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Debate: Baldwin vs. Buckley

Festival of the Future City

Bristol Old Vic

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Following a critically acclaimed run in New York City and London, the american vicarious’ radically staged production of the historic debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr. is reenacted at Bristol Old Vic.

“Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”

This was the topic on February 18, 1965 when an overflow crowd packed the Cambridge Union in Cambridge, England, to bear witness to a historic televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley Jr., a fierce critic of the movement and America’s most influential conservative intellectual.

The stage was set for an epic confrontation that pitted Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy. This historic clash reveals the deep roots and lasting legacy of racial conflict that continues to haunt America.

The objective of the american vicarious in restaging this historic debate is not to inhabit such monumental figures as James Baldwin or William F. Buckley, their shoes are too large to fill. Rather, our objective is to simply place their words, which still resonate 58 years later, within the voice of contemporary artists.

The performance will be introduced by author and playwright Caryl Phillips who will set the play in the context of the great changes in the 1960s in the US and the UK. Phillips will also join the actors in the discussion after the play. Caryl Phillips and writer Margaret Heffernan worked with James Baldwin on the radio programme A Kind of Home – James Baldwin in Paris in 1984. You can read Caryl Phillips on Baldwin’s return to America to immerse himself in the civil rights movement in 1957 here. Phillips new essay on Baldwin will appear in the New Yorker in 2024. This event for Bristol has been produced by Margaret Heffernan and Bristol Ideas.

Cast and Creative include:
Directed by Christopher McElroen
Produced by Erica Laird
Featuring: Teagle F. Bougere (Baldwin), Eric T. Miller (Buckley)
with Christopher Wareham (Haycock), Tom Kiteley (Burford)

This event is part of the Baldwin in Bristol series, which sees organisations around Bristol come together to celebrate the life and work of the great American writer.

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