If you’ve ever had a hankering to run away with the circus, next week will be the perfect time to do so. From June 30 to July 5 the New Old Time Chautauqua Tour visits Homer for a parade, performances, workshops and even some community service.
Billed as the “Be Mary” tour, the group of about 50 vaudevillians started its Alaska visit on June 12 in Talkeetna, visited Seward and is now in Anchorage. The tour honors the late Mary Langham of Talkeetna and Homer, who died at age 63 in Homer on March 18, 2018. A circus artist, poet, writer, actor and playwright, Langham also distinguished herself as a tireless volunteer in the Homer arts community — so much so that Homer Council on the Arts (HCOA) named its annual volunteer award after her.
“They’re just a goofy, wacky vaudevilliean old-time performance-oriented band of merry makers traveling through Alaska,” Peggy Paver, executive director of the Homer Council on the Arts, said of the tour.
HCOA, Bunnell Street Arts Center and Pier One Theatre are the cosponsors of the Homer portion of the tour, with support from the Rasmuson Foundation’s Harper Arts Touring Fund, administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. The Pratt Museum also holds some events. HCOA will be the tour’s base, where they will camp in the parking lot behind the council’s building on Pioneer Avenue.
Paver said that collaboration came about when the New Old Time Chautauqua approached Homer Council on the Arts about visiting Homer. She quickly realized the tour would be more than the council could handle and reached out to Bunnell and Pier One.
“It’s our first dip into what could be called a collaborative project,” Paver said. “It’s been a really interesting process and been really good for the three organizations to be at the table and talk about these hard issues.”
The Homer tour starts out with a performance by the Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Chamber Band and Orchestra at 8 p.m. Sunday at Alice’s Champagne Palace. It continues with a parade on the Homer Spit at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 2, from the Seafarer’s Memorial to Pier One Theatre. At Pier One there will be a community potluck with free workshops and then at 7:30 p.m. a show honoring Langham, with readings of her plays and poetry. That reading will happen on the set of Pier One’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“We’ll be reading amongst the trees and roofs of Messina Mary’s work,” said Jen Norton, Pier One artistic director.
The tour ends with the band marching in Homer’s Fourth of July parade and a performance at 8 p.m. at the SPARC with the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Fiona Rose, hula hooper Vanessa Vortex, sister act Phina and Sophia Pipia, and the Fighting Instruments of Karma.
Part of the tour’s mission is to do community service. In Homer, they’ll put a new coat of red paint on Pier One, clean out HCOA’s basement and spiff up Pioneer Avenue.
The New Old Time Chautauqua has its roots in the Chautauqua cultural and social movement that started in the 1870s and continued into the 1920s. Touring Chautauquas presented lectures, dance, music, drama and other forms of cultural enrichment throughout the United States. The tradition faded during the Great Depression and with the advent of radio and motion pictures as mainstream entertainment. In 1981, the Flying Karamzov Brothers, Patch Adams and Faith Petric founded the new incarnation. The New Old Time Chautauqua has visited prisons, rural communities, schools, Native American reservations and hospitals.
One of the vaudevillians in the tour, Fiona Rose Worchester, actually did run away to join the New Old Time Chautauqua, sneaking in as what’s called a “stowaway” seven years ago. Worchester, who performs under the stage name of Fiona Rose, had met Morgan Langham, one of Mary’s children, at a summer fine arts camp in Fairbanks. Worchester joined the tour on a visit in 2011 that included Homer.
“I followed the Chautauqua without applying or anything,” Worchester said. “I was a persistent 24-year-old who was completely enamored.”
Now an 8th grade teacher in Anchorage, Worchester is the 2019 tour organizer. In the tour she learned to juggle and play the ukulele. Her current shtick is singing and playing desk bells with her feet.
“What this group has done for me has instilled the belief I can do anything, however impossible it may be,” Worchester said.
That’s also what the tour hopes to do for the towns it visits, she said.
“The idea is to inspire people through our performance,” Worchester said. “… To inspire people to believe in magic and ourselves and the power of the community.”
For more information on the New Old Time Chautauqua, visit www.chautauqua.org. For information on how to volunteer, email Jen Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or Adele Person at email@example.com.