New Old Time Chautauqua entertains crowds

Posted 2/20/19

A colorful parade of brass band musicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and dancers interrupted an otherwise gray winter day Feb. 15 as the New Old Time Chautauqua kicked off a weekend of education, art, music and magic in Port Townsend.

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New Old Time Chautauqua entertains crowds

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A colorful parade of brass band musicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and dancers interrupted an otherwise gray winter day Feb. 15 as the New Old Time Chautauqua kicked off a weekend of education, art, music and magic in Port Townsend.

At the Cotton Building, kids learned how to ride unicycles and play ukuleles while a crowd of 50 people sat in the Jefferson County Museum of Art and History, enraptured as Walter McQuillen, a chief of the Waatch village of the Makah, delivered an oral history about his family.

“The oral history touches your heart more than if you’re reading or watching something on TV,” McQuillen said.

The people filing into the museum to listen to the Makah history comprised a picture of how Chautauquas inspire people to continue learning, said Paul Magid, who followed McQuillen with a lecture on the history of the Chautauqua.

“When the Chautauqua came to town, basically everything stopped,” Magid said. “There was an enormous outpouring of desire for people to learn about things. And it wasn’t just that. You had orchestras, operas, plays, comedians.”

The first Chautauqua in Port Townsend occurred in 1891, Magid said. People packed into a large tent to watch lectures, hear opera singers and see comedy acts.

The Chautauqua provides an opportunity for hands-on learning and experiences, Magid said.

“Learning is something that passes from one person to the next,” he said. “Like what Walter McQuillen did today. It was an honor, it was the truth. It was a forum for him to open his heart.”

Magid is one of the founders of the New Old Time Chautauqua, which was started in 1981 by a group of performers and educators who decided to revive the tradition.

The New Old Time Chautauqua is based in Port Townsend and tours across America, performing and doing community service.

“The Chautauqua here in Port Townsend is the only traveling Chautauqua in the country,” Magid said.

The group performs at high-security prisons, juvenile detention centers, nursing homes, hospitals, day cares, schools and on Native American reservations. They also work on projects such as cleaning graves and planting trees.

On Feb. 17 the group danced, juggled, sang, played instruments and performed magic in two shows at the American Legion.

The performance raised funds for the group’s month-long tour of Southcentral Alaska. The tour, which is called the “Be Mary” tour of Alaska, will celebrate the life and legacy of Mary Langham, an artist, educator, doctor and founder of the Green Light Circus in Talkeetna.

Anyone can participate in the Chautauqua, Magid said, whether by showing off musical or artistic talents, or by delivering educational lectures and workshops.

“We like to say everybody has a workshop in them,” he said. “Everyone’s an expert in something. … The moment you stop learning, that’s when you start dying.”

To learn about joining the New Old Time Chautauqua or to help fund its summer tour, visit its website.

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