of accessibility, the couple said they encourage audience members to stand up, dance or sing along. The environment of the show, they said, will be one of relaxation and celebration; everyone is encouraged to have fun, whatever that means to them.

Zanes and Eliaza incorporate a variety of instruments into their performance. Both artists sing and play guitar and percussion instruments. Zanes plays mandolin and harmonica, and Eliaza plays flute and trombone. Working in tandem, the duo covers a wide range of the instrumental spectrum to bring a variety of sound to the stage.

The husband-wife team will be performing a diverse lineup of songs at their Chautauqua performance. Everything from some of Zanes’ greatest hits like “All Around the Kitchen” and “House Party Time,” to recent tracks from the couple’s songbook Dan Zanes’ House Party!: A Family Roots Music Treasury, are fair game to appear onstage.

Eliaza is a certified music therapist, and has experience helping listeners find peace and happiness in music. She said today’s performances will be ones where everyone can be comfortable being themselves.

“The shows are not intimidating,” Eliaza said. “Even if you don’t sing or don’t feel that you have a voice, I think a lot of people who come to our shows feel very comfortable and even express themselves vocally.”

And although the show is a part of the FES, Zanes said no one should feel excluded if they don’t have children. Instead, he doubled down on his “music for everyone” message.

We think the shows feel kind of like a family reunion,” Zanes said. “Sometimes the music is for the older folks, sometimes it’s for the younger folks, but nobody gets left behind.”

Theatre of Varieties to perform wide range of acts, spicing up the Family Entertainment Series


Following the Old First Night festivities, Theatre of Varieties is bringing the spice of life to Chautauqua at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 7, in the Amphitheater as part of the Family Entertainment Series. The performance will feature a juggler, contortionist, ventriloquist and magician — promising a wide range of acts for audience members to enjoy.

Although each entertainer specializes in a different skill, all four started performing at a young age.

Leading the show will be ringmaster Michael Dubois, who will also perform juggling, slackwire and unicycle tricks. For one stunt, the juggler skips rope while bouncing a ball on his head.

“All my stuff is fast-paced and comedy driven, but high skill,” DuBois said.

From Horseheads, New York, DuBois learned to juggle in his middle school gym class.

“When it was too cold to play outside, we would do a two-week juggling segment,” DuBois said. “I’ve been very fortunate to make a career of it since graduating college from Penn State in 2004. It’s taken me all over the world.”

Viktoria Grimmy

DuBois made a name for himself with appearances on late-night television and a cross-country college tour of a one-man show. For the last five years, he has teamed up with aerialist Viktoria Grimmy for a duo act called “The Great Dubois’.” Grimmy will also perform in Theatre of Varieties, entertaining the audience with her flexibility and hula hoop skills.

Grimmy is a fifth-generation circus performer from Russia who left home at 13 to continue her family trade. Since then, she has performed with the Big Apple Circus, Ringling Brothers and Britney Spears’ Circus Tour. Grimmy has also performed on Broadway in Pippin, and her film credits include “Burlesque” and “The Greatest Showman.”

“Ultimately, the art of the circus is to be able to reach into the soul of everyone and take them out on the ring or stage with them, so you yourself are here performing with me,” Grimmy said in an interview with RealClear. “I find that quite magical.”

Ventriloquist Lynn Trefzger said she is excited to return to the grounds with her talking camel and other felt friends, having previously performed in Smith Wilkes Hall in 2016.

Lynn Trefzger

“I’m looking forward to being back,” Trefzger said. “I’m excited to entertain for all ages.”

Although tonight’s performance will mark Trefzger’s Amp debut, it will not be her first time sharing the stage with the her co-stars.

“What’s fun is that I’ve worked with both acts before,” Trefzger said. “I’ve known Michael and Viktoria for a long time, and I just worked with David (Boyd) recently.”

Trefzger picked up her first puppet at 9 years old and booked her first gig when she was 10. Having now ventriloquized for 40 years, she performs on Disney cruises and at corporate events, modeling many of her current characters on her five children.

Trefzger said part of her act for Theatre of Varieties will involve audience participation, with one audience member acting as her “human dummy.” She will also bring along her puppet sidekick, Simon, and a “precocious character” named Chloe.

