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Presenting the Unknown "Lincoln-Douglass" Debate

The Unknown "Lincoln-Douglass" Debate, held February 18, 2014, in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium

The Unknown "Lincoln-Douglass" Debate, held February 18, 2014, in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Met Museum Presents

Even for talented and versatile actors like Norm Lewis and Stephen Lang, stepping into the roles of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln is a challenge, as both Lewis and Lang said in a 2014 NY1 Inside City Hall interview about this event. The process must have been an exciting one, however, because both actors are reprising their parts once again this Friday, February 13. In the Unknown "Lincoln-Douglass" Debate, historian Harold Holzer stages the debate that never actually happened by using correspondence that actually did. Lincoln and Douglass never publicly debated, but here, on the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium stage, they come together for an evening of powerful thought, words, and, of course, acting.

A hybrid program of performance and reading, this event is returning for its second year (last year's Unknown "Lincoln-Douglass" Debate is available to view on MetMedia). Norm Lewis, who will reprise his role as Douglass, recently starred on Broadway's Phantom of the Opera as the Phantom, and performed the role of Porgy in the 2012 run of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. He'll be joined by Stephen Lang (also a Tony-nominated actor himself), who has appeared on Broadway in The Speed of Darkness and was a lead character in the Oscar-winning film Avatar. This staged reading truly brings Douglass and Lincoln to life, although—as Holzer mentioned in the opening of his program last season—during their entire lives these two influential men only came face-to-face three times, four at the most.

Left: Alexander Gardner (American, 1821–1882) | Abraham Lincoln (detail), 1863, printed 1901 | 1976.627.1 | Right: Mathew B. Brady (American, 1823?–1896) | Frederick Douglass, ca. 1880 | 2005.100.754

Left: Alexander Gardner (American, 1821–1882). Abraham Lincoln (detail), 1863, printed 1901. Gelatin silver print; 45.7 x 38.1 cm (18 x 15 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1976 (1976.627.1). Right: Mathew B. Brady (American, 1823?–1896). Frederick Douglass, ca. 1880. Albumen silver print from glass negative; Image: 14.7 × 10.2 cm (5 13/16 × 4 in.) Mount: 16.5 × 10.8 cm (6 1/2 x 4 1/4 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005 (2005.100.754)

Visually driven as well, the event features images of these prominent figures throughout their lives, some images as iconic as those you see above, and others less familiar, like portraits of Douglass and Lincoln that show these profound thinkers in their younger days. The program also includes images that transport one to that time in history in order to more fully reveal some of the social and political climate.

Holzer, a leading scholar on Abraham Lincoln (which you can hear all about in his Connections episode, "Lincoln and the Civil War"), has been presenting programs about Lincoln at the Met for years. In addition to Lincoln: Seen and Heard and The Unknown "Lincoln-Douglass" Debate, Holzer also led the popular Ulysses S. Grant: Seen and Heard in 2003, which featured actor Richard Dreyfuss.

Unlike any other event in the city, this reading allows you to experience the actual words of Lincoln and Douglass in a new way, and tap into such a volatile time in American history. This is also an opportunity to experience these two incredible actors in an intimate space as they interpret two of history's most commanding figures.

Left: Norm Lewis. Right: Stephen Lang

Norm Lewis (left) and Stephen Lang (right). Photos courtesy of the artists

To purchase tickets to the Unknown "Lincoln-Douglass" Debate, or any other Met Museum Presents event, visit; call 212-570-3949; or stop by the Great Hall Box Office, open Monday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m.–3:30 p.m.

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