Historic debates come to life in Blue Bridge series

Blue Bridge Theatre has entered new territory with The Great Debate Series, a presentation of live readings of historical debates with actors playing the roles of key characters.

According to artistic director Brian Richmond, the Blue Bridge series is the first he knows of to spotlight historical debates in this fashion. “This form of theatre isn’t practiced a lot these days. A lot of television specials dedicate themselves to it, but the correlation to theatre is not often made. This is new that way.”

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Richmond said he “binge-watched debates all summer” in preparation, before settling on three he felt would both entertain and provoke.

Has the American Dream Been Achieved at the Expense of the American Negro?, a 1965 debate between novelist James Baldwin and conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr., got the series underway Oct. 22.

The second installment, Is There An Afterlife?, a 2011 discussion featuring rabbis David Wolpe and Bradley Shavit Artson and authors Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, is set for tonight at The Roxy Theatre.

Both in-person and online tickets are available for the remaining entries in the series, which concludes Feb. 11 with Are Men Obsolete?, a debate from 2014 that includes noted academic Camille Paglia and journalists Maureen Dowd, Caitlin Moran and Hanna Roisin.

Richmond is happy he was able to put the debates into The Roxy, under COVID-19 protocols, since spirited exchanges are best enjoyed in person. The performance will be kept to roughly an hour, in order to allow for a 30-minute question-and-answer period following the performance.

That’s something social media cannot provide, Richmond said. “Audience feedback is more or less the point of the series. We tried to choose debates which had correspondence to concerns that we have today. I was becoming very concerned that the idea of discourse in our society has diminished so much that we seem to be in very opposing, polarized camps when it comes to all issues.”

Victoria actors Keith Dinicol (as Hitchens), Jacob Richmond (as Harris), Paul Fauteux (as Wolpe) and Brian Linds (as Artson) will lend dramatic flair to the event, reading verbatim the transcript of the actual debate.

Richmond, who is directing and playing the role of journalist Robert Eshman, who moderated the original debate, has asked University of Victoria theatre professor Jennifer Wise to host the evening and provide a framework for the post-performance discussion.

The idea for the series came from the Baldwin-Buckley Jr. debate, a topic that’s still hotly debated — perhaps now more than ever.

Richmond questioned whether that debate could even happen today. “I thought it was amazing that two people from very, very different political perspectives could speak so civilly to each other.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

What: The Great Debate Series
Where: The Roxy Theatre, 2657 Quadra St.
When: Thursday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $12.50-$15 from bluebridgetheatre.ca or 250-382-3370

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