22nd annual Chautauqua tent shows in virtual format will spotlight suffragists

Submitted photo Kim Hanley will portray women’s rights activist Lucretia Mott at the 22nd annual Chautauqua tent shows taking place in virtual formats after original plans to hold events in Lewes and New Castle were canceled. (Submitted photo)

LEWES — The 22nd annual Chautauqua tent shows theme will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment’s passage granting women the right to vote.

But in a decision Thursday, the shows will now take place in virtual formats rather than in person events in Lewes and New Castle.

This year’s show, titled “Women’s Work: Campaigning for Social Change” will use individual and group performances as well as lectures and music to put a spotlight on the suffragists of the early 20th century who fought together for one goal — to grant women the right to vote.

The tent shows are a yearly event focused on bringing American history-based performances and lectures to Lewes for educational and entertainment purposes. Tent show coordinator Bridget Warner said they often pick themes based on their current relevancy, hence this year’s celebration of the 19th amendment.

“It’s an election year, which everybody is well aware of, so that’s how we decided on the title Campaigning for Social Change,’” Ms. Warner said. “With the ‘Me Too’ movement ever present in everyone’s minds recently, and the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment, we thought it would be a good time to recognize the contributions that women have made in politics and in history.”

Pat Jordan as Mary Chapman Catt, an American women’s suffrage leader who campaigned for the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave U.S. women the right to vote in 1920. (Submitted photo)

“Women’s Work: Campaigning for Social Change” will feature performances from local organizations as well as the American Historical Theatre from Philadelphia. Session one will happen at the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes on Sept. 10-11 from noon to 8:30 p.m., and session two will be at the New Castle Court House Museum in New Castle on Sept. 19-20 from 1 to 7:30 p.m. The Zwaanendael Museum is located at 102 Kings Highway in Lewes while the New Castle Court House Museum is located at 211 Delaware St. in New Castle.

Originally, Ms. Warner said they decided to bring the show to two different locations so more people across the state can see the show.

“We decided this year we’d try to hit both ends of the state, because we are a state organization. So we thought, you know, maybe we should try something different this year,” Ms. Warner said.

With Thursday’s decisions the shows will be at those times, but in virtual platforms.

Tent shows coordinator Bridget Warner disclosed over email on Thursday afternoon that the event will now be hosted completely online over Zoom.

Events to look forward to at the tent shows include performances and lectures from local groups, focused on audience interaction. For example, Georgetown theatre group Possum Point Players will present a ’20s style radio show. Audiences can also expect to see featured speakers from the Rehoboth Art League, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the General Federation of Women’s Club at the tent shows to talk about significant women in the suffragette movement.

This year’s main attraction is the American Historical Theatre group, which will accurately portray suffragists such as Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and Carrie Chapman Catt in their evening performances at the tent shows.

“It’s a fun way to learn history, but you’re not being inundated with lots of dates thrown at you. It brings history to life,” Ms. Warner said in an interview prior to the virtual decision being made. “I think it’s a great way to learn, and it’s going to be outside. I think everybody needs to get out a little bit right now,”

Chautauqua tent shows first originated in the late 19th century as a series of adult educational shows at Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York, hence the name. The shows packed up and moved across states, reaching their peak popularity in the 1920s, then fizzling out as radio and television gained viewership. Modern Chautauqua shows became popularized again in the 1970s to bring humanities education to communities in a way that is fun to consume.

The show is co-sponsored by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ Zwaanendael and New Castle Court House museums, the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, and the New Castle Historical Society. Partial funding is also provided by a grant from Delaware Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The finalized tent shows event schedule is expected to be released by the end of August. Those interested in attending the 22nd annual Chautauqua tent shows should check for event updates on their website, history.delaware.gov.

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