Finally, magician and illusionist David “Kid Ace” Boyd will dazzle Chautauquans with a performance that fuses hip-hop music and fashion.

“I infuse that into magic just to give people a different experience than what they may associate a magician with,” Boyd said. “From what I believe and have seen, people are more in tune to it because it keeps them on their feet.”

Boyd said his flair developed from his upbringing in Harlem, New York, where the magician learned his first trick at age 12 from his theater teacher.

“For me, magic and illusion is more than just a passion,” Boyd said. “It’s an escape from reality. I can truly express myself and all my insecurities go away. For me, it’s the one thing that truly empowers me.”

Boyd has since toured everywhere from the Bahamas and Netherlands to Australia and Japan. In addition to a private performance for Madonna, the magician did a one-man show “Underground Magic” at the Elektra Theatre in Times Square in 2012.

Boyd also performed on the third season of “America’s Got Talent” and was recently featured on “Bill Nye Saves the World.” The magician said he has a “love-hate relationship” with television.

“The hours are so long, and you’re in their world, and you’re working in their environment, but the product is amazing when you get it,” Boyd said.

Boyd said that he loves performing for families because he credits his own family for his success.

“The reason that I am able to do all of this touring and am able to live my dream is because of my parents,” he said. “I’m forever grateful for them for helping me believe that I could truly, truly do this.”

Family Entertainment Series continues with Kathakaar, exposing audiences to India’s music and culture through pantomime dance


So far this summer, the Family Entertainment Series has exposed audiences to Chinese acrobats, a children’s opera and imaginative plays written by local third- and fourth-grade students. Now, Kathakaar will introduce Chautauquans to Indian culture using traditional music and dance with interactive performances at 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, in Smith Wilkes Hall.

Kathakaar’s Mike Lukshis, who plays a percussion instrument called a tabla, said that the show’s music and choreography “go hand in hand” and that it is designed to both educate and entertain audiences through “kathak,” a form of Indian dance that emphasizes storytelling through pantomime.

“The show is basically a presentation of Indian classical dance,” Lukshis said. “This is an ancient tradition that was practiced by traveling dancers and storytellers.”

Through Jin Won’s choreography, Lukshis said audiences will hear the story of Krishna, a deity known for his trickster tendencies, as well as a story that involves a “battle with snake monsters,” among other Indian legends.

“It’s dramatized in a way that is interesting for kids,” Lukshis said. “With absolutely brand new exposure, they can come away hopefully with a brand new understanding of music and culture.”

Originally from South Korea, Won lived and studied in India for 15 years. During this time, she trained in kathak under Shrimati Shubha Desai and took lessons in Indian classical percussion from Pandit Divyang Vakil.

Upon arriving in Bombay, Won did not let her age, gender or national origin stand in the way of her performing arts studies.

“Back then, everyone told me that no woman plays tabla and that you have to start at a young age,” Won said in an interview with Brown Girl Magazine.

Won currently serves as a performer and faculty member at the Taalim School of Indian Music in the United States. She authored a textbook on tabla that is currently being translated into Korean, while her life story is the focus of a documentary by the Korean Broadcasting Service.

When Taalim toured with an exhibition called “Pradhanica,” Won fused her backgrounds with Korean and Indian culture by wearing a costume inspired by hanbok, a traditional Korean dress. Won said she uses art to communicate across languages as a cultural ambassador.

“I try to find common ground where everyone can understand and feel it,” she told Brown Girl Magazine.

Having seen Kathakaar in New York City last January, Institution Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore said she hopes Chautauquans will engage with the show’s artistry.

“I expect that kids and adults alike will be mesmerized by the traditional dance and music,” Moore said. “I hope that we all leave understanding more about some rich cultural

Astounding Talents: Peking Acrobats to balance spinning plates aplenty in Amp for Family Entertainment Series


Lions and dragons and gymnasts will storm the stage when the Peking Acrobats perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 25,  in the Amphitheater as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

The Chinese troupe, now celebrating its 32nd season, is known for combining traditional music with special effects for performances filled with astounding physical maneuvers. In one of their most famous stunts, the acrobats balance atop a pagoda of chairs —all while standing on their heads.

In her review for DC Metro, Marlene Hall said that the Peking Acrobats’ 30th anniversary national tour was like “Cirque du Soleil meets the East,” and praised the performers for pushing “human capacity beyond human capacity.”

