Elevator Repair Service

Elevator Repair Service: Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge [SOLD OUT]

Thursday, February 24, 2022 at 7:00pm
CFA Theater

FREE! Reservations required. For Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff.

Friday, February 25, 2022 at 7:00pm
CFA Theater

FREE! Reservations required. For Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff.

Conceived by Greig Sargeant with Elevator Repair Service
Directed by John Collins

“Visceral and immediate and contemporarily relevant...it’s a testament to live, in-person theater that the artform can imbue widely available texts with such unusual and distinctive power...[The play] transforms an historical record into a living experience.”
phindie (Philadelphia)

In February 1965, writers James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Jr. were invited to the Cambridge University Union in England to debate the proposition “The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” Actors Greig Sargeant and Ben Jalosa Williams of Elevator Repair Service perform a verbatim staging of the provocative and profoundly insightful confrontation between one of the most powerful figures of the Civil Rights Movement and the father of 20th century patrician conservatism. Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge, which will receive its New England premiere at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts, presents the debate not as a historical relic but with both 1965 and 2022 in mind, inviting a reckoning with the contemporary resonances of Baldwin and Buckley’s arguments as well as the power of debate to illuminate truth and point towards justice. The ensemble performing at Wesleyan also features Daphne Gaines, Gavin Price, and Christopher-Rashee Stevenson. A post-show discussion after each performance will be moderated by Wesleyan’s Assistant Professor of African American Studies Garry Bertholf.

Read "New Play Reflects on the Ongoing Effect of Racism on the American Dream" from The Wesleyan Connection. 

Based in New York, Elevator Repair Service has a rich history of adapting unconventional texts for performance (including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the U.S. Supreme Court case Barnes v. Glen Theatre Inc., and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury). Sargeant and Williams performed short excerpts from the show, and spoke with director and company founder John Collins about the development and process of creating the work in progress in A Conversation about History and Process in March 2021.

“In January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters around the world, I saw an early open rehearsal of a new work by renowned theater company Elevator Repair Service...[Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge] was a performance filled with emotion, expression, desire, and an impassioned assertion of civil rights that I felt was important for our Wesleyan students and community to experience.” Read more from Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theater Fiona Coffey on the Center for the Arts blog.



Below are some dramaturgical materials created in partnership by Wesleyan librarian, Amanda Nelson, and Williams College librarian, Hale Polebaum-Freeman, along with Elevator Repair Service’s dramaturg, Aaron Landsman, in anticipation of the Wesleyan performances of Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge in the CFA Theater. The links below provide selected quotations from the original debate along with cast members’ interpretations and reactions, a powerful and very personal video of the cast discussing how the show has impacted their lives, and additional research and bibliographic materials.

Link to contextual materials and bibliography.
Link to video of the cast talking about the show.
See also above embedded video of A Conversation about History and Process in March 2021, hosted by the Center for the Arts.
View the video recording from the Virtual Panel Discussion: The Fire This Time—How the Baldwin/Buckley Debate Can Energize Our Politics here: 



Virtual Panel Discussion: The Fire This Time—How the Baldwin/Buckley Debate Can Energize Our Politics
Wednesday, February 16, 2022 at 7:30pm

This virtual panel discussion will feature Wesleyan University Assistant Professor of African American Studies Garry Bertholf and Linfield University Professor Nicholas Buccola, author of The Fire is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America (Princeton University Press, 2019). Their conversation will help provide historical and political context in advance of the New England premiere performances of Elevator Repair Service’s staging of the 1965 debate at Wesleyan.

Images above by Maria Baranova.
Thumbnail image by Johanna Austin.