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The Federal Theatre Project
Transcript of The Federal Theatre Project
Works Progress Administration (WPA)
In 1935, during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the WPA, which provided government subsidized agencies to put the unemployed back to work. One of these agencies was the Federal Theatre Project.
One of the most popular forms developed by the project was the Living Newspaper-dramatizations of current events, such as bread lines and rising employment.
Hallie Flanagan Davis, a college professor, was head of the Federal Theatre Project. The goal of the organization was to support theatrical ventures throughout the United States and help revitalize interest in theatre outside New York City.
Stage productions fell into the following categories, some of which overlapped: new plays, classical plays, modern formal plays, stock plays, children's plays, vaudeville,dance productions and puppet and marionette plays... basically- everything.
So what did the Federal Theatre Project Produce?
Between 1935 and 1939 over
Americans attended WPA Federal Theatre Project Presentations.
In 1935, over
6.7 million dollars
was allotted to theatre! With this commitment of funding, representatives of the Federal Theatre director throughout the country, set up classification boards, auditioned theatre personnel and started theater groups, in cooperation with local Works Progress Administration offices and with the United States Employment Service.
Because the government provided the money, they felt the need to hire actors and technicians and even create boards that told them what they could produce.
Government Money = Government Control
Federal Theatre Project productions were branded as propaganda for Communism. Flanagan responded that they were in fact propaganda for democracy since they utilized constitutional freedoms to point out America’s most pressing problems.
The Beginning of the END
In May 1938, Congress convened the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The committee targeted for investigation first the Works Progress Administration (WPA) overall, and soon the Federal Theatre Project specifically. Hallie Flanagan’s character and motives were attacked both by the Dies committee and by disgruntled Project members called as witnesses.
In 1939, the Federal Theatre Project was ended by Congress.
The FTP also created a new generation of African American theatre artists. The project formed seperate black units in 22 cities and employed thousands of African American actors, dancers, technitions writers, and scholars. Some of these African American Companies produced the most innovative and controversial theatre.
African American Theatre
Today, the arts are reciving less and less money from the government due to budget cutbacks.
While other countries participate in national theatre programs today, we are not likely to see something like the Federal Theatre Project reinstated in The United States.