DANVILLE – Danville Area Community College theater instructor Glenda Boling had to rethink the way she would direct a presentation of a Lincoln-Douglas debate.
The presentation at 7 p.m. today and Saturday is sponsored by the Vermilion County Museum through an Illinois Arts Council grant and written by museum society president Don Richter as part of the "Celebrating Lincoln" series of events.
"By our third practice, I knew I had to work with the actors on an individual basis," Boling said. "When the actors have a lot of lines, they really have to break it down, so the audience can digest what it's hearing and this presentation is all about who the men were."
Boling is pleased with Richter's script that combines direct quotes from the debates published by Abraham Lincoln, information taken from the Vermilion County Press and Paris Beacon newspapers of the time and first-person accounts by friends of Lincoln who often traveled with him when he was speaking.
"The script is audience-friendly and historically accurate," Boling said.
The actors are enjoying their roles and feel they are learning as they go about the politics of the time.
Sue Richter, Don Richter's wife and director of the Vermilion County Museum, said the script pulled out the specific issues, which were then correlated with the other information.
"The debates were all these contrasts – the perceived hayseed and the educated man; the tall, lanky, laid-back Lincoln and the short, fiery Douglas; popular sovereignty versus elimination of slavery," she said.
The five main roles include: Joe Lewis, a graduate of Oakwood High School, as Lincoln; Aaron Martin, Covington High School, as Stephen A. Douglas; Patrick Goodwin, Schlarman High School, as the moderator, Oliver Davis; Trenton Lyons, Jamaica High School, as Dr. William Fithian, who introduces Lincoln; and Nick Fries, Schlarman, as John Pearson, who introduces Douglas.
"I think Douglas was an arrogant man whose philosophy was my way or the highway," Goodwin said.
Fries found it interesting that the debates were more physical.
"Everyone wasn't so easy going. They'd shove each other and poke fun at the other candidate," he said.
Lewis and Martin are sporting beards for their characters and growing into their personas as well.
"I have some big shoes to fill," Lewis said of his role as Lincoln. "He's a hero. It's great to be able to portray him and see him as he was."
Lewis has mastered a slow Southern drawl and will make his voice higher to mimic descriptions of Lincoln's manner of speech.
"The script sounds pretty much as we would speak today except for some of the more unusual metaphors," Lewis said. "I really enjoy when we get deep into the debate and get angry. Sometimes people would actually get into a fight."
"It was really a debate," Martin said. "They would cut off the moderator, as he tried to ask the questions, just to respond, and they were able to interject."
"It was just more real," Lewis added. "We're doing the debate the way debates should be, where you can see who these people are."
"Today ... they maintain this persona," he said. "In this, you really get to see Lincoln is an awkward person, though he does get angry and gets his opinions across. It emphasizes the point that the political system today is a show. Back then, they meant what they said. They were arguing for what they believed in."
Martin added. "I think the reason people don't vote is because they think it won't make a difference. The electoral college is going to decide who's president."
"Some people don't realize that when Lincoln became president he chose some of his most adamant opponents for his advisers," Sue Richter said. "He valued their opinion and wanted all sides of an issue to be heard."
She also believes people were more informed then, than they are today.
"We have all this technology, but most people don't have any firsthand knowledge of the people," she said. "People would travel for days to see the debates. They spent their time and their money because who represented them was deeply important. How many people do you know who went to either one of the national conventions or would drive someplace to hear the candidates in person, to see them in action?"
The presentation will also feature the "hoop skirt movement," a group of female students who will circulate among the audience members prior to the presentation, staying in time period and bringing up the issues, from a local's perspective, that will be debated.
"It's hard to stay in that kind of character," Boling said, "but they're going to try."
The Danville Glee Club (Four on the Floor barbershop quartet) will provide musical entertainment.
If you go
What: Lincoln-Douglas debate
When: 7 p.m. today and Saturday at the Bremer Conference and Workforce Development Center, Danville Area Community College, 2000 E. Main St.
Admission: Free, but is seating limited. Reservations are encouraged through the Vermilion County Museum, 442-2922.