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Time to Shine: Conducting fellow Yue Bao to lead MSFO in Kijé Suite

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Music School Festival Orchestra is made up of students who are pre-professional young musicians. And what’s special about tonight’s concert is that a student conductor will be participating as well.

At 8:15 p.m. Monday, July 9 in the Amphitheater, Yue Bao, the 2018 David Effron Conducting Fellow, will be conducting Lieutenant Kijé Suite, op. 60 by Sergei Prokofiev. The program also includes Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, op. 80 by Gabriel Fauré and Symphonic Dances, op. 45 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, both conducted by Timothy Mufitt, MSFO music director.

Members of the MSFO spent a week getting to know one another and learning to work together as an orchestra; now, they are faced with another “quick turnaround” of working with a new conductor. But Garrett Lindholm, a trumpeter in the MSFO who has a solo in the Prokofiev piece, said that every time “we do something, it’s usually the first time we’ve done it. It’s fresh, and we’re all just trying to figure stuff out. I feel like if you do it right, you go big. And you put everything out there.”

Fortunately, Lindholm said, Bao is “fabulous.”

“She’s excellent. But that does add in another level, too; she is a student conductor. She’s learning how to do this with us,” Lindholm said, “and we are trying to communicate with her. And she’s doing a fantastic job. I can’t say that enough; we’ve all been really impressed with her.”

Lindholm said he thinks that one day, Bao will be on the conductor’s podium in Philadelphia or Boston, so “in the back of my mind, I’m going to say ‘Oh, I’ve worked with her when she was just starting out.’ … It’s really exciting to be able to see that in the future, and be here for it, too.”

Timothy Muffitt leads the Music School Festival Orchestra in their performance Monday, July 2, 2018 in the Amphitheater. RILEY ROBINSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Muffitt, who is mentoring Bao, asked her to choose between the Fauré and the Prokofiev to rehearse and conduct with the MSFO. She chose the Prokofiev.

Prokofiev scored the music for “Lieutenant Kijé,” one of the first sound films ever made in Russia. Kijé is the protagonist, but he’s more than just a fictional character in a fictional movie. Even in the movie itself, he doesn’t exist at all.

The character Kijé is completely made up in a lie to the Tsar, according to Lindholm, who said the plot satirizes those who are afraid of their superiors. In the movie, an army clerk makes a mistake, and in reporting the mistake, writes in “Kijé” instead of his own name. The tsar asks more about “Kijé,” and instead of fixing the lie, the army clerk just kept telling more and more lies: pretending “Kijé” is a real person, eventually jailing him, releasing him, then reporting him dead and finally, staging a funeral with an empty coffin.

“It’s comic, but also tragic, and also has the sense of humor and romance with an underlying melancholy,” Bao said. “It really has the dimension of all the characters. You can see the details in (Prokofiev’s) writing. … The articulation is very detailed to notes. And even after two notes, three notes, it has changed.”

Bao said she loves the abundant characters in the Lieutenant Kijé Suite, which is only 20 minutes long.

“What I’m really, really trying to do is bringing out the characters in this piece, which are very vivid,” she said. “I want to really show the dimension of the characters. Even if you don’t know the plot, at this point (in the music), you will smile. And at that point, you will get a sentimental feeling. I want to make the music alive.”

Julian Velasco, a recent graduate from Michigan State University who is here at Chautauqua for a week of rehearsal and tonight’s concert, will be playing a tenor saxophone solo in the Prokofiev piece.

Velasco said his instrument was invented in the 1840s, so “we actually missed out on a lot of huge composers’ orchestral works.”

“Most of my interjections are kind of the darker sounds of the piece. I have a lot of the somber melodies. … The Russian style of music often has a dark undertone,” Velasco said, “so even in some of the happier movements, I often come in with the dark, mysterious melody.”

Jack Henning, a bass player with a solo in the second movement of the Kijé, said in this concert, “a lot of other people have solos, but it’s notable because it’s a bass solo, and it doesn’t happen very often.”

Also, Henning said Prokofiev is his favorite composer.

“I love (the Prokofiev piece). … It’s so great to play this solo because it’s just a very beautiful solo,” Henning said. “But the piece is kind of interesting. It’s a very quirky kind of piece. And Prokofiev is known for having some goofy moments in his pieces.”

The main thing Henning worked on for his solo is making it sound as beautiful as he can. Because it’s from a film score, he envisions it as someone singing.

“That’s one of the things that I’ve been working on the most with preparing the solo,” he said, “making it sound effortless, like a voice, making it sound legato, making it sound with a beautiful vibrato and a beautiful tone.”

Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, which, in Muffitt’s words, is an “immensely difficult” piece for the MSFO students, is the piece that he chose first when he put the MSFO repertoire together.

“It’s a great piece for the exceptionally gifted students to encounter while they are still students before they are thrust into the demands of the professional world,” Mufitt said.

Mufitt’s two priorities in terms of selecting pieces for the MSFO are for every musician to be “significantly involved” and to select pieces that can “play into their growth as young professionals.”

“The Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances meets a number of needs for the MSFO,” Muffitt said. “First of all, it’s extraordinary music. It is a very demanding work that is at the core of our repertoire.”

Additionally, Muffitt said Symphonic Dances is a “piece that (the MSFO musicians) will encounter many times in their careers as orchestral musicians.”

Velasco will also have a saxophone solo in Symphonic Dances.

“I introduce the (second primary theme), and then the orchestra takes over for the rest of the piece,” Velasco said. “But I think it … depicts how gorgeous the saxophone can sound, and his writing is just phenomenal. And it is one that saxophonists look forward to having the rare opportunity of performing.”

Muffitt said Symphonic Dances is the hardest piece in tonight’s concert, so if one work is particularly demanding, he wants to make sure the other works don’t require as much rehearsal.

“The Fauré will not require nearly as much rehearsal and so, we’ll have time to focus on Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev,” Muffitt said.

Muffitt said that although it might seem that Faure’s piece is “another completely different style,” influences of the French composer can be heard in Symphonic Dances.

“(Rachmaninoff, a Russian composer) was clearly influenced by the late 19th-century French composers,” he said. “So I wanted to put one in there for that reason.”

The Prokofiev, on the other hand, “ fits in nicely because here is another Russian composer in the 20th century, but coming from a very different place from Rachmaninoff,” according to Muffitt. He said Rachmaninoff was “really very much a Romantic and late romantic composer, and Prokofiev was from the modern era.”

“All of these pieces come from a very close historical proximity, yet they are completely different, (stylistically). … But mostly, they are just three great great pieces of music that this orchestra will really shine playing them.”

-Timothy Muffitt, Music director, Music School Festival Orchestra

Rabbi Adam Chalom explores the challenges and strives of humanism in interfaith dialogue

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  • Rabbi Adam Chalom delivers the Interfaith Friday lecture from a Jewish Humanist perspective Friday, July 6, 2018 in the Hall of Philosophy. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

In the second edition of the “Interfaith Friday” series, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua’s vice president of religion, moderated a series of questions about Humanistic Judaism for Rabbi Adam Chalom at 2 p.m. Friday, July 6, in the Hall of Philosophy.

Chalom, a rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in Chicago and the dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, described Humanistic Judaism as a secular alternative to other branches of Judaism. He adopts the cultural and historical experiences of the Jewish people while embracing a human-centered philosophy focused on the “here and now.”

What follows is an abridged version of Chalom’s conversation. Chalom and Robinson’s remarks have been condensed for clarity.

From where you sit in your tradition, why should we be moving in an interfaith direction either here at Chautauqua or in the world?

Chalom: To put it simply, speaking is better than shooting. Dialogue is better than persecution. Certainly from a humanist perspective, I think accepting humanism on the spectrum of belief is important because in too many places in the world, humanism is disapproved (of) at best and (with) a death sentence at worst. There are believers in Bangladesh, in Saudi Arabia, who are being caned and attacked simply for saying what they believe.

We take it for granted that you can be a heretic in a public square in America, but it is not the case in other parts of the world. But even in the United States, there are certain social indignities.

Periodically they poll the American population asking, “Who would you be willing to vote for for president?” and certain groups have been moving up on that list, and that is good, but second to the bottom are atheists. Only 57 percent of people are willing to vote for an atheist, which means 43 percent would not even consider the possibility that this person could hold the highest office because people often think that humanists and secular people have no values, that there is something empty.

