The Federal Theatre Project
December 18, 2002 1:58 AM   Subscribe

The Federal Theatre Project Collection. "The Federal Theatre Project was the largest and most ambitious effort mounted by the Federal Government to organize and produce theater events. It was an effort of the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide work for unemployed professionals in the theater during the Great Depression which followed the stock market crash of October 1929." Arguably the high water mark in the history of live theatre in America, The Federal Theatre Project was a program introduced as part of The New Deal. The production archives for three of the major productions (two by Orsen Welles) are of particular interest. The success of Tim Robbins' The Cradle Will Rock may have influenced other's perceptions about the importance of Mark Blitzstein's lackluster (but controversial) play of the same title.
posted by Joey Michaels (6 comments total)
Thanks for this post. The Federal Works Administration was an interesting concept: pay people to do what they are trained to do. The Theatre Project helped develop an entire generation of directors, playwrights, designers and performers - who went on to bring an aesthetic to professional (then Broadway) theatre that is sorely lacking currently. Methodology and theories from this program are still taught and utilized today.
posted by ao4047 at 4:59 AM on December 18, 2002

Great Post!

The Federal Theatre Project was an interesting yet FLAWED concept. Many works by great authors and artists were cancelled for poor reasons. Cradle Will Rock is the most well known in recent history, due to the Robbins movie. Two anti-fascist Sinclair Lewis plays (Ethiopia and It Can't Happen Here) were cancelled so as to not offend Italy. And, of course, the Diego Riviera Mural in Rockefeller's building. And....
posted by valval22 at 6:12 AM on December 18, 2002

[This is good]
Of particular interest is Revolt of the Beavers, in some ways the beginning of the end for the Federal Theater Project. It's actually quite a cute read if you get a chance to peruse the script.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:26 AM on December 18, 2002

Great post! I wrote my college thesis on the various arts-related "projects" under the WPA. Flawed, most definitely; ironic as well. A guiding idea of the WPA was to head off left-wing agitation, and yet many, many of the people involved in the projects were extremely progressive artists who saw the program as a way of getting their politics (which they saw inextricable from their art) into the public. Hallie Flanagan, who is featured in the film "Cradle Will Rock," was a major proponent of this view, but she was stonewalled, and eventually taken down, by administrators who saw art as a tool of national policy. Funding art for arts' sake, versus funding art for policy goals - it's a persistent theme in public arts programs, the same debate the dominates the NEA today. /nostalgic wanking for college days
posted by risenc at 7:47 AM on December 18, 2002

My Favorite.
posted by kablam at 3:10 PM on December 18, 2002

valval22: "The Federal Theatre Project was an interesting yet FLAWED concept."

I tend to agree with this sentiment, but would love to hear you elaborate a bit on why you feel the project was flawed.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:59 PM on December 18, 2002

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