Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Federal Theatre Project
The Federal Theatre Project (FTP) was a project to fund theater performances in the United States during the Great Depression. It was one of five Federal One projects sponsored by the New Deal's Works Projects Administration (WPA). The FTP's primary goal was employment of out-of-work theater artists. Entertaining poor families and creating relevant art were secondary goals of the project.
Established September 12, 1935 after a legislative and administrative prologue, the project existed until June 30, 1939 when its funding was canceled. Hallie Flanagan, a theater professor at Vassar, was chosen by WPA head Harry Hopkins to lead the FTP. She was given the daunting task of building a national theatre to employ thousands of unemployed artists in as little time as possible. Hopkins added to the difficulty of her job by promising the FTP would be "free, adult, and uncensored." In time, this statement would come to haunt Hopkins, Flanagan and the FTP as a whole.
In fact, problems with censorship started quickly, with the United States Department of State objecting to the FTP new play Ethiopia, about Haile Selassie and his nation's struggles against Benito Mussolini and invading Italians. The federal government soon mandated that the FTP, a government agency, could not depict foreign heads of state on the stage, for fear of diplomatic backlash. Ethiopia was a Living Newspaper , a new kind of theater devised by Flanagan and her creative team.
Living Newspapers were plays written by teams of researching, journalistic playwrights. These men and women clipped articles from newspapers about current events, often hot button issues like farm policy, syphilis testing, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and housing inequity. These newspaper clippings went on to become plays that taught audiences the history of subject and often advocated for a progressive solution. Triple-A Plowed Under, for instance, attacked the United States Supreme Court for killing an aid agency for farmers. Often the Living Newspapers sparked controversy, but they were also quite popular with audiences. As an art form, the Living Newspaper is perhaps the FTP's most enduring legacy.
The FTP's legacy is also in the generation of theater artists it fostered. Arthur Miller, Orson Welles, John Houseman, Elia Kazan, Marc Blitzstein, Arthur Arent and Abe Feder all became established, in part, through their work in the FTP. Blitzstein, Houseman and Welles collaborated on the controversial FTP production of The Cradle Will Rock.
It was the most expensive of the Federal One projects, consuming 29.1 percent of Federal One's budget.
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