The Federal Theatre Project
The Federal Theatre Project was the largest initiative of the United States Government to produce theater events for the American public. Created under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, the program was subsidized under the Relief Appropriations Act of 1935.
Piloted by Director Hallie Flanagan and comprised of 12,700 theatre professionals, The Federal Theatre reached over twenty-eight states in the nation. The original intention of the Federal Theatre Project was to provide work for unemployed actors, directors, playwrights, designers, and stage technicians during the Great Depression. However, the Federal Theatre also provided a vehicle for theatre artists to create works considered too precarious for the commercial theatre of the time.
The Federal Theatre introduced new and experimental theater productions such as the living newspaper, a minimalist theatrical form presenting factual information on current events to a popular audience. Additionally, the Federal Theatre Project funded a "Negro Unit" responsible for what would become some of the project's most popular productions such as the all-African American production of Shakespeare's Macbeth.
In addition to experimental theatre, the Federal Theatre Project created touring companies providing theatre for young audiences, teaching of theatre techniques, and large scale popular musicals such as Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. These companies toured the nation bringing theatre to regions that would otherwise remain devoid of professional theatre experiences.
Though popular with American theatergoers, by 1938 the Federal Theatre Project was mired in controversy. Reports by the House Committee on Un-American Activity stated that productions produced by the project were communistic and a detriment to the security of the nation. In 1939, Congress voted against further funding for the project and ended what is considered one of the most electrifying periods in American Theatre History.
The Federal Theatre Project: A Pathfinder