It’s Washington in 1967, and the District’s old reputation as a sleepy, southern city is being squashed by the feet of Vietnam War protesters and the voices of Washingtonians calling for racial equality. That same year, local theatre Arena Stage announced that, on December 12, it would be putting on the world premiere of Howard Sackler’s play, The Great White Hope. At the time of its production, the play was completely unknown. No one would have imagined that 50 years later, the production of the now-Tony-winning show would go down in history as one of the most influential moments in shaping the political and cultural landscape of Washington in the 1960s.
In the middle of the Cold War, the United States and the U.S.S.R. managed to find one thing they could agree on: culture. In 1958, the two countries reached an agreement which allowed each to send students, scientists, and performers to the other country to exchange new ideas and technologies. The initial agreement, made during the space race and just a few years before the Cuban Missile Crisis, would eventually facilitate an exchange of 1,700 individuals. Arena Stage became a part of that exchange in 1973 when they traveled to Moscow and Leningrad.