Could you defend what you say you believe?
By Deborrah Adams
Could you defend what you say you believe? This is the sticking point behind Anthony Barwick’s Conversation Piece events. Barwick, who grew up in Dayton and graduated from Chaminade-Julienne High School, wrote a novel, as yet unpublished, titled Conversation Piece while living in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. In 2005 he started doing public readings of his manuscript to elicit feedback about his characters and the premise of his story. Instead Barwick says, “I was fascinated with reactions to the characters and what people think…(and) started having public ‘conversations’ (about similar topics).”
The result of those early experiments would become an increasingly popular form of public conversations both in terms of the numbers of individuals interested in participating and the locations interested in bringing these conversations to their area. Consolidating his ideas of open discussion under the logo of “The Conversation Piece – You Speak, We Listen, Everyone Reacts!” Barwick’s goals have been “to bring men and women together to discuss provocative subject matters under the three main topics: Social Issues, Political Issues, (and) Relationship Issues.”
At a Conversation Piece event “audience members are engaged with selected questions deliberately written to provoke reaction and spirited debates … to allow the participants to freely and openly speak their minds, and invoke thought and inclusion of differing opinions.” Barwick stresses however that “There are no right or wrong answers. Only that they can defend what they believe.” Some examples of topics discussed at previous events have been related to single parent households, choosing political candidates, elections, and so forth. He explained, “This is about enlightenment … exposure to a mix of ideas. All of the questions are relevant to today’s times and issues … [and] not intended to disrespect alternate lifestyles.”
Event audiences vary in make-up across gender, race and cultural lines. Barwick puts on both public events, which are the most diverse and open, and also specialty events for groups, such as women or men only or “in house” organizational events. However, he has found that these specialty events can come with hidden barriers to openness and frank discussion of certain controversial topics.
Venues are carefully selected and detailed for Conversation Piece events according to Barwick. Among the lessons he learned from the early events were those about the number of participants and the style of venues conducive to the type of participation desired. Low audience numbers -he prefers fewer than 50- as well as an engaging atmosphere shaped through the aesthetics of emotional images, lighting and so forth help to create openness. Also participants are welcomed with a red carpet and velvet ropes to guide them inside.
The facilitators are also an important component of a successful event. Barwick selects local facilitators, usually two who are experienced public speakers and comfortable engaging an audience, to moderate the actual discussion sessions and audience participation. He prefers to remain in the background during the discussion.
The event opens with a social time before the round one question and discussion. This is followed by a short break after which the audience reconvenes for the round two question and discussion. The round one question is usually a softer topic and a warm up to familiarize participants in the format and participation parameters as well as increasing familiarity with each other. The round two question topic tends to be more controversial and edgier. Afterward feedback is solicited about the topics, facilitators, future questions, and other ways to improve the experience.
Barwick brings an unconventional background that he feels has uniquely prepared him for this type of undertaking. Although he grew up in Dayton, he has lived in other parts of the country. In addition, he has held several jobs interacting with people dealing with life experiences such as being a licensed embalmer, a bartender, a military reservist, and working for the IRS. He also earned two bachelors’ and a master’s degree. Summarizing his qualifications he said, “I have dealt with different life issues; and how (other) people deal with those issues.”
The Conversation Piece event, slated for Saturday, Nov. 20, from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Color of Energy Gallery, 16 Brown St. will be the third Dayton area event; previous events were held in October and September. There is an admission donation of $10 per person and because of the space limitations reservations are being taken.
Information and reservations are available by calling Anthony Barwick at 682-230-1511 or by email at AnthonyBarwick@att.net or check out past events on the Conversation Piece page on Facebook at
Reach DCP freelance writer Deborrah Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.