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What Is The Federal Theatre Project

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Rachael Rice


What Was The Federal Theatre Project?????

Throughout the late 1920's an important theatrical movement developed: The Workers' Theatre Movement. In the end, it diminished around the middle of the 1930's, and one of the developments aiding the decline of the Workers' Theatre Movement, was the creation of the Federal Theatre Project. The Federal Theatre Project was the largest and most motivated effort mounted by the Federal Government to organize and produce theater events. Once the government took on the duty of putting people to work, it was able to consider the movement. The Federal Theatre Project's purpose was "to provide relief work for theatrical artists that utilized their talents and to make their work widely available to ordinary Americans, thus democratizing high culture." ( Furthermore the FTP tried to present theatre that was relevant socially, politically, and had popular prices, such as free shows. The majority of its famous productions, although not all of them, came out of New York City. New York had many units, such as, a classical unit, Negro unit, units performing vaudeville, children's plays, puppet shows, caravan productions, and the new plays unit. The Federal Theatre Project was "the only fully government-sponsored theatre ever in the United States". (Witham 16)

During the late 1920s, in October 1929, the stock market crashed which led to the Great Depression. By winter 1930 through 1931, four million people were unemployed; by March 1931, eight million. By the year 1932, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected, the national income was half that of 1929; there were twelve million unemployed, moreover, there were one of four. Within two weeks of his inauguration, in the year 1933, FDR reopened three-fourths of the Federal Reserve Banks and tried to save the economy. Many called Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration "the Alphabetical Administration; it was often ridiculed because it seemed to have so many different organizations designated by different groups of letters." (Witham 48) For example, the C. C. C., the Civilian Conservation Corps, started in the year 1933 and found jobs for over 250,000 men. The Federal Emergency Relief Act, or F. E. R. A., started in the year 1933, led by Harry Hopkins put $500 million back into circulation. By the year 1933 the economy had recovered a little, but reforms quickened the recovery even faster. One of those reforms was an organization called the W.P.A.

The W. P. A., or Works Progress Administration, was started in the year 1935 to provide jobs for unemployed people in their areas of skill. Harry Hopkins headed this reform as well. There were four art projects developed

for white-collar workers: Music, Writers, and Theatre and Art. The four art projects spent less than 3/4 of 1 percent of the total WPA budget, but were blamed and accused for being un-democratic and inefficient. The FTP was "the most controversial and short-lived of the Works Progress Administration art projects." ( With its first production in the year 1936, The Federal Theatre Project remained in existence until the year 1939. It employed nearly 10,000 people per year on average; up to 12,000 people at it's highest. The Federal Theatre Project provided 1200 productions as a minimum of 850 main works and of 309 innovative plays (29 new musicals) to an audience estimated at 25 million people in 40 states. It also "employed actors, playwrights, directors, producers, composers, and technicians, including notables as Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, John Huston, E. G. Marshall, and John Houseman." (Manning) The FTP gave many Americans their first opportunity to attend live theater performances. It sent companies on tour to smaller cities and also gave shows for younger audiences.

Harry Hopkins did not want just a relief development, though it was important. He then turned to Hallie Flanagan who was well educated in the study of Art. Hopkins hired Flanagan to be the head of the Federal Theatre Project, which was separated into five different areas: New York City, the East, the South, the Midwest, and the West. Flanagan was well influenced by

European theatre, German Theatre and, American workers' theatre. The Federal Theatre Project soon had units in Florida, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and many others all around the United States, and eventually grossed over two million.

In spite of all of its benefits, the FTP was "plagued by censorship, political problems, and inefficiency The trouble began to appear roughly



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