Living Newspaper

Definition

Theater

  • A form of didactic documentary theater that arosein America in the 1930s. Living Newspaper productions would usuallydefine a social problem in a series of short scenes and then callfor specific action; the tone was often satirical.

    The Federal Theatre Project, devised by the Rooseveltadministration to create employment during the Depression, becameparticularly closely associated with the form. The Project's New Yorkunit, composed of unemployed theater personnel and newspaper workers,produced six Living Newspapers. The first, Elmer Rice's Ethiopia,about Italy's invasion of that country, was cancelled before the openingnight following pressure from the US State Department. Subsequentpresentations, staged by such eminent directors as Joseph Losey, dealt withpoverty, housing, health care, and civil rights amongst other national issues.The most successful pieces were those written by Arthur Arent; hisTriple-A Plowed Under (1936) encouraged farmers and consumers to uniteagainst low salaries and food profiteering, Power (1937) advocatednationalization of the electrical power industry, while One-Third of a Nation(1938) called for low-cost public housing.

    Several other Federal Theatre companies wrote Living Newspaperstackling local problems, though few were actually produced. The contentiousopinions expressed in Living Newspaper productions led to numerouscomplaints, and this contributed to the government's closure of theFederal Theatre Project in 1939. However, the documentary techniquesemployed by the Living Newspapers continued to influence theatricalcompanies during and after World War II. Even the British army madeuse of the technique to keep troops up-to-date with political issuesand conditions at home.

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