When you come to the metaphorical interfaith table, what gifts do you bring as a humanist to that table?

Chalom: I think a couple of values. One is that we can provide an example to people that you can be a good person independent of your theological belief. So, if there are people here who do not know what it is like to live a secular life, find someone you know who is secular and ask them how they do it.

Chances are, they are good citizens, they pay their taxes, they vote and they participate in their community. Secondly, I love the fact that humanism focuses on human needs and consequences as a basis for good and evil. All too often we have principles that were formed in religious traditions thousands of years ago that may or may not be appropriate for our values and lifestyles today. Your own experience of dealing with rules written thousands of years ago leads to real-life consequences for people for who they are, who they love, (and) shows us that something has to give. If we were willing to put more weight on human needs and human consequences here and now, then maybe some of those older rules would have to give and be more responsive to where people are.

I think it is also important to learn how to live without an end. Sometimes, we don’t know if there is going to be a happy ending. Sometimes there is no “why,” no “Why did I get cancer?” or “Why did this 3-year-old child get stabbed to death at a birthday party?” Terrible things happen in the world, and sometimes there is no “why.” We have to learn to live with an “I don’t know.”

The last point I wanted to make is that we offer the courage to change. We know that even in traditional Jewish sources, you are supposed to ask forgiveness from other people before you can go to God and ask forgiveness. We changed the second step; instead of moving above and beyond forgiveness, aim to look inside of yourself. Be able to forgive yourself for things you have done wrong, and then you will be able to move forward. It is still a kind of atonement, but it is an atonement between people and within oneself as opposed to above and beyond.

And what gifts do you suspect other traditions have that you benefit from?

Chalom: Religion meets a lot of human needs and often non-rational human needs. Humanists can get really caught up on the rational, the analytic, the scientific, (instead of ) needs for beauty, inspiration, community, a sense of tradition and ritual, the power of the primitive. There is something that you get from lighting a candle that you don’t get from flipping a switch. There is something to be said for that primitive style that connects us to our human roots, to imagine ourselves in the footsteps of our ancestors and to feel that emotional outlet of non-rational activities.

Do you have any sacred texts or holy teachings that are telling you that yours is the one true religion?

Chalom: There are certainly plenty of books out there that support that idea of how religion is wrong and backward, and there is a secular tradition to assume that we are right and everyone else is wrong. After all, one of the older terms of the 19th century was “free thinker.” Well, who is everyone else? I do believe that scientific knowledge and scientific theories explain the world and human nature better than creationism or the fall in the garden. We have more evidence from what I understand about that. Do I think I am right and other people are wrong? Well, that is an honest disagreement, and I think that real interfaith dialogue is not only about what we agree on, but also sharing when we disagree.

Do you have extremist practitioners of humanism?

Chalom: Yes, we do. They tend not to blow themselves up, but they are certainly out there in a rhetorical fashion. We have one organization now who likes to call themselves the “The Marines of the Free Thought Movement.”

They are the ones who show up and kick butt and fight all the time. They are the ones who are angry all the time. There are times that you need Marines to get your message out, but there are also times that you need diplomats. You need both. You need allies of good will. There are times we do have to reject our extremists in any religious tradition, if only to preserve the lines of communication with other religious traditions that we want to work with on issues of common cause.

Vialet to speak on benefits of play for both adults, youth to open week

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Week Three, “The Art of Play,” will kick off with a lecture by Jill Vialet, who has been dedicated to expanding and promoting play in children for the past 22 years through her nonprofit organization, Playworks.

At 10:45 a.m. on Monday, July 9, in the Amphitheater, she will share her experiences at Playworks, as well as her findings about the importance of play.

Vialet founded Playworks in 1996 after an elementary school principal in the San Francisco Bay Area asked her to help make recess more constructive. The program began with two schools, and today is used in more than 1,800 schools in more than 20 cities across the country.

According to its website, Playworks will reach almost one million students this year by helping schools establish inclusive environments for play.

“The idea is that play has the possibility and potential of bringing out the best in kids,” Vialet said. “What is great about the program is when it is intentionally worked into a school, it allows kids to feel seen, feel included and develop teamwork skills. Then, these morals can become really established and habitual.”

Vialet directly oversaw the programming in the original two schools as executive director, but said her role has since evolved over the years to include “fundraising, public speaking, creating partnerships, identifying opportunities for expansion.”

Vialet said her findings are not limited to children. Play has the ability to also impact adults’ lives.

“Play infused into a workplace or a society more intentionally creates an opportunity to build trust and rapport across the messiness of human interaction,” she said. “And it’s not necessarily through dialogue. The experiential opportunity and the ability to experience common ground and common interests is necessary to create an environment that enables dialogues to enhance democracy.”

Vialet said play and systems of play are “inherently ammature,” meaning that one must have a love for it and recognize the way that it presents itself naturally. She will expand on this concept at her lecture.

“Another thing I have been thinking about a lot recently is the idea that play is kind of a design element that can change the experience,” she said, “and how we might make opportunities to participate in democracy in a more constructive and engaging way.”

Vialet is also the author of Recess Rules, which tells the story of a group of middle- schoolers who are unhappy with the way their recess is going and begin to create a Playworks-like framework by themselves.

“It’s really about kids leading and finding their own power of play,” Vialet said. “That’s a common theme in both the book and the Playworks framework.”

Chautauqua Opera highlights relevance of ‘Don Giovanni’ in opening production

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David Adam Moore has played the title character in Don Giovanni six times. As a baritone, the role was always a good fit for his voice, he said, but the character became relatable as he experienced life.

“I don’t think I understood the role then nearly as well as I do now, because I had not faced the kinds of challenges and situations in my own life that had pushed me to be that single-minded about something, that obsessed about something,” said Moore, a guest artist with Chautauqua Opera Company.

Chautauqua Opera will open its season with the opera about serial seducer Don Giovanni at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 7,  in the Amphitheater.

Addiction is a dominant theme that drives both the narrative and Giovanni’s character throughout the opera, which gives Mozart and Da Ponte’s 1787 score and libretto a contemporary interpretation, Moore said. Giovanni’s focus is on sex, and the opera highlights how unsustainable the life of addict can be.

“For him, the world completely melts away. … He’s created his entire persona, his entire life, his entire social position has been cultivated to go after as much sex as possible,” Moore said. “When he isn’t enjoying sex or pursuing sex, he is an empty shell of a human being. He needs that to feel OK, just like any addict.”

Stage Director Ned Canty is often asked how Don Giovanni fits into the scope of the #MeToo movement. The opera’s continued relevance shows that Mozart and da Ponte were dealing with issues of consent during their time. Canty said the best operas are relevant no matter what year it is.

“Because it explores facets of the basic human condition, it is always relevant to the discussion of whatever is happening today,” said Canty, who has directed the opera six times previously.

Canty has explored the opera’s themes with the guests and Young Artists in detail so they better understand the characters’ motivations. When teaching artists, he asks them why their characters are doing what they’re doing.

“It is very important to me that the first time they are doing it, they are asking the important questions,” he said.

For guest artist Richard Bernstein, this is not his first time with the opera or at Chautauqua. In his life, he has performed as Giovanni, Masetto and Leporello, the character he will portray this time at Chautauqua.

Bernstein, who just completed his 23rd year at the Metropolitan Opera, has assumed the role of Leporello more than 100 times and considers it his favorite role. The bass role fits Bernstein’s voice well, and he said he feels a connection to the character.

Although the character is familiar, Bernstein always starts the opera with a new score, and life experience has pushed every performance further than before.

“In all of the scenes, it’s not just learning what you’re singing about. You really have to know what everybody is singing about. I think that was probably the biggest challenge learning it in my 20s versus now,” Bern- stein said. “Now, I speak Italian. It’s easy for me to check in and listen and hear where people are. Before, I would really have to study.”

Don Giovanni is an opera that works best in a setting that will spark conversation, which makes it good for Chautauqua, Canty said.

“The audience has a level of curiosity and knowledge that you can assume that they would get certain things or know about certain things,” Canty said, “that they would be approaching the piece and trying to unlock it and understand it in ways that you don’t always get (with other audiences). It’s a very active audience in terms of their response to the piece.”