Other feats involve spinning plates, paper parasols, animal costumes and balance beams. For one stunt, over 10 acrobats squeeze together atop a single unicycle while flashing colorful fans to resemble a peacock. Chautauquans can also expect to see gymnasts jump through hoops and contortionists steady goblets in their hands and mouths as they ex their talents.

According to the Gertrude C. Ford Center of Performing Arts, the origin of Chinese acrobats dates back 4,000 years ago to the Xia Dynasty, but gained widespread popularity during the Warring States Period, which lasted from 475 to 221 B.C. During the Han Dynasty, the acrobatic acts were dubbed the “Hundred Plays,” and music was added to underscore the somersaulting, lion dance and tightwire routines.

The performance on Wednesday, July 25,  will mark the Peking Acrobats’ Chautauqua debut. Other Chinese troupes that have visited the grounds include the Golden Dragon Acrobats, which have returned to Chautauqua regularly since 2006, and The Peking Circus, another troupe that performed during the 1992 season.

Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore said the Peking Acrobats’ live music will offer a new component for families to enjoy.

“I’m excited about presenting the Peking Acrobats because they come with Chinese musicians and instruments,” Moore said. “This added element is exciting for Chautauqua.”

Ellis Paul to share stories of America in the Amphitheater


Ellis Paul is a lot of things: a folk singer, songwriter, illustrator and author. With guitar in hand, he tells jokes and stories to audiences across America.

“It’s a bit of a vaudeville thing, outside of the dancers,” Paul said.

Chautauquans can listen in during “An Afternoon With Ellis Paul” at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 8, in the Amphitheater. Even with 19 albums under his belt, Paul said he still has stories to tell.

“I’m trying to write songs about where I’m at personally and the world is universally,” he said.

Many of Paul’s songs tell the story of Americans, from Johnny Cash and Dennis Brennan to the soldiers in Afghanistan. Even the Boston Red Sox get a tribute in “UK Girl (Boston Calling),” a song on Paul’s 2014 album, Chasing Beauty.

Long before Paul started traveling the country to perform, he was raised on a potato farm in Maine. Paul didn’t pick up the guitar until college. He was granted a track scholarship from Boston College but had to quit the sport after an injury, which prompted him to find another way to keep busy.

“I had a lot of time on my hands and a lot of creative energy,” Paul said.

Because he was self- taught, Paul said his library of chords was limited at first, and he struggled to come up with great lyrics. However, his lack of formal training allowed him to carve out his own sound instead of mimicking the sound of others.

“The good part of that is you develop a uniquely ‘you’ style,” Paul said. “You’re not really stealing from The Beatles or Bob Dylan.”

After graduation, Paul made a name for himself on Boston’s open mic circuit before quitting his job as a teacher and social worker to established Black Wolf Records. He released Am I Home and Urban Folksongs in 1989, two albums that earned him recognition outside the city. Paul has since gone on to win 15 Boston Music Awards for his songwriting and contemporary folk albums.

Nowadays, Paul does not shy away from covers. In 2003, Paul teamed up with Vance Gilbert to record Side of the Road, a 9/11 tribute album that featured each artist singing one original song and four covers of artists like Van Morrison, Mark Erelli, Susan Werner and Neil Young.

Having been mentored on the road by Bill Morrissey, Paul said he now intends to pay it forward by coaching other singers and songwriters.

“Once I became established, I wanted to help people coming up because there’s no real school for doing this,” Paul said.

Over the first weekend of September, Paul will host the New England Songwriters Retreat in Chester, Connecticut, where around 70 songwriters will take classes on performing and how to use social media to build their brand.

Paul said his right-brain talents extend beyond music. As an illustrator and cartoonist, Paul creates his own album art, as well as posters and shirts for the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.

Paul is also known for his children’s album The Hero in You that highlights historical figures like Ben Franklin and Rosa Parks. Paul will tell these stories and more at 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 10 in Smith Wilkes Hall as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

A Marvelous Montage : Cirque Montage to showcase amazing feats on Amp stage


With practice, almost anyone can learn how to juggle a ball or two.

Few, however, can do so with their mouth.

Chautauquans can see this act and more in Cirque Montage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 3, in the Amphitheater as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

The show’s artistic director, Michael Manzanet, said he named the show Cirque Montage to highlight its variety.

