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The Maryland Humanities Council will hold Chautauqua, a free and family-friendly performance series where actor-scholars perform as historical figures and interact with the audience, at 6:45 p.m. July 8 to 10 at the La Plata campus of the College of Southern Maryland, at 8730 Mitchell Road. Georgia O’Keeffe will be performed July 8, Emily Dickinson on July 9 and Frida Kahlo on July 10.

For two decades the Maryland Humanities Council has held Chautauqua — living history performances — around the state.

To celebrate the milestone, this year’s program will highlight the lives, careers and work of three influential women whose work continues to resonate with scholars and fans.

Held on the La Plata campus of the College of Southern Maryland, Kelley Rouse will bring the story of painter Georgia O’Keeffe on July 8. MiMi Zannino will portray poet Emily Dickinson on July 9, and Marian Licha will perform as painter Frida Kahlo on July 10.

“They knew, I believe, that what they were doing was going to be appreciated. They epitomized being ahead of their time,” Zannino said of the three women who will be featured. “They don’t appear to have been experiencing loneliness. They were in their glory, and when we read their poetry or look at their paintings, we feel electrified because they were electrified by creating.”

The humanities council started Chautauqua at Garrett in McHenry and it has spread to six other college campuses in Maryland.

The event combines history and performance “to present an interactive program that engages thousands of Marylanders in thoughtful dialogue,” according to a news release from the council.

Zannino, a longtime Chautauqua audience member and first-time performer, began to research Dickinson’s life about six years ago. A teacher for the past 25 years, Zannino also is a poet.

She acted as a child and in high school, but gave it up when real life called. “It was now or never,” she said of creating a play featuring Dickinson, a prolific poet and letter-writer who is known for being a recluse, an assumption that Zannino found wasn’t accurate.

“I discovered that this long-held opinion did not reflect who she was at all.” Zannino said. “My goal was to use her words in her personal letters to reveal the full spectrum of her personality. She doesn’t care about socializing. She’s not a social butterfly. She just wanted to spend her free time with a precious few. Also her ego didn’t need to be fed by acquaintances, but she valued the responses to letters from her correspondents and reminded them to write frequently.”

She guarded her poems and was known to become upset if an editor changed something to reflect the style of the time.

“She was devoted to her creation and not in public opinion,” Zannino said.

Licha, who will perform as Kahlo, said she was looking to write a one-woman show for years when a friend suggested she create something about the Mexico-born artist.

“She’s not only a woman but a woman who overcame,” said Licha, a Puerto Rico native who splits her time between New York and Washington, D.C. “Her work is universal and appeals to all cultures. She was ahead of her time.”

Rouse, a former news anchor in Salisbury who teaches at the university there, thinks O’Keeffe, like Dickinson and Kahlo, had a passion for her art that propelled her through life.

“They did something with their art, their writing that no one else has done,” Rouse said. “[O’Keeffe said] ‘I don’t want to be known as good woman artist, I want to be known as an artist.’

“She is just such an inspiration for anyone who is trying to combine an artistic life with a regular life. She broke into a man’s world,” she said. “She was doing art that no one else had ever seen before.”

The three share the trait of being trail blazers.

“They all certainly have a strong sense of self, and they were all passionate,” Licha said. “All three women contributed a body of work that is universal even though they were all different individuals.”

staylor@somdnews.com