Becker previews 2013 Season at final Porch Discussion

Rabab Al-SharifStaff Writer

For the final Porch Discussion of the season, the board of trustees fittingly invited Institution President Thomas M. Becker to speak during Week Nine’s presidential-themed week.

The discussion took place on the Hultquist Center porch Wednesday morning and covered the weekly themes and committed speakers for the 2013 Season.

Audience members then asked about the process of selecting topics and speakers and whether Chautauquans are involved.

Becker said that more than 60 percent of ideas come directly from Chautauquans.

The Institution leaders receive a constant flood of suggestions for speakers and themes, he said.

“We have a very small staff here to do the work that we do on a year-round basis,” Becker said. “Without that help, we’d be seriously impaired in trying to take on the scope of the work that we do.”

Developing the themes is like sausage making, Becker said. The trick, he said, is creating an approach to a topic that uses descriptive language that allows the topic to evolve and to change.

“What we’re trying to do is keep the platform from being so standardized that you know before you come in what it’s going to be,” Becker said.

In addressing the arts at Chautauqua, Becker said the Institution’s commitment is  to the process rather than an outcome.

That commitment starts with the training of young artists to the expression of artists of the most professional nature, he said.

The Romeo and Juliet project is an interdisciplinary arts expression that will happen during the 2013 Season.

It will bring together five different artistic directors to create something that is born of Chautauqua, Becker said.

“Something that both illuminates the breadth of what we have here in terms of artistic resources but also demonstrates our nearly unique capacity to bring all that together and create — in a powerful sort of way — a specific expression,” he said.

The goal is not just to create another program, he said, but rather to demonstrate the depth of artistic participation.

“We want you to understand it, but boy, we sure do want an outside world to understand that there’s something going on here that isn’t happening anywhere,” Becker said. “It’s valuable, and it’s done with such a level of excellence that it deserves attention and support.”

The balance among faith, science and the creative process has always been the stew of Chautauqua, Becker said.

“We have an opportunity on these grounds to be different than the way we’re encouraged to behave in the rest of our lives,” he said.

People have been trained to be monkeys that respond to “red meat” lines, Becker said, instead of how to understand ideas they do not agree with.

“When you come through these gates, you don’t have to do that,” he said.

On the grounds, there is an atmosphere that allows Chautauquans to expect more from presenters, he said.

“If someone throws you a ‘red meat’ line, sit on your hands,” he said. “Make them argue it out.”

In finding balance, Becker said the Institution allows speakers to tell audiences what they believe.

“We can’t tell them what to speak, nor will I,” he said. “And they are grateful for an audience that demands something of them and really listens.”