This morning I had a chance to speak with a local newspaper reporter about the nature of performing a Chautauqua scholar and the training class planned to run concurrently with this summer’s festival.
One question asked me to differentiate an actor and a Chautauqua scholar’s jobs. During the opening monologue I see little difference; both are scripted and rehearsed, though the scholar’s text was written by the historic character being portrayed not a playwright.
The first significant difference is is the initial Q&A. While this is pure improvisational theatre, it is again rooted in the actual words of the subject portrayed. Even more challenging, when the exact words needed to respond are not previously recorded, the scholar needs to make a connection with something the subject did say or using the understanding of the character’s thinking process, create an answer that is reflective of the subject’s genuine point of view and personal mannerisms. This is where the scholar’s comprehensive study pays off.
The third act of the Chautauqua presentation is only similar to an actor meeting with some of an audience after a performance. The mask of character is removed and the speaker can comment metacognitively on the choices for the production itself as well as reference updates in the subject’s field after his or her death. The need to stay current in areas that are effected by the subject is an additional mental challenge for the scholar. I have found this not to be taxing because I find that knowing I will be quizzed beyond the confines of my subject’s life gives this additional material relevance that make it much easier to master.