Bernstein said he’s glad he could return and explore the nuances of Leporello further.

“(The attendees will have) an incredible theater experience and great singing and music,” he said. “I think it’s going to be an exciting night at the opera, quite frankly.”

Chautauqua Opera General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood will lead an operalogue at 5 p.m. Saturday, July 7  in Smith Wilkes Hall.

July 4th at Chautauqua Institution

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When Theodore Roosevelt visited Chautauqua in 1905, he described this place as “a gathering that is typically American, in that it is typical of America at its best.” Each summer, Chautauquans showcase their American spirit with a day filled with celebrations of country and community. The Children’s School parade, Chautauqua Community Band concert, Independence Day Pops Celebration, and fireworks over a flare-lined Chautauqua Lake make for a day that is, indeed, typical of America at its best.

Photos by: Haldan Kirsh, Riley Robinson and Abigail Dollins

  • Students from the Children's School sing "This Land is Your Land" outside of the Colonnade during the Fourth of July Parade on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

CTC’s ‘An Octoroon’ looks to past, demands for a better future

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The first time Stori Ayers saw An Octoroon in Washington, D.C., she didn’t know what to think. Years later as the assistant director for Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of the play, Ayers said she has yet to unravel everything An Octoroon has to say about race in America.

“Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the playwright, he’s either a genius or we’re just reading into a lot of things,” Ayers said. “I think I’m leaning toward genius.”

An Octoroon concludes its run at Chautauqua with performances at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, July 7,  and 2:15 and 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 8 in Bratton Theater. Ayers and CTC Artistic Associate Sarah Wansley have been leading, and will continue to lead, talkbacks after every show to help audience members process what they see on stage.

Ayers said the play has a heavy focus on slavery, but its message carries over to the 21st century.

“I’m finding a lot of parallels in terms of pulling back those layers between then and now, and not just direct parallels,” she said, “but how seeds of things were planted then … and how those things are now manifested. It’s really fascinating to see.”

The company had two weeks to put An Octoroon together. As an act of self care, the actors took time to debrief the play’s challenging content throughout the rehearsal process.

In addition to the show’s proximity to slavery, CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy said that An Octoroon’s actors of color had to grapple with being a minority on Chautauqua’s grounds.

“As we’ve been digging deeper into our programming and addressing diversity in our company, … we have learned that we need to prepare (people of color) for what they’re coming into,” Corporandy said. “This place is very special and has a lot of wonderful things about it, but it’s also very different from where most of us live.”

Early Sunday Morning 

The cast’s need for self-care came to head after its opening night performance, when at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, July 1, four actors of color were pulled over just inside Chautauqua’s main gate by a Chautauqua County deputy because the car’s taillights were not on.

Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace shared the police dashcam video on Friday with the Daily. The video, which confirms that the taillights were not on, shows that the deputy, who was in the service lot across the street from Chautauqua’s Main Gate, turned on his flashing lights and followed the actors’ car into the Main Gate parking lot. The actors’ car stopped briefly in the parking lot, then continued to the gate, at which point the gate attendant pointed to the police car.

After being waved in by the gate attendant, both cars stopped. The deputy, a white man, called in his location before he got out and approached the driver’s window. The driver, CTC guest artist Larry Powell, was asked for his license. Because the deputy said he could smell alcohol in the car, he also asked Powell if he had been drinking. Powell replied that he was dropping people off on the grounds and that he was the designated driver. The deputy then asked Powell to leave the car. Gerace said it is standard procedure to separate the driver from the vehicle and its occupants in order to determine sobriety.

After stepping outside the vehicle, Powell said he had photos of his driver’s license on his phone. He explained that he was an actor from Los Angeles driving people home from a theater company party and that it was his birthday. The deputy asked Powell if he was only in town for the summer, which he confirmed.

The deputy told Powell why he was asked to leave the car and that he had been pulled over for his taillight. The deputy then asked Powell if he was sober, to which Powell responded that he had had traumatic experiences with the police. The deputy asked again if Powell was sober, and Powell replied that he was.

At that point, another car full of CTC company members pulled up behind the deputy. As one attempted to leave the car’s back seat, another said “Larry is sober.”

The deputy asked the second car to pull forward and keep a distance. After the car pulled forward, CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba got out of the driver’s seat and told the deputy from a distance who he was.

As Powell was looking for the photo of his license on his phone, the deputy told Powell he was confident in Powell’s sobriety and that he could go. Moments later, Powell showed a picture of his license to the deputy. The deputy wished Powell a happy birthday and released him without a ticket or warning. The video shows that the encounter lasted four minutes and no sobriety test was given.

“I am very satisfied with the process the deputy used,” Gerace said. “He was very polite, very respectful, as was the operator of the vehicle. I couldn’t have scripted a better interchange between the driver and the deputy. This definitely did not have a thing to do with race, from the stop to the final outcome.”

Still, Powell said that he and the other company members were shaken by the encounter. Powell said that he has been pulled over by police at least 30 times in his life and that last weekend was the second time this year. Powell also said that his uncle died after an encounter with a police officer.

The day after the encounter, CTC held a private meeting to discuss what happened. Chautauqua President Michael E. Hill, Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore, Vice President of Religion and Senior Pastor the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, and Robert Franklin Jr., Robinson’s predecessor who was visiting Chautauqua, were in attendance.

Both performances of An Octoroon went on as planned; however, rehearsal for CTC’s next production, Airness, was canceled so that the actors could support their friends during the matinee and evening post-show talk-backs. On Friday, July 6 a screening of Powell’s film, “Mother’s Milk: A Film Quilt” was held at Chautauqua Cinema as a step toward healing.

Hill addressed the encounter in a column in the Thursday edition of the Daily and met with Gerace on Friday afternoon to discuss what happened.

Borba said he wants to see Chautauquans make their community a safer place for everyone.

“Chautauqua is an aspirational community for people to be their best selves, and I personally and we as a theater company subscribe to that wholeheartedly,” he said. “I think that oftentimes that allows us to believe that when we step inside the gates, America ceases. That’s not true. If we are truly an aspirational community, … this has to be a charge for all of us to be change agents.”

Borba said that Chautauquans with the privilege to do so should step up as allies.

“For those of us who can, we need to be carrying more water,” he said. “We need to be doing work because those of us who are not able to as much shouldn’t be asked to bear that burden over and over and over again.”

Providing Context with Care

Before rehearsal began, Wansley provided the designers and actors with a packet of historical context about the play. Much of this information is also shared with audience members before and during each performance.

Displays on Bratton’s porch explain the folktale origin of Br’er Rabbit and the common stock characters in melodrama, while ushers distribute background information about An Octoroon’s development at the play’s intermission to explain its metatheatrical framing device.

“We do think that having that context about both the development of this play and the original The Octoroon is helpful for getting a richer understanding of the play, but we actually didn’t want you to know all that in Act 1 where some of that story is revealed,” Wansley said.

Ayers said that some audience members may feel alienated by An Octoroon’s depiction of enslaved men and women in the antebellum South, which can appear insensitive at first glance.

“It’s hard to see the play and understand if you don’t understand how melodrama, or understand how satire, works,” she said. “It can be a little tough to watch.”

An Octoroon satirizes the use of blackface, whiteface and red face makeup. This is not done out of necessity — the cast is diverse in race and national origin — but as conscious commentary on how people of color have been misrepresented in theater.

Because actors apply the makeup on stage in front of the audience, costume designer Sarah Nietfeld said she chose makeup that could be applied simply while staying true to the practice’s racist history.

“The makeup is really iconic to those horrible old stereotypes in 19th-century makeup,” Nietfeld said. “You see that transformation and look on, hopefully, with horror as you see that happen.”

The origin of blackface traces back to the Elizabethan era, when white actors would darken their faces to play roles like Othello and Cleopatra.

Before the advent of vaudeville, white performers in the United States would apply burnt cork to their faces in order to entertain audiences on the minstrel circuit. Their offensive impressions of black people depicted “happy slaves” who were lazy, dumb and superstitious.

The use of blackface continued into 20th-century entertainment with films like “The Birth of a Nation” and “The Jazz Singer,” while actors Laurence Olivier, Shirley Temple and Robert Downey Jr. have also used makeup to play black characters.

