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Federal Theatre, 1935-1939: Plays, Relief, and Politics

Federal Theatre, 1935-1939: Plays, Relief, and Politics

Copyright Date: 1967
Pages: 362
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Federal Theatre, 1935-1939: Plays, Relief, and Politics
    Book Description:

    The WPA Theatre Project-conceived as a relief measure, a work program, and an artistic experiment-enjoyed a brief but lively existence. With skill and sensitivity Mrs. Mathews explores its turbulent history from its ambiguous origins in 1935 to its tragic demise in 1939. The book recreate: the atmosphere of the era, and conveys a vivid sense of the Joys, frustrations, and personal sacrifices undergone by those dedicated few who recognized the need for an American People's Theatre.. Mrs. Mathews also provides a detailed account of the Congressional hearings which occasioned the disbanding of the. Project, and a fascinating portrait of Hallie Flanagan, the Projects colorful National Director.

    Originally published in 1971.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7217-6
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Chance of a Lifetime
    (pp. 3-43)

    In the harsh months between Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inaugural in March 1933, actors, stagehands, designers, and directors were only a few of the fifteen million unemployed Americans searching hopelessly for jobs that did not exist. To Harry Hopkins, these dejected men and women, standing in line for free meals at the Actors Dinner Club of New York or for packages of food and clothing from the Stage Relief Fund, were a source of real concern.¹ In the early days of the depression, when he and his colleagues from the New York Tuberculosis Association were...

  5. CHAPTER TWO A Theatre Is Born
    (pp. 44-88)

    With Hallie Flanagan’s challenging words still ringing in their ears, her new directors set out to build a “free, adult, uncensored theatre” in regional centers across the country. Some had founded theatres before, but none were prepared for the complications, frustrations, and sheer hard work involved in the unprecedented, uncharted task ahead. With no stages, no properties, no costumes, no plays, and no offices, they started quite literally from scratch. Understandably, Hallie Flanagan’s first instructions after the Washington conference concerned the most elementary matters: make “your first travel … a courtesy call” on the state WPA administrators and through them...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Relevant Theatre in a Bureaucratic Framework
    (pp. 89-140)

    In spite of the growing acceptance by public and press, the Federal Theatre Project was a none-too-secure foundation on which to build a national theatre. This was Hallie Flanagan’s goal, but neither devotion to the Project nor utter absorption in it obscured the dimensions of the job ahead. “Our most urgent task,” she told Federal Theatre workers, “is to make our theatre worthy of its audience. It is of no value whatever to stimulate theatre-going unless, once inside our doors, our audience sees something which has some vital connection with their own lives and their own immediate problems.”¹ To study...

    (pp. None)
  8. CHAPTER FOUR Regional Theatre in a Bureaucratic Framework
    (pp. 141-197)

    The Federal Theatre embarked on its third and perhaps most crucial season in the early autumn of 1937. For two years, Federal Theatre actors had given plays not only in city theatres, but in Catholic convents and Baptist churches, circus tents and university halls, police stations, showboats, and ccc camps. In the parks of New York City alone, two million youngsters and adults had gathered on the grass each summer to watch caravans of traveling players performJack and the Beanstalk, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Midsummer Night’s Dream, It Can’t Happen Here, John Howard Lawson’sProcessional, and Gilbert and Sullivan.¹...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Politics Versus Theatre: The Dies Committee Investigation
    (pp. 198-235)

    The autumn of 1938 saw Hallie Flanagan’s hopes for new sorties into the hinterland deferred and her troubles compounded by a long investigation of the Federal Theatre by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Committee, which consisted of one quasi-New Dealer, one dedicated New Dealer, two conservative Democrats, and two staunch Republicans, was headed by Martin Dies of Texas.¹ A large, powerfully built young man, Dies combined a Populist penchant for inflationary schemes with isolationism and extreme nationalism. Elected to Congress in 1931, he had wasted no time launching his campaign for immigration restrictions to prevent the United States...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Politics Versus Theatre: Congress Kills Pinocchio
    (pp. 236-295)

    The Dies Committee had concluded its investigations by the end of 1938. The Federal Theatre, restored by the press to its accustomed place in the theatrical section, was once again a subject for drama critics who were becoming increasingly respectful of federal plays and players. But officials of this beleaguered relief project could ill afford to bask in the warmth of critical favor. In order to survive, the Federal Theatre had to stretch its roots across the great American hinterland, sinking them deep into the soil of each region. However, in most areas the soil was never cultivated; the tours,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Art, Relief, and Politics: Conflicting Forces Examined
    (pp. 296-314)

    The brief story of the Federal Theatre was as dramatic as any play it staged. It would never have opened but for the economic crisis which thrust into power men who believed that the federal government had a responsibility to provide for its citizens. These men—the President and his Relief Administrator—knew that theatrical people as well as construction workers had lives and talents worth preserving; and they were determined to give the American people the benefit of that talent in a “free, adult, uncensored theatre.” The realization of this ambitious ideal was begun under the direction of a...

  12. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 315-332)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 333-342)