Federal Theatre Project

Definition

Theater

  • (FTP) The US government scheme that created work for more than10,000 out-of-work actors, directors, playwrights, designers, stagehands, musicians, and others during the Great Depression. The Projectproduced more than 1000 amateur and professional plays, as well asoperas, ballets, and puppet shows, plays for children, ethnic works,pageants, and vaudeville performances; all tickets were either freeor low-priced.

    The FTP began in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt's NewDeal within the framework of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).Hallie Flanagan (1890 - 1969), director of the Experimental Theatreat Vassar College, was appointed the director and worked through regionalassistants operating theaters in 40 states. She quickly made the FTPa pioneer of socially relevant drama and encouraged both new playsand experimental revivals. Orson Welles and John Housemanproduced an all-Black Macbeth in 1936, a Black company presentedSwing Mikado in 1939, and Sinclair Lewis and John Moffitt'sIt Can't Happen Here (1939) received its premiere simultaneouslyin 21 cities.

    The most controversial arm of the FTP was the Living Newspaper,a form of documentary theater blending political satire and historicalfact. Largely owing to the Living Newspaper, Flanagan was accusedof being a communist, and increased political pressure forced theFTP to close abruptly in 1939.

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