In An Octoroon, CTC conservatory actor Keshav Moodliar applies blackface to play two enslaved characters: a young boy named Paul and an elderly servant named Pete. He said that the makeup, while disturbing, serves a purpose to the play’s satire.

“It makes you feel very uncomfortable, but that is the purpose of the play and that is what (Jacobs-Jenkins) wrote,” Moodliar said. “Hopefully, that is the message that people will leave with: how absurd this is that this had to happen and that this is happening today.”

Because An Octoroon addresses some difficult subject matter, CTC conservatory actor Johnique Mitchell said that creating a safe space in the rehearsal room was key. At the suggestion of director Giovanna Sardelli, actors were allowed to pause rehearsal at any time to express their discomfort.

“I am very grateful for that in our rehearsal process,” Mitchell said. “There were some hard times that we triumphed, conquered and got over, and the actual result made us closer. I have a different point of view on certain topics now because my cast and my assistant director and director have taught me so many things through this process.”

Mitchell also said she took steps to distance herself from her character, an enslaved woman named Grace.

“I would wear my own skirt in rehearsal … just to remind me of my me,” she said. “Although slavery was part of my heritage, I don’t have to carry that baggage.”

Chua explores political tribalism at center of nation’s polarizing divide

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  • Amy Chua delivers her lecture, "Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations," at the Amphitheater, Friday, July 6, 2018. BRIAN HAYES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A month after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Amy Chua read a passage from her first book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability to an international business transaction class at Yale Law School.

“In developing countries, under certain conditions, demagogic politicians with no political experience can sweep to power in elections, to the horror of the elites, riding a wave of racially tinged populism,” she read.

She looked up to her class of now-stunned law students.

“Professor Chua, that sounds a lot like you are describing the United States,” one student said over the dead stares of her classmates.

It wasn’t about the U.S. — it was about former Venezuelan President and dictator Hugo Chávez.

That interaction inspired Chua’s fifth book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, which argues that tribalism is widening the political divide in the U.S. She articulated her point at the 10:45 a.m. morning, Friday, July 6, lecture to close Week Two and the theme “American Identity.”

Chua is an author and professor of law. She was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2011, one of Atlantic Monthly’s Brave Thinkers and one of Foreign Policy’s 2011 Global Thinkers. This was Chua’s second visit to Chautauqua Institution; her first visit she documented thoroughly in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, when her daughter auditioned on (and later quit) the violin.

While humans are tribal animals like their primate relatives, they are not just “a little” tribal — they are extremely tribal, according to Chua. This is not only evident in politics, and isn’t necessarily always negative; humans exhibit positive, tribalistic behaviors in families, friend groups and sports.

“We all know that America is in the grips of political tribalism,” Chua said. “We lament and we condemn this tribalism, even as we can’t help voraciously engage in it.”

Tribalism turns problematic when people begin seeing other tribes as inherently “bad,” which Chua said is apparent in the “bitterly divided” state of the nation.

“At this moment, we can’t get anything done, and we can’t even talk to each other,” she said. “We are at a point where many Americans see people (who) voted for the other side not just as the people that they disagree with and want to debate with, but rather as immoral, evil and ‘un-American,’ which is a dangerous state of affairs.”

Chau contributes this behavior to two factors; the first, the massive demographic shift from the waves of immigration since the 1970s.

“For the first time in history, whites are on the verge of losing their majority,” she said.

And it’s not just white people who feel threatened — every group feels threatened. Women feel threatened by Trump’s presidency, men feel threatened by the #MeToo movement and Christians feel threatened by the changing culture, she said.

This is not a generational issue either, according to Chua. Across college campuses, including her own predominantly liberal Yale, “group blindness,” or failing to acknowledge a group’s oppression, is “the ultimate sin.” Chua said it was “transcendent” for white women to wear a headscarf or a kimono when she was a student, but now it would be seen as a micro- aggression.

“If you champion group blindness, you will be seen as erasing the very specific experiences of oppression of minority groups,” she said. “So I see a lot more self-segregation (among) the different student groups.”

This leads to a hardening of party lines, which prevents conversation across said lines.

The second factor Chua addressed — market-dominant minorities — works simultaneously with racial and cultural changes.

Market-dominant minorities is a term Chua coined in her first book, World on Fire. It describes a minority that controls the majority of wealth in a country. For example, Indonesia’s Chinese ethnic minority makes up 3 percent of the population but controls 70 percent of the nation’s wealth. For these countries, the introduction of a democracy can be destabilizing.

“Americans tend to romanticize democracy,” she said. “We think that elections are the answer to everything. And I think we are now getting the taste of our own medicine. … Under certain conditions, especially when inequality traps certain deep, pre-existing ethnic or religious divisions, … democracy does not improve, but actually catalyzes, group conflict.”

Chua predicted this would happen in Iraq. Prior to the U.S. invasion, Iraq had a market- dominant minority — the Sunni. The Sunni comprised 15 percent of Iraq’s population, controlled its markets and victimized the majority Shia and Kurds population.

“What do you think the majority is going to do when you give them the vote?” she said. “I predicted that Iraq’s long-oppressed 60 percent Shia majority would likely use their new-found power as revenge against their former overlords.”

That’s exactly what happened, she said.

“Once in power, the Shia immediately began excluding and persecuting and executing Sunnis,” Chua said. “The Sunni minority instantly realized this democracy thing isn’t working, so they began joining the insurgency: al-Qaida and ISIS.”

This theory is not limited to developing countries. A new market-dominant minority is rising in the U.S., dubbed “coastal elites,” according to Chua.

“Something has changed,” she said. “Class or education has split America’s white majority. Indeed, today there is so little interaction and intermarriage between these two groups of whites in America — between coastal, urban, more educated whites and whites in the heartland, the South, more working- class whites. Today, the division between these two groups of whites is so deep that it practically constitutes what social sciences would call an ethnic divide.”

The “coastal elite” class includes Wall Street executives and Silicon Valley moguls, according to Chua, who share the same “cosmopolitan” lifestyle and progressive ideals.

This new economic superpower, and the changing demographics of the U.S., is causing the riff between tribes, but Chua said she has hope.

“(America’s) strong overarching American identity, coupled with its ability to accommodate individual subgroup cultures, make it a ‘super- group,’ ” she said.

The United States’ unique birthright citizenship policy makes “(it) the model for overcoming tribalism,” but Chua offered some additional suggestions.

Her first suggestion was that Americans need to be more protective of their country’s “uniqueness.” Democrats should be more aware of the harm of the “scorched-earth” approach to American identity.

“There’s a world of difference in saying ‘America has repeatedly and shamefully failed to live up to its open ideals and must do better,’ ” she said. “There’s a huge difference between saying that and saying that ‘the principles that we are supposedly founded on are all fraud, all lies.’ ”

Republicans need to remember that “real patriotism is more than just waving a flag or singing the anthem very loudly,” Chua said.

“The kind of overarching national identity that a super-group requires, capable of binding Americans together, all that balance cannot exist unless every person in the society has reason to love the country, has reason to be proud of the country,” she said.

Americans also have to start viewing one another as human again, “(looking) beyond those echo chambers” and bridging the gap between the coast and the heartland “to start reaching across divides.”

“America is an aspirational nation; our ideals have always far exceeded reality,” Chua said. “The American dream is a promise of freedom and hope. That is also a call on all of us to make true the myths we tell ourselves about what we tell ourselves America has always been.”

After she concluded her lecture with Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America be America Again,” Geof Follansbee, chief executive officer of the Chautauqua Foundation and Chautauqua Institution’s vice president of development, opened the Q-and-A. He asked what is “threatening” majorities.

“I think that there is a real fear that the country is changing and that it won’t be the country that it was,” Chua said. “I am an optimist because we have encountered this before. We’ve seen nativists, anti-immigrant and xenophobia waves happen before. Every other time we have overcome it.”

When asked what her ideal 2020 presidential candidate would be like, she said a candidate with strong leadership skills, who speaks authentically — without being “canned”— and who can reach the other side of the political divide.

To close that divide, Chua said the nation should focus on restoring one of its core values.

“I think that restoring upward mobility in this country should be viewed as a national emergency,” she said.

Ellis Paul to share stories of America in the Amphitheater

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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.

Onstage, off-the-cuff: ‘Whose Line’ stars Mochrie, Sherwood bring unscripted comedy to Amp stage

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Chautauquans can finally answer the question: “Whose line is it anyway?”

