Ted Kachel has been performing with the Oklahoma Chautauqua scholars since their first series of performances in 1992.
This year, Kachel will be doing something rare for Chautauqua — playing someone he’s actually met.
Kachel will portray Timothy Leary, a key figure in the popularization of hallucinogenic drugs in the 1960s. The theme for this year’s Chautauqua Festival is “Surviving the Sixties: Sex, Drugs and Rock &Roll,” and to Kachel, Leary is a key figure not just in the “drugs” portion of theme, but in the whole culture of the decade.
“Arguably, ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll’ would not have happened at all without the widespread use of psychedelic drugs among the young, and that wouldn’t have happened without Dr. Timothy Leary,” Kachel said.
Kachel received a doctorate in Religious Studies and Social Movements from Columbia University in 1969. His thesis focused on psychedelic drugs and religious movements, and while Leary was not the center of the thesis, he was one of the figures Kachel interviewed for it.
“Meeting him of course has influenced my portrayal somewhat,” Kachel said. “But as an academic, I also pull a lot from archival material and accounts of him.”
Kachel has played a wide range of roles at past Chautauqua festivals, including Civil War generals on both sides, and contrarian architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He said he’s attracted to morally grey historical figures.
“I gravitate toward figures that might be called controversial,” Kachel said. “I find that in humanizing them, I can teach something about human nature and human beings as a whole.”