The happy Chautauqua scholar celebrates an engaged and curious audience. In fact, the presentation of the scholar is often tailored to address a principal theme, but little references – shiny pennies – may be dropped throughout the performance to ellicit audience questions after the presentation.
Experienced Chautauqua audiences come to events with questions in mind. Hopefully the presentation will address those questions, but the scholar/researcher has probably come across some really interesting gems of information that would be digressions to discuss in the opening monoloque but would be informative and interesting, if the audience wishes to pursue them in the Q&A.
The shiny pennies may be dropped as an aside, “Of course, my son won’t ever get that opportunity,” – a comment by Ambrose Bierce that may lead later to a discussion of his son’s death – an issue Bierce himself would not discuss.
The shiny penny might be a denial, “I know you don’t want to hear how I killed a goose as a boy, though my family speaks of it till this day,” – a possible Senator Wade Hampton comment that could lead to a tale of 4-year-old valor and swordsmanship.
The shiny penny might be a passing reference to a wistful reminisence, “There was a very beautiful young lady during the war, hmmm,” – Einstein remembering his affair with a Soviet spy during WWII.
The shiny penny might be dropped by the scholar during the Q&A, “The validity of Einstein’s ideas are proven whenever you check the GPS on your cell phone.” In character, Einstein could not mention global positioning satellite programming (it is anachronistic), but the scholar can plant the seed that could lead to a deeper discussion of how general relativity theory plays a part in everyday, contemporary life.
Though the Chautauqua scholar can drop the pennies, the audience may or may not bother to pick them up. Other topics may end up occupying the limited performance time. But shiny pennies, the shinier the better, can stimulate the audience to dig deeper into the life being presented in ways they may not have ever considered pursuing.