It’s Colin Mochrie’s and Brad Sherwood’s, who at 8:15 p.m. on Friday, July 6 in the Amphitheater will perform their off-the-cuff show “Scared Scriptless.” It’s the first visit to Chautauqua for the improv stars, both series regulars of the Emmy-nominated series, “Whose Line is it Anyway?”

“We give the power to the audience,” Sherwood said in an interview about the show with The Hype Magazine. “They are the puppet masters. And we are at the mercy of their demented brains.”

Using prompts and suggestions from audience members, Mochrie and Sherwood will execute a series of improv sketches.

And they won’t be alone on stage.

“Every scene starts with a suggestion from the audience, and we have audience members onstage with us for about 80 percent of the show,” Mochrie told the Star Gazette. “It’s that added danger quality.”

These suggestions come in the form of games, many of which Mochrie said will be familiar to “Whose Line” fans, but he and Sherwood try to keep it exciting.

“Much of the work that Brad and I do in our show is coming up with a way to ask for suggestions so that we don’t get the same things over and over again. … We’ll come up with ways like, ‘What was your great-grandfather’s occupation?’ or ‘What’s an occupation where you need special equipment?’ ” Mochrie said in his Star Gazette interview. “It gets the audience to think outside of the box a little.”

The duo has lots of experience making people laugh. After a stint with improv group Second City’s Toronto troupe, Mochrie starred in the British and American versions of “Whose Line.” He is the recipient of three Canadian Comedy Awards, winning for Best Male Improviser in 2000, Best Male TV Performance in 2001 and Best Writing in 2003.

Sherwood got his start on the 1994 sketch-comedy series “The Newz,” and after joining “Whose Line” in 1992 continued to appear in various comedic productions. He is also a Second City alum, but appeared in the group’s L.A. troupe. Sherwood has tried his hand at everything from game shows to late-night talk shows, with credits ranging from “The Drew Carey Show” to “The Dating Game.”

Mochrie and Sherwood teamed up in 2003 for “Scared Scriptless,” and they’ve been touring ever since.

“I like the energy and the adrenaline that you get from being on stage, and I think once you become good at making people laugh, getting those laughs becomes a bit addictive,” Sherwood told Parade magazine.

And yes, the show really is unscripted.

“It’s always different. You never fall into a rut. Every audience is different, every theater is different, and depending on our moods, every show is different,” Mochrie said in Parade. “It’s not like we’re a band going out doing our greatest hits night after night. We’re making up something completely new — every night — with the help of the audience.”

Amy Chua to close week examining political tribalism and identity politics

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When Amy Chua wrote her most recent book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, she said she was instantly criticized by both liberals and conservatives. That’s because the book dishes out pointed criticisms of both sides of the aisle.

But she doesn’t just point out the follies of liberals and conservatives — in Political Tribes, Chua describes how tribal identities can affect political divides and how Americans often underestimate the importance of those tribes. In the book’s last two chapters, Chua tries to recapture “some form of a national identity that can resonate for all Americans.”

Chua, the John M. Duff Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School, will present that vision at 10:45 a.m. Friday, July 6 in the Amphitheater to close the Week Two theme, “American Identity.”

Chua thinks this kind of national introspection is necessary because identity politics has taken hold of American politics, locking it in a stalemate of stubborn ideologies that seem to be moving further apart. And in her view, it’s not the standard, expected partisanship.

“For the first time in our history, the United States is starting to display these destructive political dynamics that are more typically associated with developing and non-Western countries, like populism and blasts of ethnonationalism,” Chua said.

Before she wrote Political Tribes, Chua was more focused on the differences between the United States and those developing and non-Western countries. For 20 years, she taught a course on international business transactions, in which she emphasized that the United States’ social, political and ethnic dynamics were so different from those of developing countries, which led to critical misunderstandings and foreign policy blunders.

“At a certain point, I read a passage from my first book (World on Fire) that said Americans tend to romanticize democracy,” Chua said, “and democracy can sweep to power a politician with no political experience who, to the horror of elites, rides a wave of ethnically tinged populism to power.”

At that moment, Chua paused and looked out at the class. She said they were all thinking the same thing: That description sounded a lot like the current political climate of the United States.

This was a “lightbulb” moment for Chua. It caused her to turn her lens on the ways that the United States was similar to these nations and, to some degree, susceptible to the same social and cultural forces.

“Once you see the United States as part of a larger global pattern, I feel like it’s much easier to diagnose the problem,” Chua said.

The problem, she said, isn’t tribal identities themselves.

“Telling somebody to get rid of their tribal identities would be like telling somebody to stop liking their sports team,” Chua said. “You know, just think about that — stop liking the Buffalo Bills, or stop liking the Dallas Cowboys. I mean, good luck with that.”

Instead, Chua said the United States must acknowledge the many tribes within its borders and allow them to flourish under a larger national identity that can resonate with all Americans.

For Chua, the linchpin of that larger national identity is the set of principles that America was founded on, particularly the Constitution.

“I think it’s probably because I’m an outsider — my parents are immigrants that just love this country — but I tend to feel that a lot of Americans take some of these special and unique principles for granted,” Chua said. “We forget how unusual it is to have a constitution that actually has no established religion, that is on its face ethnically and religiously neutral.”

Chua acknowledged that the United States has failed to live up to those principles again and again, and it has not yet fully realized the ideals that it claims to uphold. But she’s an optimist — she closes Political Tribes with this excerpt from the Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again.”

“O, let America be America again — The land that never has been yet — And yet must be— the land where every man is free. … O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath — America will be!”

After incident, CTC screens ‘Mother’s Milk’ in step toward healing

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For the past week, Chautauqua Theater Company’s An Octoroon has been asking audience members to step into the skin of someone who may not look like them.

“I think that is something every single person can do regardless of if they see the play,” said CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy.

Now, CTC is asking the same from all Chautauquans, both on the grounds and in Chautauqua County. To facilitate further conversation, there will be a film screening of “Mother’s Milk: A Film Quilt” at noon today at Chautauqua Cinema.

Originally written as a play by CTC guest artist Larry Powell, the film consists of several shorts that tell the story of a young black boy named Sparrow on a journey to find his mother and his home. Scenes were shot across the country and were each filmed by a different director with a different actor in the lead role.

“I call it a quilt because it’s a collection of short films stitched together,” Powell said. “It’s not just a film, it’s an immersive theater experience.”

“Mother’s Milk” is free with a gate pass on a firstcome, first-served basis and will be followed by a talkback with Powell.

Powell said the film is a response to oppression and injustice that aims to educate why violence doesn’t work and why worthiness and self-love does. He said he asked it to be screened at Chautauqua after a traumatic event last weekend.

“It is really for us to step up, for us to come together, take the actions of love against fear,” Powell said.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 1, Powell and three other actors of color were signaled to pull over by a Chautauqua County police officer while they were on the way home from a party to celebrate the opening of An Octoroon.

After both cars were let inside Chautauqua’s main gate, Powell stopped the car and said he told the actors in the backseat to remain calm. The white officer approached Powell’s window and asked to see his driver’s license before saying that the car’s taillight was out. Powell said he was unfamiliar with the company car, but demonstrated that the lights were in working condition.

Powell, the designated driver, said the office repeatedly asked him if he had been drinking. Each time, he replied that he was sober.

Powell was asked to step out of the car. At this point, another car full of white company members arrived at the scene, including CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba. Borba said he stepped out of his car and tried to intervene, but was told by the officer to move along. From a distance, Borba said he took a picture on his phone that showed Powell’s taillight was working.

Powell said he explained to the officer that he was the lead of An Octoroon, an award-winning artist only in town for the summer and that he was not a problem.

“It is really, really messed up that I have to shuffle through a learned survival mechanism as an ‘exceptional negro,’ ” he said. “He wasn’t even mean, either, but the actual actions were awful.”

Powell and the company members were let go without a ticket. The car continued to Jewett House, where the actors were met and comforted by other conservatory members.

Borba said the incident was not related to An Octoroon.

“We could have been producing any play that happened to be employing actors. They were pulled over because they were black,” he said. “We happen to be doing a play that addresses racial issues in America.”

