It was exciting for me to be named in a grant application to teach the performance art of Chautauqua as resident artist at Ash Creek Elementary in rural Arizona. I felt fairly confident about meeting the lofty goals of this particular grant, since I’ve worked in many schools and successfully taught storytelling and puppetry to students all around the country. 

But this project was different than others I had delivered in the past – it would be my first time teaching students how to tell a story Chautauqua style. I reviewed how I had come to this point as a storyteller:  

(1)  I began my studies about this art form by taking a class from a well-known and respected Chautauqua performer in Colorado, Susan Marie Frontczak (  

(2)  For years I made a point to watch other Chautauqua artists. 

(3)  I spent time researching the rich history of this performance art. 

(4)  I developed and successfully performed a Chautauqua as Dusty Vail, a woman recalling her experiences growing up on an Arizona cattle ranch in the early 1900s.  

As I started to outline my lesson plans for the residency, I made a point to keep the project overview in mind:  

“The Ash Creek Living History Project is collaboration between Ash Creek School, the local rural community, and storytelling resident artist Glenda Bonin. Students will investigate local history and bring it to life through storytelling. They will survey historical resources to gather stories, learn and practice theater skills directly related to the Arts Standards, and develop a culminating theatrical production open to the local Sunizona community, as well as surrounding rural communities in the Sulphur Springs Valley.” 

One of the best things about this residency was that the principal and teachers were actively interested in the success of the project. The only other time I had encountered so much support for the arts was at a large and well-funded private school in Las Vegas. It was refreshing to be at a rural school where the value of the arts in education was integrated into every area of learning.  

Before I arrived, the students had started learning about the history of Sulphur Springs, and some had made appointments to interview elders in the community and gather memories of early days in the valley. 

Once I saw what had already been accomplished, I started to work with the core group of students in grades 3-8 to create a script for a program that would be the showcase for their Chautauqua performances. 

When I met with each class, my lesson plans included: 
  • physical warm up exercise
  • a theater game to help the kids work on becoming a character
  • appreciations and suggestions
  • skill exercises to polish Chautauqua performances
  • a review of accomplishments to date
  • homework to prepare for the next meeting 

The students wrote the outline of the show which I typed it out (with intentional errors) for the class to correct and approve. At the same time, students began work on individual Chautauqua pieces to include in the final performance. 

It should come as no surprise that the story line they came up with included a Paleontologist, a time machine, dinosaurs, ancient people, Conquistadors, Apache warriors, homesteaders, miners and the early ranchers with current ties to the area. 

The younger students K-2 had several supporting parts: some had walk-ons as small dinosaurs or Spanish Conquistador guards, and others gave voice to desert animals (puppets) to introduce the show and bring the play to a satisfying conclusion.  

Since this is such a small student body some kids had several different parts in the show, and they seemed to relish the challenge. The community performance was very well attended and the play was proclaimed a success. An after-show dinner and celebration proved to be a good way for the community to show support and give the kids a chance to bask the achievement of a job well done with family, friends and neighbors.   

If given the opportunity to teach the art of the Chautauqua in a school setting again, I would take more time to help students develop stronger performance voices. In this residency, many wonderful things were accomplished, but to my dismay individual vocal projection fell short for some of the young performers.