Acts include everything from aerialists and contortionists to musicians and hoop artists.

Over 30 performers from all over the world make up the troupe. While the acts are marvelous and many, Manzanet said he designed Cirque Montage to feel intimate.

“Each character is an act, and each act is a character. By the time the show is over, everyone is recognized and appreciated.”

– Michael Manzanet, Artistic Director and Founder, Cirque Montage

At the center of the story is Raven, a girl with hidden talents that Manzanet said will be revealed at the end of the show. She is joined by the ringleader, who needs the audience’s help to create a movie that would make Charlie Chaplin proud.

“What he’s looking for are participants to make into stars,” Manzanet said.

It’s no coincidence that the show’s name resembles Cirque du Soleil. Manzanet was an original cast member Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere in Las Vegas, which is how he first connected with many of Cirque Montage’s performers.

After five years swinging on the trapeze, Manzanet developed Libra, a duo hand-balancing act that won a top honor at the 2000 Daidogei World Cup Festival in Shizuoka, Japan.

Looking for a change of pace, Manzanet founded WonderWorld Entertainment in 2000. Other Cirque du Soleil veterans joined him to put together a new show, as did Martin St. Pierre, the man who composed the music for Mystere and Quidam.

In 2008, Cirque Montage premiered at a small theater in Los Angeles. In her review for the Los Angeles Times, F. Kathleen Foley said the performers’ talents were “strictly heavyweight” and that the characters were “so up close and personal that their winning personalities come to the fore.”

After a successful weekend run, Cirque Montage hit the road to dazzle new audiences. Manzanet said that because Cirque Montage requires only a theater and not an arena, it has been able to reach smaller cities that cannot usually host a circus production.

The show has now traveled across the United States and to several cities abroad, such as Hong Kong and Dubai, at one point performing 10 shows within two weeks.

“With time and reputation, we kept getting more challenges,” Manzanet said.

Although Cirque Montage is now a decade old, Manzanet said it continues to add new acts to its lineup while keeping its jugglers dexterous and its contortionists flexible.

“The majority of the cast has been together for 10 years,” he said. “That’s what keeps the show strong.”

Family Entertainment Series opens with Young Playwrights Project, showcasing imagination of local elementary schoolers



When introducing the Young Playwrights Project to an eager audience enjoying their morning field trip on Monday, June 18, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Chautauqua Theater Company Artistic Director Andrew Borba offered a disclaimer:

“We require you to use your imaginations.”

Minutes later, two actors built a rocket ship out of chairs and a yellow umbrella, bringing over 300 elementary schoolers along for the ride.

Ten plays, written by local third and fourth-graders, will be performed again for free at 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday June 26 in Smith Wilkes Hall, marking the start of this summer’s Family Entertainment Series.

The winners of the annual contest were selected to be performed by CTC conservatory actors out of the 423 submissions from students at Chautauqua Lake Central School, Milton J. Fletcher Elementary School, Panama Central School, Ripley Central School and Westfield Elementary School. All 10 winning scripts can be read online.

The plays, each under five minutes in length, vary by genre. For example, Eulalia March’s Snow Animals tells an origin story for how giraffes got their spots, while third-grader Oliver Bird wrote an adventure play. His story, Video Game Tornado, follows a boy and his mom’s journey to get back home after being sucked into his favorite video game.

Katherine McGerr, who directed the 10 plays and helped select the winners, said the plays all share a sense of imagination and a need that the playwright wanted to communicate.

“What I like about them is that each of them is remarkable for a different reason,” McGerr said. “I think some of the plays are remarkable for their character and some for their theme.”

The scripts are comical in nature, but some do not shy away from more serious topics. Giovannie Jackson’s The Boy Who Wanted A Hoop features an unemployed mother who wants to support her son and Jillian Miller’s War Friends follows a Japanese girl and an American boy coming to terms with the painful aftermath of World War II.

Now in its fourth year, the Young Playwrights Project kicked off in the fall when members of CTC and Florida Studio Theatre visited classrooms and taught third- and fourth-graders the elements of playwriting. Students wrote either individually or in small groups, depending on their creative preferences and the number of classrooms convened.