At noon on Sunday, July 1, CTC company members gathered for a private meeting to discuss the encounter. They were joined by Chautauqua President Michael E. Hill, Vice President of Visual and Performing Arts Deborah Sunya Moore, Vice President of Religion and Senior Pastor the Rt. Rev. V Gene Robinson, and Robert Franklin Jr., Robinson’s predecessor, who happened to be on the grounds at the time.

For over two hours, company members shared their feelings and asked what CTC and Chautauqua would do to address what happened. Powell later suggested to Hill and Moore via email that Chautauqua hold a screening of “Mother’s Milk” as another step toward healing.

“(Powell) was such a pillar of graciousness,” Moore said. “I’m really full of gratitude for how he’s leading.”

Corporandy said that last weekend’s events do not exist in a vacuum.

“It has been brought to our attention not only by these larger incidents, which we have at least one of every year, but smaller moments that when you come into a place where you are the minority in a significant way that people look at you differently and approach you differently and talk to you differently,” Corporandy said. “Those things on a daily basis can really add up to feel very hurtful and isolating.”

Corporandy said that CTC has made a more conscious effort to inform conservatory members about the lack of diversity at Chautauqua before they arrive on the grounds. She said that in response, conservatory members have asked to be connected to a local NAACP chapter or another network of allies.

“We are making it clear that we are (allies), but if we are not the right people for them, we will find them the right people,” Corporandy said.

Corporandy said CTC appreciates the cards and support from Chautauquans, but would like to see kind words translate into activism.

“Really, what we need to see is that this community is acting in a place of advocacy,” Corporandy said. “We don’t necessarily need hugs and cookies.”

Corporandy said that advocacy can take many forms, including awkward one-on-one conversations.

“Those conversations do not have to be with the actors that were in the show,” she said. “They need to be with each other. Even though Chautauqua is a gated community, that doesn’t mean that we’re perfect.”

Hill and Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace said they will meet this afternoon to discuss what happened and how the officer’s actions were received. Hill said he is also in talks with County Executive George Borrello about broader inclusion in the county.

Gerace declined to comment on Sunday’s incident until after meeting with Hill, but said that “all police deputies and officers go through diversity training, which is a state mandate.”

In the spring, Chautauqua Institution hired the diversity consulting firm Cook Ross to help adjust internal policies and develop a comprehensive inclusion plan with short-term and long-term benchmarks for the next decade. The team from Cook Ross includes Johnnetta Cole, president of the nation’s two historically black women’s colleges, who will address Chautauqua at 12:30 p.m. on July 14 in the Hall of Philosophy as part of a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.

“We’re investing significant resources into trying to make this a model community. We’re willing to really tackle moments of injustice and to look underneath, whether there are systematic things we can do to erase those,” Hill said. “The rest will be, sadly, a gradual long change,

Brooks calls for fostering community, shedding ‘tribal mentality’

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  • New York Times Columnist David Brooks receives a standing ovation after giving the morning lecture in the Amphitheater on Thursday, July 5, 2018. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

For David Brooks, rekindling love and community is at the heart of American identity.

“We are driven by this heart and soul to bond with each other,” Brooks said. “It’s our natural inclination. So you have to believe that our nation will prevail and that even in a moment of isolation and loneliness and division, we will find a way to bond through love and affection.”

The New York Times op-ed columnist spoke at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture on Thursday, July 5 to an overflowing Amphitheater, tackling Week Two’s theme, “American Identity.”

Brooks described his life as “bookish.” His initial infatuation with writing began after he read Paddington the Bear. In high school, when a girl dumped him for someone else, he thought, “but I’m a much better writer than that guy.”

“And so we have different values,” he said over a roar of laughter (and a lone crying baby).

When he was 18, the admissions offices of Brown University, Wellesley College and Columbia University decided he should go to the University of Chicago, he said. There he found a “bookish place” for his “bookish life.”

From there, Brooks served as a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a contributing editor at Newsweek and Atlantic Monthly. Brooks is a senior fellow at Yale University and a regular commentator on PBS’s “NewsHour.” In 2003, he became a “conservative columnist” at The New York Times, which he describes as “being the chief rabbi in Mecca.”

He is the author of Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There; On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense; The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement; and The Road to Character.

This was Brooks’ third appearance at Chautauqua Institution; he last visited five years ago — when he was 10 years younger, Brooks said.

Aside from his bookishness, Brooks values consciousness, which he said is comprised of two parts; the first is the heart.

Brooks talked about a friend who desperately tried to remove a bamboo stand. The man tried to cut down the plant, taking an axe to its roots; he dug a three-foot hole, poured chemicals and cement into the hole, but eventually the bamboo began to peak through the concoction. Brooks said that just like the bamboo, the heart will prevail.

“We all have something like that. We have some piece like that that is our desire and which pushes through anything. … We are always desiring,” Brooks said.

The second part of consciousness, according to Brooks, is the “yearning soul.”

Brooks asked, not that the audience believe in a god or higher power, but if they “believe that (they) have a piece of (them) that has no shape, color, size or weight; that is of infinite value and dignity; that (believes) slavery is wrong because it assaults another human being’s soul; that rape is wrong, not because it assaults a bunch of physical molecules; that it’s an assault on another human being’s soul; and that obscenity is anything that covers up another person’s soul. And what this soul does is it yearns for righteousness.”

But, Brooks said, society is attacking the joy of the heart and soul with its individualistic culture.

In our current climate, there is an emphasis on self, he said. Levels of narcissism are rising, the U.S. is “No. 1 in the world in thinking that we’re good at math,” he said; college men would choose fame over sex, according to Brooks.

There is also an institutional issue of alienation sweeping the nation, he said, with higher levels of social distrust, and a “crisis of meaning” with rising depression and suicide rates and the opioid epidemic — the “slow suicide,” he said.

Much of this Brooks contributed to the nation’s “tribal mentality.”

“It’s us versus them; it’s friend and enemy,” he said. “And the politics in tribal mentality is what we call in political science ‘the negative polarization.’ Do you like your own party? ‘Not really.’ Do you hate the other side? ‘Totally.’ So our politics are more driven on hatred.”

Brooks sees “tribal mentality” as a greater issue than just a riff between political ideologies — he sees it as a “silent Pearl Harbor,” if not as “dramatic.”

“When the foundations of democracy are being shredded, isn’t that a silent Pearl Harbor?” Brooks said. “When the foundations of capitalism, of free movement of goods and people are being shredded, seems to me like a silent Pearl Harbor. … When 55,000 people die of opioid addiction and 45,000 commit suicide, that seems a silent Pearl Harbor.

“So, we are not going to be asked as older generations have been asked, ‘What did you do in the war?’ I think we will be asked ‘What did we do in the peace?’ ”

Although the U.S. is not experiencing a spiritual revival or a political revival, it is experiencing a civic revival, Brooks said. Grassroots movements across the country are motivated by “the love of the good” and “the love of their (cities),” and are focused on building relationships with youth. He called those community groups “the answer to our nation’s problems.”

However, these groups are working at a micro level while the country is losing its narrative on a macro scale, he said.

Brooks grew up with the “immigrant mentality and the Exodus narrative” — the belief that waves of people came to the “promised land” like the story of Moses.

“The Puritans came with that narrative, the Founding Fathers came with that narrative. … Every subsequent immigrant came with that narrative, … and yet, we have to face the reality for a lot of young people that that narrative makes no sense to them,” Brooks said. “They just don’t buy that this is a promised land. … It’s a new narrative of commitment to each other based on redemption and forgiveness.”

After receiving a prolonged standing ovation, Brooks kicked off the Q-and-A.

“Now we can talk about Paul Manafort for 20 minutes,” he said.

President Michael E. Hill asked the first question: What are communities doing to foster these bonds?

For Brooks, politics are not the sole influence in life. When he goes to polarized areas like “blue” Vermont or “red” Louisiana, he said, there is a healthy foundation that doesn’t rely on politics. Brooks stressed listening to people of different opinions and ideologies to cultivate community growth.

Hill turned to the audience for questions — what politicians are building strong communities, one attendee asked. Brooks answered with John McCain, Ben Sasse, a Republican junior senator from Nebraska, and Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator from Minnesota.

“I would say politicians are not that callous; they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t love their country,” he said. “It’s just they’re just stuck in a rotten system that makes them behave the way they behave.”

