In 1946, Washington, DC was on the precipice of a Civil Rights movement. One of the first tests of the city’s shifting beliefs came with the opening of the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium and its use for commercial theater performances. The first play put on at the theater, Joan of Lorraine, turned out to be a experiment in the continuance of race-based discrimination policies. Was the swift public backlash to the segregation enforced by GW enough to tear down the artificial barriers between black and white Washingtonians at Lisner?
As Washingtonians and Marylanders began to recover from the hardships of the Great Depression, movies and local theater were a great way to find some escape. In the late 1930s, outdoor theaters were beginning to spring up on the outskirts of the District, where they were especially popular in the summertime. Most of the new playhouses, though, were in Northern Virginia. Maryland lacked options... until organizers of a new theater project in Olney called in a favor from Ethel Barrymore.