Since its inception in the 1920s, Muskoka Chautauqua has been a celebration of two things: creativity, and place.
That tradition will continue this summer, when the festival returns to the scenic village of Windermere for ten days of workshops, shows, displays, and concerts from August 5 – 14.
“Chautauqua is about creating and enjoying art and doing it while being fully immersed in a sense of place,” says Gayle Dempsey, who is co-director of the festival with Gary Froude.
“It’s a way of using art to capture the terroir of Muskoka,” adds Gary.
The festival offers a blend of creative talent and some of Windermere’s charming and historic locations. The wooden Anglican church will host soprano Jennifer Tung as well as Bill Colgate’s play, Shakespeare: A Rare Vision; there will be morning yoga sessions on the village dock; the century-old village hall will be converted into a book store and heritage centre; painters will lead plein-air and nature journaling sessions around lily pad-fringed ponds, waterfalls, and lakeside landscapes.
The festival is also working closely with the Windermere Heritage committee to highlight the village’s unique history. Visitors are encouraged to park their car or boat and wander through the village to the various events.
The heart of the festival takes place on a private cottage property, where a stage and tent will be set up on the tennis court, with strings of lights festooned through the trees.
Performances at the “Theatre in the Woods” will include blues and folk with veteran musicians Beverley Robertson and Po Cholley, literary panel discussions and readings, a performance by singer-songwriter Leah Leslie, screenings from the Hot Docs festival, and much more.
One of the highlights will be a performance by the Toronto All-Star Big Band. “This is their 23rd consecutive year with us,” says Gayle. “Even in the pandemic, when we streamed the entire festival, they took part.”
The Ontario Trillium Foundation is supporting the festival’s digital initiatives and shift to outdoor programing, and the Township of Muskoka Lakes and Canadian Heritage are helping to fund local artists as well as allow the festival to offer “pay what you wish” tickets. Supporters can also bid online for commemorative pennants painted by local and visiting artists.
“Chautauqua is a chance for visitors to take part in some amazing cultural tourism,” says Gary, “to create and to celebrate creators, to share this glorious place with others, and to learn more about it in a fun and exciting way.”