Radio 3 hosts Free Thinking Festival

Kevin Whately Kevin Whately stars in a drama about four people who carried the Olympic torch

Radio 3 hosts its seventh Free Thinking Festival at the Sage in Gateshead this weekend. For the first time, the event will be streamed live through the Radio 3 website, enabling those who can't make it to keep up with the issues provoking discussion and debate in the arts world.

The idea of the Festival, which attracts around 6,000 people, is to give a platform for what the network describes as innovative thinkers to examine the world through talks, interviews, debates, original drama, essays and performance.

'Them and Us'

This year's theme is 'Them and Us', an exploration of whether the world is becoming a more divided place. Although there will be talks on social inequality, the theme is not meant to be prescriptive.

"The Festival isn't like a conference where everyone attends to talk about a common theme," says Matthew Dodds, Head of Speech Programmes and Presentation at Radio 3. "We want contributors to interpret the theme themselves, because that results in the broadest and most thought-provoking ideas."

Start Quote

It opens people's minds to our output and shows an image of the BBC as being out and about”

End Quote Matthew Dodds Head of Speech Programmes and Presentation, Radio 3
Free thinkers welcome

Former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson will give the keynote speech (her topic is women in leadership), and contributors throughout the weekend include Philippa Gregory, Michael Igatieff, Antony Beevor, Amos Oz and Colm Toibin. BBC participants include Andrew Marr and Jeremy Bowen.

"Free Thinking is a great way of showcasing what Radio 3's about and getting the audience involved," Dodds tells Ariel. "It opens people's minds to our output and shows an image of the BBC as being out and about, talking to people about the issues of the day that affect us all."

Live programming from the Festival will culminate on Sunday evening with a new play called Torchbearers, written by Simon Armitage. The drama is about the lies and obsessions of four people who carried the Olympic flame, with the cast headed by Lewis and Inspector Morse star Kevin Whately.

Ranting and dating

Concourse events include 'Young Ranters' and 'Speed dating with a Thinker'. The former sees listeners in the lower age range of Radio 3's target audience expressing a particular passion to an assembled audience. The latter brings together academics and members of the public, who vote on a range of ideas they believe could make the world a better place.

"One year they voted in favour of everyone in the UK being required to give up one piece of technology," remembers Dodds. "And a more serious proposal was that the public take seats in the House of Lords in place of the Peers. They'd be summoned, in the same way as you are for jury service."

Radio 3's Festival begins this afternoon and finishes on Sunday November 4.

For more information about the festival, visit the Free Thinking website.

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