Westfield Elementary School third-graders Ella Chagnon, Parker Gambino and Isabella Sorrento initially struggled to meld their ideas when writing The Lagoon Problem, but ultimately came up with a play about animals that use their words to resolve conflicts.

“Sometimes it was hard to think of parts,” Ella said.

“But then sometimes we used all the words together,” Isabella said.

In the winter, the students came to Chautauqua to hear their plays read aloud, after which the 10 winners were announced. Last week, the students returned to the grounds for a private performance in Lenna Hall, where the winning playwrights and runner-ups were awarded with a medal for their creativity. Support for this year-round Young Playwrights Project Initiative is provided by the Court Family Endowment, Mark and Patt Suwyn, Iris and the late Mort November, and Rosemary and the late Richard Corcoran.

The plays feature a zany cast of characters, including a talking shark and a sentient pair of smelly gym shoes. When it came to deciding which scripts called for costumes, props or puppets, McGerr said she took her cue from the text.

“I tried to really ask myself what the writer was picturing,” McGerr said. “Are they picturing a literal table that has eyes and a mouth or are they picturing more like the idea of a table, but personified?”

The playwrights’ intents were also considered by pianist Blake Segal, who underscored each play with music that matches its tone.

Westfield fourth-grader Emma DeGolier wrote The Littlest Foal Ever and was pleased by McGerr’s interpretation of her play, as well as the audience reception to the horse dance party scene.

“It feels good that we can see that people are using their imaginations,” Emma said. “Some things were a little different, but some things were the exact same.”

Because many of the conservatory actors have a background in television and film acting, McGerr said the Young Playwrights Project rounds out their training by breaking away from realism.

“This is not reality,” Mc- Gerr said. “You create the rules of this world, so in this world if a pencil wants to have a conversation with an eraser, we can do that.”

During a brief talkback after last week’s performance, CTC conservatory actor Jerrie Johnson and her castmates said all 10 plays were equally their favorites and that they enjoyed exercising their imaginations.

“The joy and beauty that comes with having to make a cave without making a cave, to make a rocket without making a rocket, it really allows us to stretch our brains,” Johnson said.

The plays may be written by elementary school students, but McGerr said everyone from toddlers to grandparents can come and enjoy the performances.


A century of show business

no thumb
Submitted photo.

Circurious makes its Chautauqua debut

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

One hundred years of American entertainment will be featured at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater with the arrival of Circurious to the stage as part of the 2011 Season special Wednesday-night Family Entertainment Series.

Circurious, a touring production of Cirque-tacular Entertainment, combines the idea of “going to the circus” with entertaining and athletic performers such as contortionists, singers, dancers, aerialists and acrobats, to entertain audiences of all ages.

Tad Emptage, producer and talent coordinator of Circurious, said the show will be approximately 80 minutes long and consist of 14 performers, all world-class athletes.

These performers, along with a host, will take the audience through time, decade by decade, beginning with Harry Houdini in 1911 and moving through Buffalo Bill, the United Service Organization, the war era and even highlighting the fun and novelty of the 1950s. Throughout the entire show, the host will include fun facts about American show business to educate the audience while the performers amaze with daring acts, Emptage added.

While each time frame is a small part of the whole show, Emptage said, each decade is separately contained and easily identifiable against the others. This is especially evident with the 1950s hula-hoop performance, he added.

Also encompassed throughout the show are more serious topics, and Emptage said the one he is looking forward to the most is a body balancing act from the Vietnam era. In creating this act, Emptage had to figure out “how to approach a volatile time in America’s past and treat it with respect and honesty.”

Because of acts like this, Emptage said, the show is good entertainment for all ages. It will entertain both adults and children, and Emptage is excited to see grandparents laughing alongside their grandchildren.

“It is actually an adult show that the children will enjoy,” he said. “What we did when creating the show was to make sure we had something that appealed to everyone.”

Emptage said this will be the first time Circurious has performed in Chautauqua, and he is excited to perform in the Amphitheater because it is outdoors. The Amphitheater also can house more guests, and with more guests comes more energy from the audience, he added.

“The energy that you get from the audience is what feeds you the most as an entertainer,” he said.

“It’s one of the differences between movies and the live theater,” Emptage said. “It’s something that we share together. It’s not passive; it’s active. It’s something that can only be experienced live.”

1 2
Page 1 of 2