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I have had a longtime personal connection with “Inherit the Wind.” In 1973, when I was director of the State Department’s Cultural Presentations Program, we selected Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s work — and Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” — to be the first American dramas ever performed in what was then the Soviet Union. Sending American performing arts groups to the Soviet Union under the official Cultural Exchange Program was usually a hassle. First, Soviet acceptance of the American presentation had to be won. The head of the Soviet arts bureau in Moscow would come to the United States several times a year to look over the work of performing groups that we were considering, and unsmiling Vladimir Golovin could be a very difficult cookie. Once Soviet acceptance was gained, the details of a joint contract had to be negotiated. How many performances? In which cities? In which halls? Related logistical requirements also had to be ironed out, including our insistence that the Soviets meet the food needs of the American performers and provide suitable hotel arrangements. These last two considerations often caused problems. One famous American musician once threatened to break off his tour and return home immediately unless he received a supply of New York steaks. We had them sent from an American air base in Germany, and Duke calmed down and continued his tour. The Arena Stage’s tour of the U.S.S.R. was a relatively smooth operation. The Soviets were cooperative, exceeding expectations regarding food and hotels. They performed technical miracles. There were no major logistics problems. The best theaters were provided for the performances. Arguments over contract details were only occasionally heated. Arena Stage departed Washington on Sept. 30, 1973, for a two-week stint in Moscow and Leningrad. The traveling company consisted of 68 members, including actors, technicians, and administrative staff, plus 20 huge containers with the sets and costumes for both plays, and Sheila, an eight-year-old monkey in the cast of “Inherit the Wind.” Looking back, I believe there were several reasons for the improved Soviet attitude toward this tour. Our one year of joint planning minimized glitches. By October 1973, official United States-Soviet relations in the Cold War had warmed a bit. Another important factor was that the Soviets were familiar with “Inherit the Wind.” It had been translated into Russian many years earlier, although it had never been produced. The Soviet minister of culture at the time of the Arena tour, Madame Yekaterina Furtseva, told us she had admired the play for years. But what mattered most, I believe, was the Soviets’ innate love of theater. Their own actors and directors earned high respect and acclaim, and as the Arena Stage tour was to be the first American drama to come to the U.S.S.R., it generated man-on-the-street excitement. Every performance was sold out in advance. The Soviets had perceived of American theater as being made up of musical comedies and what they called sexual clownery. “Inherit the Wind” helped to dispel such notions. Hassles with the Soviets were merely bumps in the road. At the end of the day, the cheering audiences, the rave reviews in the Soviet press, the offstage rapport with the visiting Americans — all this made the experience worthwhile and satisfying. On her return to Washington, Zelda Fichandler, the Arena’s artistic director and director of “Inherit the Wind,” summed up the trip cogently, “If we did not transcend politics, we circumvented or cut through it.” That’s what cultural diplomacy is all about.

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