'Seeking Justice 2018': CCBC and Maryland Humanities bring history to life

Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall will visit the Community College of Baltimore County’s Catonsville campus in mid-July.

Or at least, a version of each historical icon will.

From July 13 to July 15, CCBC is partnering with Maryland Humanities, an organization that promotes humanities programming around the state, to present a “Chautauqua” show, in which actors portraying historical figures perform a monologue and then field questions during an audience discussion. The free shows begin at 7 p.m.

Each character will speak about his or her life and what “seeking justice” meant personally in their historical moment.

“The Chautauqua performances are not just a scripted performance,” said Judy Dobbs, program officer with Maryland Humanities. “The performer has to know a lot about what was happening during that era, not just about that character, but about the historical context.”

On July 13, Bill Grimmette will portray Frederick Douglass; Susan Marie Frontczak will play Eleanor Roosevelt on July 14, and Brian Anthony Wilson will depict Thurgood Marshall on July 15.

The performances each night begin with music by CCBC music faculty member Dan Lewis, who will play songs corresponding to the historical figure’s era. CCBC has been partnering with Maryland Humanities for 14 years for the performances.

Grimmette has been acting for about 50 years, he said, and has been performing with Maryland Humanities since around 2004.

He said his favorite part of performing in the Chautauqua shows is “provoking” the audience with a monologue to spark fervent discussion.

“The drama comes when you have no idea what’s going to come from that audience, but you have to field that question if you are that character, as if you are in that period,” he said.

Maryland Humanities sponsors Chautauqua events around the state, not just in Baltimore County. Seven other counties, including Harford and Anne Arundel, are also hosting Chautauqua performances the week of July 9.

“Lifelong learning in the humanities is what creates good citizens,” said Patti Crossman, department chair for the performing arts and humanities at CCBC. She said today’s world emphasizes science and technology, but that exposure to history and different cultures creates “better citizens because they have a greater awareness.”

The Chautauqua performances are rooted in a historical tradition of continuing education for adults that sprung up near Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York in the 1870s. The tradition came to Maryland in the late-19th century, when Chautauqua events took place at Mountain Lake Park in Garrett County, Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County, Allegany Grove in Allegany County, and Elkton and Rising Sun in Cecil County.

A renewed interest in continuing education started to bring Chautauqua-like events back to life in the 1970s through humanities organizations around the country, Crossman said. This is Maryland Humanities’ 24th year organizing Chautauqua performances.

The performances will be held in CCBC’s Center for the Arts, at 360 Campus Drive. Parking is free.

More information can be found online at https://www.mdhumanities.org/programs/chautauqua/.

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