Chautauqua Characters Emphasize the Power of Words


Becky Stone, the talented local actress and storyteller, is preparing to portray the American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist on Monday, June 19th, at A-B Tech for the Chautauqua Festival.

Many may be familiar with the Chautauqua format. Each evening, a nationally acclaimed historical interpreter dressed in costume on stage will bring the character to life through a first person monologue. The audience will then have a chance to question the character, delving more deeply into the issues that have been raised. The replies will be historically authentic, based on research using letters, diaries, journals, and published writings. Finally, the interpreter will step out of character to discuss the subject and answer questions from a critical, modern perspective. If this year is anything like last year, the audience will be packed, so it is advisable to get there early to get a good seat. Music starts at 7:00PM, and at 7:30PM the performance begins.

On Monday June 19 the local talented Becky Stone will portray the American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. Angelou’s first book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969 as a memoir. She portrays her life poetically as a woman who learned how to overcome the many challenges she had to face year after year. It became the first nonfiction best seller by an African-American woman. As an author of 20 books, her thoughts and words are powerful and haunting. In 1982, she earned the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The portrait delivered by Stone will undoubtedly be poignant and moving. Stone has vast experience as an actress, after having graduated with a degree in drama from Vassar. Over the years she has worked as an actor with Asheville Community Theater, Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater, Montford Park Players, and as far afield as Greenville, SC and Lexington, VA. Originally from Philadelphia, Becky and her husband moved to the mountains of western North Carolina to start their family here.

Stone found that “It has been a challenge” to know and understand Angelou. “I have the utmost respect and admiration for her,” but with all seven biographies to read, I found there were aspects of her personality and faults that were revealed which made me pause. In her books, she speaks about things she regretted saying and doing, things that greatly upset her son. As a person, she was quite impulsive and would react often without thinking. Yes, she is known for her wisdom, her honesty and courage; most of all courage. Courage to Angelou is the most important virtue. It takes courage to take risks and challenges.

She certainly lived the full spectrum of the Black American Experience in all things, knowing Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, of the civil rights era in the 60’s and 70’s and many other black leaders President Barack Obama presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2011.

In preparing for this part, I came to know “a great mind and a great woman,” says Stone. After all she only finished high school and yet was awarded over 50 honorary degrees, was nominated for a Pulitzer prize, a Tony and received three Grammy’s. She was such a public person, a grand, gracious and humble person. In this performance Stone says,” I am hoping to portray her as ‘Who she would be, if she came to speak in Asheville.’”

Tuesday night, June 20, George Frein will bring the audience Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States As the President from March, 1861, until his assassination in April,1865, Lincoln led the nation when this country was turned upside down with strife and discord. Lincoln was often a folksy storyteller and a shrewd politician. His words challenged Americans to become the people we should be. Who cannot remember his having said, “Of the people, by the people, for the people?” or perhaps on November 19, 1863, at the Gettysburg Address. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal’.” The presentation of Abraham Lincoln will undoubtedly be interesting, informative, and perhaps even provocative.

Wednesday night, June 21, Cesar Chavez, the prominent American union leader and labor organizer, will come to life on stage with a vivid portrayal by Fred Blanco. Chavez rallied powerless farmworkers to unionize and take charge of their lives. Hardened by his early experience as a migrant worker, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. He stressed nonviolent methods, drawing attention to his causes via boycotts, marches and hunger strikes. His words rallied a nation to boycott lettuce and grapes. His words taught them “Si, Se Puede”- “ Yes, it can be done.” His message brought hope to rich and poor alike, empowering all.

On Thursday night, June 22, anchorman Walter Cronkite will be on stage, thanks to Larry Bounds. Walter Cronkite was a lifelong newsman, who became the voice on television that told the public what happened that day in the world. He helped launch the CBS Evening News in 1962 and served as its news anchor until his retirement in 1981. Journalist, broadcaster, television news anchor he was trusted for delivering the truth in an authoritative voice. He shares his life’s work from the battle lines of World War II and Vietnam to President Kennedy’s assassination and Nixon’s disgrace. In this digital age, with news and information arriving often misreported, misunderstood, or even ”fake’” it will be a pleasure to once again remember and hear the calming voice of Walter Cronkite. “And that’s the way it was” was his jaunty sign-off.

Admission to these performances in the Ferguson Auditorium at A-B Tech is $5.00 per night; tickets may be purchased at the door and ample free parking is available. For more information, go to or call Ed Sheary (828) 231-9273.

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