Blair A. Ruble
New Academia Publishing, 2021
372 pages, 6 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-7348659-8-1 paperback
See an excerpt from the book.

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About the Author

Blair A. Ruble is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He previously served as Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (1989-2012) as well as of the Center’s Comparative Urban Studies Program (1992-2014), was Director of Program on Global Sustainability and Resilience (2012-2014), the Center’s Vice President for Programs, and Director of the Urban Policy Laboratory (2014-2017). Among his numerous publications is the trilogy, Leningrad. Shaping a Soviet City (1990); Money Sings! The Changing Politics of Urban Space in Post-Soviet Yaroslavl (1995); and Second Metropolis: Pragmatic Pluralism in Gilded Age Chicago, Silver Age Moscow, and Meiji Osaka (2001). Other books include Creating Diversity Capital (2005); Soviet Trade Unions (2009); and Washington’s U Street: A Biography (2010). His most recent monograph, The Muse of Urban Delirium (2017), appeared with New Academia Publishing.


Washington, uniquely among American cities, has remained disenfranchised since its founding as a federal enclave. In the absence of an overarching political life, the very meaning of “local” became contested. Residents and communities seeking to establish their presence in the city—and, because of its capital status, the nation—confronted prohibitions against the sort of political action evident elsewhere throughout the country. For much of the twentieth century, the local life of the theater offered an alternative path to recognition as a step toward acceptance.

Energetic theater leaders representing various communities pursued social and artistic acceptance by proclaiming presence from Washington stages. This book recounts four such efforts: those of African American cognoscente to establish a national Negro theater; those of Roman Catholic clerics to nurture a theater for the nation reflecting their values; those of theater enthusiasts to demonstrate the power of regional theater in an American stage community preoccupied with Manhattan; and, those of community activists to assert the legitimacy of the disenfranchised to establish their own civic presence.

Together, these efforts fostered a theater scene by century’s end that would emerge as the second most attended in the country behind only New York. This industry, in turn, propelled an exploding cultural community that transformed a once sleepy, Southern, provincial town into a vibrant international arts center.


“Blair Ruble has done what no one else up until this point has,

constructed a comprehensive critical analysis of Washington, DC’s theater scene. He beautifully documents and assesses on multiple levels the origins and trajectories of Washington’s theater drama. Foremost, on center stage is race in America and in Washington.”

—Derek Hyra, Founding Director, Metropolitan Policy Center, American University


“For those who care about the history of the nation’s capital, or the history of theatre in America, this is likely to be an essential work. It is well-researched, full of both well-known and forgotten characters, and marshals an impressive array of detail from the archives… Ruble draws Howard University, Catholic University, Arena Stage, and the DC Black Rep together – specifically around questions of race and representation as these have manifested in a highly diverse capital city.  He outlines the story of each institution and situates it in a larger (and longer) historical and social context.”

—Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director Emeritus, Woolly Mammoth Theater, Washington, DC