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Theater presents interpretation of Founding Fathers debate in Farmington

Program engages audience, highlights need for rational debate
Peyton Dixon (left) and Steve Edenbo performing as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson respectively. (Courtesy photo)

Historical reenactment performers will take the stage as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in a unique debate-style program titled “We Disagreed as Rational Friends.”

The program, sponsored by Farmington Rio del Sol Kiwanis club, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 13, at Farmington Civic Center.

Playing the two Founding Fathers will be Peyton Dixon and Steve Edenbo, members of the Philadelphia-based not-for-profit organization American Historical Theatre.

John Adams, the second president of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson, the third president, are well known to have been feuding friends who disagreed on having a strong central government versus protecting states' rights, respectively.

Their relationship began in 1775 and ended July 4, 1826, when both ex-presidents died within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Declaration of Independence.

Edenbo said in an interview that Adams and Jefferson’s story has become a powerful example of civil disagreement in society.

The program aims to remind people that respectful, rational disagreement is possible in today’s world. Edenbo said “the person who disagrees with you in politics is not your enemy, and is not the enemy of America” and debate should be predicated on respect and the presentation of documentable facts.

The program is not only educational, but designed to engage with the audience and encourage attendees to think and challenge the performers.

Edenbo said the program being performed in Farmington is a fairly new format he and Dixon developed during the pandemic. The original script they designed over a decade ago is still performed for college- and professional-level audiences, but this program is geared toward high school students and community members who may not have detailed knowledge of historical figures or the legal aspects of their debates.

Steve Edenbo has interpreted Thomas Jefferson at various historical and professional venues for 24 years. (Courtesy photo)

The format of the show is similar to a game show, Edenbo said, and is less scripted and more improvisational so he and Dixon can react and adapt to each particular audience.

The debate is organized into rounds, with each round having different requirements designed to keep the audience’s attention. Edenbo said there are descending time limits for each round and some rounds have requirements for answers to be given within a certain word count or in a single sentence as well.

Different requirements for the rounds keep it interesting for the performers as well as the audience. Edenbo said the later rounds, referred to as the Benjamin Franklin Lightning Rounds, limit responses to first 10 words and then five words, challenging the actors to be both concise and entertaining.

“You can say a lot in five words,” Edenbo said, referencing the line “All men are created equal” as an example of how powerful a few, carefully chosen words can be.

Peyton Dixon has been performing with American Historical Theatre since 2001. (Courtesy photo)

Because a goal of the program is to engage audience members, attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions of the performers between debate rounds. Edenbo said he hopes to be challenged by questions if audience doesn’t agree with something so respectful debate can continue with the audience as well.

A meet-and-greet will be held in the Civic Center foyer immediately after the debate to encourage additional discussion and interaction.

Dixon has been a part of American Historical Theatre since 2001. He has portrayed historic figures for the Republican National Convention, Independence National Historical Park and the National Archives, and has appeared in documentaries on A&E and PBS.

Edenbo has been a part of American Historical Theatre since 1999 and is a member of the organization’s board. He has performed at Monticello, the National Archives, The Smithsonian Institution and many other historical sites, and regularly performs at schools, colleges and legal and professional seminars across the country.

Edenbo previously performed in Farmington a little over a decade ago in a program featuring a debate between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and he said he is looking forward to returning.

Tickets for the show are $14 to $18 and are available online at www.fmtn.org/489/Civic-Center-Shows-and-Events.