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The Federal Theatre Project
Transcript of The Federal Theatre Project
Project Intro During the Great Depression, Congress issued the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act (E.R.A.A.) of 1935. Of the $4,800,000,000 dedicated to the E.R.A.A., $27,000,000 was set aside for Federal Project Number One, aka, the Four Arts Project. The Four Arts Project included the following categories: Art Writing Theatre FTP! This project is the only time in which the government was responsible for funding theatre nation-wide. In this, it has been hailed as being "the largest and most ambitious effort mounted by the Federal Government to organize and produce theatre events. The FTP made an effort to expose audiences to a wide selection of genres and types of theatre. As a result, different theatre companies would produce many different types of theatre including Children's Theatre, vaudeville, comedy, tragedy, musical drama, classical drama, modern drama, and socially controversial drama. It didn't stop there, though. The FTP went on to cover such programs and events as pageants, ballets, puppet shows, radio programs, and even shows in other languages. With theatre being funded by the government, it could now be taken to places where theatre didn't yet have a foothold or even places where it had never been seen. Despite its outreach, though, the FTP still focused most of its efforts in New York City. It has been said that theatre in this time was highly innovative. Many directors and playwrights took advantage of federal funding to experiment. In the 4 years that the FTP was operational, the way theatre was viewed and run was revolutionized. However, despite the many good things that came out of the FTP, it came to an end on June 30th 1939. Funding for the FTP was terminated based on the suspicion that the FTP had been infiltrated by Communists. It was a hard battle fought, but in the end congress won, arguing that "[The FTP] was... a luxury the depression-ridden country could not afford. America could not afford to support such lazy loafers as hungry actors and actresses. Let them build roads and parks, especially in the home states of those on the committee." Thus ended the Federal Theatre Project. Numbers According to a survey conducted at the start of the FTP, only 5% of school children in 25 of the largest cities in the U.S. had ever seen a live actor. In the course of its 4 year run, the FTP had hired at one time 13,000 people, gave 63,600 total performances of 1200 major productions, at least 850 of which were major works. Of that 850, 309 were new plays and 29 were new musicals. These productions were given for an audience estimated to be, in the end, about 30 million people in 40 states. 65% of the 30 million people that got to see a show produced by the FTP had never before seen a live actor. In 4 years, the FTP spent almost enough money to build a battle ship. The final cost came to $46,000,000. Faces of THE Project! Hallie Flanagan, director of the FTP Orson Welles, actor and director Playwrights Arthur Miller Lillian Hellman Tennessee Williams Susan Glaspell Eugene O'Neil Actors Katharine Hepburn Marlon Brando FTP from the Mouths of Others "...by opening night on April 14, 1936, anticipation had reached a fever pitch. At 6:30 p.m., 10,000 people stood as close as they could come to the Lafayette Theatre on Seventh Avenue near 131st Street, jamming the avenue for 10 blocks and halting northbound traffic for more than an hour."
-Wendy Smith And that was just to see Macbeth. Popularity of the Project Theatre for the First Time "Wauchula was the place where we played musical comedy And no one laughed. The director went out and said "What's the matter? Don't you like it? Why don't you laugh? Why don't you clap?" An old lady said "We'd like to laugh but we're afraid to interrupt the living actors It don't seem polite. We'd like to clap, but we don't know when. We don't at the pictures."
-Hallie Flanagan Theatre Changed “...it had created a new generation of audience who would wait with baited breath to witness the next great theatre...”
-Paul E. Harbison Critics on the Ballet A production of Carmen, choreographed by Page and Stone and starred in by them, was called by the New York critics "the greatest innovation in Carmen production ever seen." Exclusive: Voices from INSIDE the FTP! Arthur Miller says, "The Federal Theatre Project made it possible to do stuff in the theatre that was thrilling. It involved the community in the theatre. It involved society in the theatre. Instead of this peanut stand that we run here on five blocks on Broadway which makes multi-millionaires out of a handful of people we could have some kind of real engagement with society in the theatre . . . .” John Houseman says, "The miracle of the Federal Theatre lies precisely in this: that from the drab and painful relief project there sprang the liveliest, most innovative and most original theatre of its era.” Rosetta LeNoire says, "I was in ‘Macbeth.’ I played one of the witches. I also remember so many fights in the lobby about having people of black skin play Shakespeare’s shows. If it was a maid’s role, go ahead, but if it was something like that from the classics . . . .”
The End of Something Good "During June and July of 1939 theatres all over the country were again going dark, winding down Federal Theatre projects in city after city. On the final night of the Children's Theatre in New York City, when the last performance of Pinocchio ended, the children and parents in the audience swarmed on stage to help take down the sets with loving hands. There was not a dry eye in the house... ...It was the proper end to an era that may not come again, a time when there actually was a national theatre in this broad land, and children and even older children and parents could see and enjoy live actors in live theatres, and the players could eat with regularity and believe in make-believe."
-Don Farran FIN