Brooks to analyze week’s topic with conservative lens

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David Brooks has a special, unofficial label for his work at The New York Times. He’s not just an op-ed columnist — he’s a conservative columnist.

Brooks has defined this label further:

“Well, I’m an American conservative,” Brooks recently told the podcast “Conversations with Tyler.”

During his third lecture at Chautauqua Institution, Brooks will have the opportunity to expand on the meaning of that label, continuing Week Two’s exploration of “American Identity.” Brooks will take the podium at 10:45 a.m. on Thursday, July 5 in the Amphitheater.

“I hope it gives voice to those who would identify as conservative. I hope it challenges those who consider themselves solidly liberal,” said Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill. “I think one of the interesting things with David, and it’s one of the reasons that he both appeals and occasionally frustrates both sides of that aisle, is that he refuses to be put in a camp of left or right.”

Brooks has written columns for the Times since 2003, following stints as a foreign correspondent and op-ed editor for the Wall Street Journal. Brooks appears every Friday as a commentator on PBS’s “News- Hour,” as well as on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In addition, Brooks is the author of four books, the most recent of which is The Road to Character, which is a New York Times best-seller.

Brooks last visited Chautauqua in July 2013 when he gave a lecture titled, “Moral Geniuses: Public Figures to Admire and Imitate.” This was before Brooks became a frequent and strident critic of President Donald Trump.

In partisan political discourse, Brooks is a uniquely nuanced voice, Hill said. Brooks does not equate conservative with Republican, a point he argued in his June 25 column, “Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose.”

“Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear,” Brooks wrote.

But while critiquing both sides of the aisle, Brooks also analyzes cultural trends such as “wokeness,” questioning the common space in what can feel like a national Venn diagram of opposing views.

He acknowledged conflicting ideas of American identity in his May 2017 Times piece, “The Four American Narratives.”

“America has always been a divided, sprawling country, but for most of its history it was held together by a unifying national story,” Brooks wrote. “But that civic mythology no longer unifies.”

Hill expects Brooks to discuss both America’s historical narrative and current events in the dizzying national news cycle.

“I can’t predict which thing he might bring up,” Hill said. “It could be anywhere from the Supreme Court vacancy, to what’s happening with the border, to how he sees the social fabric of America.”

Chautauquans may notice there is no title listed for Brooks’ lecture. Hill said he expects this presentation to be an entirely different experience from the last one Brooks gave in the Amp.

“Part of the reason why there’s not a title, and I really applaud this about David, is that he’s probably writing it right now,” Hill said. “I think David is just extremely educated, nuanced and thoughtful at how he looks at issues, and I suspect that this will be one of the best lectures we have all season because of those qualities.”

CSO, Charlotte Ballet’s performance honors Mark Diamond’s 30 years with Chautauqua

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Written by Lexie Erdos

Charlotte Ballet will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra to showcase a mix of neoclassical choreography and classical music at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 5 in the Amphitheater. Choreographers Mark Diamond and Sasha Janes created en pointe dance pieces to complement and energize the classical scores of Scherzo by Beethoven and The Four Seasons by Vivaldi.

The choice to select well- known classical pieces to be performed by the orchestra (the program also includes Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo in forma di Sonatina) was made by the curators of the performance, including Charlotte Ballet’s Artistic Director Hope Muir. The pieces have the advantage of being both popular with audiences and familiar to the musicians.

“The dancers will only have the opportunity to rehearse with the orchestra once before the performance, so it is really important to ensure that the music is already part of their repertoire,” Muir said.

By choosing pieces that are known both by the orchestra and the dancers, the curators hope to deliver a performance with the polish of a well-rehearsed piece.

Additionally, because the two scores were originally not written as a dance collaboration, the choreographers and dancers are given the liberty of being able to create the routines from scratch, with no pre-conceived expectations of what should be performed or included in the dances.

“We like to curate pieces that allow the dancers to have the freedom to express themselves creatively, which these pieces do,” Muir said.

Janes, the choreographer of “Four Seasons,” is also particularly interested in providing comfortability and flexibility to his dancers.

“The piece was originally made for the company three years ago for a different group of dancers,” said Janes, who is also associate artistic director of Charlotte Ballet and Chautauqua School of Dance’s director of contemporary studies. “As some dancers leave and we bring other ones on, we have made adjustments to the piece to make sure that each dancer is comfortable with the movements required of them.”

The excitement of the performance does not end with the live music, the freedom it offers the dancers, or the neoclassical take on classical scores, however. Additionally, “Scherzo” choreographer and associate artistic director Diamond is celebrating his 30th year at Chautauqua Dance. This performance is an opportunity for him to showcase how his work has changed throughout his tenure.

“This season being Mark Diamond’s 30th year with the company, I felt compelled to give him a platform to celebrate his accomplishments, which ‘Scherzo’ does beautifully,” Muir said, “Mark’s piece acts as a perfect celebration of his work.”

According to both Muir and Janes, Diamond’s piece reflects his accomplishments, growth and his funny, eccentric personality.

“Mark’s piece does have a quirky element to it,” Muir said. “He has such a wide breadth of work and many facets to his personality, which I think is reflected in the piece.”

Janes agreed.

“It’s always been great working with (Diamond).He has such an interesting perspective on what he wants to say through his movement quality,” said Janes, who has worked with Diamond since 2001.

Muir said the CSO’s involvement in tonight’s performance will be an exciting experience on both sides of the stage.

“Any opportunity to dance with live music is something I really treasure and certainly wanted to make happen during our stay at Chautauqua,” Muir said. “And of course, any chance to perform for the Chautauqua audience is always such a pleasure.”

Chautauqua Dance Circle will host a pre-performance lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 5 in the Hall of Philosophy with Janes and Diamond.

Who is the ‘we’ in ‘We the People’? Cobb examines ‘fundamental divide’ of racism in defining identity

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  • Staff writer of The New Yorker Jelani Cobb discusses the history behind "American Identity" and how it has made a personal impact on his life at the Amphitheater on Tuesday, July 3, 2018. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Who are the “we” in “we the people?”

Jelani Cobb, staff writer for The New Yorker, took a hard look at what “we the people” has meant throughout history at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Tuesday, July 3 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Two’s discussion of “American Identity.”

During Cobb’s tenure at The New Yorker, he has written extensively about race in America. His articles, including “The Anger in Ferguson,” “Murders in Charleston,” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Reparations,” tackle injustice, the police and race.

He is the 2015 recipient of the Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism, the 2017 recipient of the Walter Bernstein Award from the Writers Guild of America East for his PBS Frontline series “Policing the Police,” and a Fulbright fellow.

This was his first visit to Chautauqua Institution.

“This is an immense country — sprawling — and if we were to ask ‘what America is,’ we could give any variety of answers,” Cobb said. “We could say that it is a nation-state, in North America — the North American continent — that covers 3.8 million square miles. That it has a population of 325 million people…”

Cobb rattled off facts about the U.S., from religious makeup to racial breakdown. He told the audience “a lot about the United States,” but not “who we are.”

“ ‘Who we are’ is a much broader, philosophical question,” he said. “It is best understood by our responses in times of difficulty. It is what we do in our most mundane moments. It is what we hold onto in our most cherished values.”

The question of who are “we the people,” Cobb said, is central to decades of unresolved conflict — he called it “the fundamental divide” — because for most of the nation’s history, “we” has been exclusive to white people.

“The first-person plural ‘we,’ we’ve never sufficiently understood and defined who was included in that word,” he said. “And as a consequence, we had a dynamic in American history of an expanding concept of ‘we’ and a contracting and fearful idea of who ‘we’ should be.”

This dynamic constantly replays itself, like a “Freudian nightmare, (recurring and recurring) until the underlying conflict is resolved,” he said.

Cobb referenced the Declaration of Independence — and its inherent hypocrisy.

In the original declaration, Thomas Jefferson drafted arguments for separating from England. One of the grievances stressed that the British were guilty of thrusting slaves on the American colonies, and if the slaves revolted, it would be at the expense of Americans, not the British, according to Cobb.

“This is as stinging a rebuke of the institution of slavery that we see from Jefferson’s pen,” he said.

That clause did not make it into the final draft, weaving oppression into the nation’s founding document.

