The Twelfth International Theatre Institute (ITI) World Congress met in New York City over 4–10 June 1967 at the same time as the Arab–Israeli War was taking place. This context very much framed the delegates’ debates over the idea of artists as national leaders. One panel in particular, The Responsibility of Theatre to the Progress of Society, on Friday 8 June, offered an opportunity for the delegates to wrestle with the concept. The participants focused on three key questions: how audiences were witnesses to national reinvention, how theatre could serve as a pedagogical form, and how the intersection of these two allowed audiences to see themselves as citizens. This article focuses first on ITI's place in the geopolitical moment and then on the contributions during the conference and after by a specific set of artists from diverse countries, including the US, India, France, Morocco and Nigeria. The conversations represented a profound articulation of how theatre was influencing the complex ways in which nations were identifying and defining themselves and their citizens.