“It is essentially copy-editing black freedom out of the original document. We begin with this disparity and distinction in the capacity in the word ‘we’ to not include all human beings of this country,” Cobb said.

Moving through history, this “disparity” pitted the young republic against itself, erupting in the Civil War — a war fundamentally rooted in the question of “who we are,” Cobb said.

Cobb, who lived in Georgia for a number of years, said “people will tell you ‘the Civil War was fought for a number of exotic reasons.’ ”

“It’s widely accepted that slavery was the active ingredient, which is to say it was not the only cause, but it was the cause which without it, we would not have war,” he said. “It was the intractable element in this, and this issue of slavery would prove more fundamentally as a question of identity.

“Could the people who imagined a republic where there had been none imagine an interracial republic where there was not one?”

States used slavery as a bargaining chip: California could join the Union if southern states could enact tighter fugitive slave laws. From these “compromises” arose a government bureau dedicated to capturing and returning fugitive slaves and attempts to impose a constitutional amendment to prohibit the abolition of slavery, according to Cobb.

None of this resolved the question of “who we are.”

“It’s like a tire that has been patched and patched and patched, and sooner or later the tire is going to fall apart,” he said.

Cobb recalled seeing a statue of Abraham Lincoln on the drive to the Institution. Most people remember Lincoln as “the Great Emancipator,” but Cobb said people admire him for the wrong reasons.

According to Cobb, Lincoln spoke openly about “(consigning) the Negro race to a position of inferiority.” It wasn’t until his party pushed for the abolition of slavery and the Union was victorious at the Battle of Antietam that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Cobb noted that the proclamation only freed slaves in states that had seceded from the Union, and a constitutional amendment was needed to truly end slavery (only for those who had not been convicted of a crime).

“This is back to this expansion and contraction of ‘who is we?’ ” he said.

The rise of the Klu Klux Klan in the late 19th and early 20th century and the sharp increase of immigration laws were also bound in this question of “Who are we?”

Cobb jumped forward to contemporary history.

“In 2007, there were exactly four people in the United States who thought the country was ready to elect a black president, and they all lived in the same address on the south side of Chicago,” Cobb said over a roar of laughter. “But this happened, and it was an amazing thing to witness.”

He said regardless of political views or opinions, Barack Obama’s election to the highest office was a “novel development in American politics.”

However, the election of the first African-American president did not deter the “fundamental divide” from tearing at the social fabric of this new era.

A 2010 and 2011 opinion poll showed a small sliver of white people thought the most disadvantaged group in the country was themselves — despite making up 61 percent of the country and holding 91 percent of political offices, according to Cobb.

“We have yet to triumph over the most narrow sense — the most zero-sum understanding of who we are. We have yet to permanently inscribe a concept of democracy that sees itself as enriched with the presence and success of others. … This can be a difficult thing to grapple with,” he said.

But Cobb has hope. He shared an anecdote about a flight from Atlanta to New York City he took shortly after 9/11. A tall man with olive skin and a long beard boarded the plane wearing a tunic and baggy pants; he sat a row behind Cobb.

Cobb looked over his shoulder and asked the man where he was from; the plane fell silent.

The man turned and, in a rebuttal, asked Cobb where he was from. Cobb responded: “I’m from Queens, and I’m asking because I think you’re also from Queens, and if you are who I think you are, we were in the same breakdance crew in high school.”

“Everybody around us exhaled — he’s a breakdancer, he’s not going to kill us,” Cobb said over the audience’s laughter. “I’m now the large black man that made the white people around me feel more comfortable.”

This experience taught Cobb that it is possible for the country to see beyond its narrow view of itself and widely adopt openness and acceptance.

“In short, it is possible for democracy to exist in this land — it does not quite at this moment,” he said. “This struggle we have inherited from generations past, but I have no doubt that as people of conscience and diligence, it will. It will one day.”

After a thunderous standing ovation, Chief of Staff Matt Ewalt opened the Q-and-A by asking if Cobb finds confidence in the younger generation’s ability to further advance inclusivity.

“We do in instances find that young people are more open-minded about questions and being less mired by the decrepit thinking of older generations, and I think that’s hopeful,” Cobb said. “But I also think that we can’t kind of think that we are on auto-pilot, that these issues will resolve themselves.”

One attendee asked Cobb’s thoughts on whether Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel for the national anthem is a response to social injustices, or a lack of patriotism.

Cobb, who is close friends with Kaepernick, said that people mistake his decision as “unpatriotic” to gloss over the actual issues at hand, like police brutality.

“Patriotism is supposed to include dissent,” Cobb said.

‘Our Towns’ authors Fallowses to examine nation’s ideals in context of current climate

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The American identity is changing, according to James and Deborah Fallows.

The Fallowses will discuss how cities are redefining American ideals and their new book, Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, at their 10:45 a.m. lecture Wednesday, July 4 in the Amphitheater to continue Week Two, “American Identity.”

“(Chautauqua Institution) has a way of understanding how the long-term elements of the American identity and American ideals match the realities of this moment of the political trends and emerging crises,” James Fallows said. “It’s particularly relevant right now because a lot of both national and local politics involve this effort to figure out what is America, who are Americans and what does it mean to be of this country.”

Over the last five years, the Fallowses have traveled by prop airplane, reporting on smaller-to medium-sized cities that are reshaping what it means to be an American on a local level. This project, in partnership with The Atlantic and “Marketplace,” is called “City Makers: American Futures.”

Along their journey, the couple met with civic leaders, factory workers, immigrants and entrepreneurs — Our Towns is a collection of those interactions, “an account of a country busy remaking itself.”

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic — he has written for The Atlantic since the late 1970s. James Fallows was the chief White House speechwriter under former President Jimmy Carter for two years and served as editor of US News & World Report for two years. He has authored Breaking the News: How the Media Undermines American Democracy and China Airborne. He is also the author of Blind Into Baghdad and Postcards From Tomorrow Square; these works are based on writing from The Atlantic.

He is a fifth-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, which he won once, recipient of the American Book Award for non-fiction and a NewYork Emmy Award-winner for the documentary series “Doing Business in China.”

He and Deborah Fallows have lived in Shanghai and Beijing, travelling through China for three years.

Deborah Fallows is the author of Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language, a reflection on her struggles while learning Mandarin. She is also a contributing writer for The Atlantic and co-creator of “City Makers: American Futures.”

Deborah Fallows is a graduate of Harvard University with a Ph.D. in linguistics. She has worked in research and polling for the Pew Internet Project and data architecture for Oxygen Media.

For their morning lecture, the Fallowses will touch on the contrast of American identity at the local and national levels.

“At the national level, there’s just a really pinched battle about who can be an American,” James Fallows said. “We’re contrasting that to what we’ve seen in the local level, where there is this city-by-city, ongoing reinvention of the American identity, which we’re saying is actually much closer to what has been over the century.”

The Fallowses have visited the Institution many times over the last few decades.

“Since we’ve gotten to know a lot of people at Chautauqua, we’re looking forward to seeing them again,” Deborah Fallows said. “We always look forward to the kind of community family village atmosphere of Chautauqua that’s different compared to maybe our hometown.”

James Fallows said he is interested in the way the Institution has evolved.

“One of the things that makes Chautauqua most distinctive in American life is the tradition,” he said, “the way it is deliberately set apart from modern chaos and trying to give people a chance to think seriously about ideas and books and matters, both of reason and of faith and of culture, and all those things have been consistent since its foundation. … It’s recognizably the same place, but is also clearly responding to the new ideas, challenges, opportunities of each age.”

Deborah Fallows said the Institution “maintain(s) some of the things about American society that the country has always valued.”

James Fallows agreed.

“(American identity) has been one of (the Institution’s) trademark themes over the decades of understanding both the permanent and continually changing nature of the American identity,” he said, “permanent in the ideals of inclusion, mutual effort to make a more perfect union and all the other aspects that were said at the start, but changing and continuing with the ethnic mix and international and domestic challenges.”

For Deborah Fallows, the Institution, despite its isolation and microscale, ignites inspiration for change across the nation.

“I think (Chautauqua) offers something different, which is maybe a chance to be more creative about the kinds of changes and renewal that are possible,” she said. “That comes from hanging out in the summer with people you don’t live with every day during the winter and the community problems you don’t live with during the winter, so it’s a chance to, in a micro-cosmic way, listen to the country at large.”

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