Federal Theatre Project (OL80)

From the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, theatre artists for the first time created productions engaging social concerns. Not only did writers, directors, designers, actors, and choreographers want to be considered artists rather than mere entertainers, but they understood that theatre-as a uniquely powerful communication mode–could impact change in the larger community by addressing social ills on the stage. 

The Federal Theatre Project was not originally created with these goals in mind, but over the four years of its existence it became a place for playwrights to voice concerns they had about contemporary issues, such as labor, housing,  free speech, and voting rights. Read all sections and view images from all sections of this exhibit: The Show Must Go On.  Once you have completed your tour of the exhibit-working with your research partner-choose one section from the exhibit and summarize the contents in your own words. (3 sentences.) From here, view the Library of Congress’ exhibition on the Federal Theatre Project: FTP. Locate a poster of one of Sinclair Lewis’ productions of “It Can’t Happen Here” that is particularly striking (contains images that are symbolic and compelling). What is the message being conveyed by the poster? Start by describing the image in detail and then write two sentences interpreting it. It will help if you use the Wikipedia entry on the book/play in order to understand its premise. 

16 thoughts on “Federal Theatre Project (OL80)”

  1. Kimmar Mightly
    Joshua Cando

    Orson Welles recreate the story of Macbeth which was a performance at Lafayette theatre in 1936. He reimagines the whole play but bringing in the Haitian culture to the play. Welles change the costume design, people to African Americans, dances, and songs and set to help reflect the Caribbean culture. Because of this, it causes controversy because of how everything was portrayed to a segregated audience.
    The picture symbolizes an African American as a leader in Haiti during the time period. he is called the black Napoleon. This related back to play because base on the time period, there was or couldn’t be a black leader in the country of the united states.

  2. Aaron Arroyo
    Aiyanna Tumulac

    The section we will be summarizing is “Impact on African American Theatre”.

    The Negro Theatre Project (NTP) was a part of the Federal Theatre Project that started in 1935, and had locations established around the country. One of these locations, was in Harlem, in the Lafayette theatre. In this theatre, Orson Welles directed a version of Macbeth known as “Voodoo Macbeth”. In his work, Orson Welles created a synthesis of Shakespeare’s writing alongside Haitian mysticism and superstitious belief. This synthesis would prove to be extremely popular and controversial with the audiences that viewed it.

    It Can’t Happen Here Poster Summary


    (NOTE: We didn’t use the site that was supposed to be use because it was loading too slowly and would sometimes even crash, sorry for not exactly following the guidelines).

    In this poster, we see the United States of America, seemingly within the grip of a giant hand, while a Nazi-esque soldier gazes upon it, armed with a rifle. This can be interpreted as a Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip getting elected and becoming a dictator (the hand over America) and using his power to turn the government into a totalitarian dictatorship where no one can freely live if it is not with government approval (the nazi-esque character).

  3. Group: Christie Ndreu & Mannixs Paul Jr.

    A New Social Order (Summary)
    In the time period before the Great Depression started, policies passed down by the government were in favor of moral restrictions and rules. These policies started debates on what the definition of “art” in theatre should be recognized as. Due to these new perspectives, a new era of the theatre was born, as African Americans became primary entertainers in New York’s Broadway stages for a vas variety of audiences. Eugene O’Neil’s opening of “The Emperor Jones” in 1920 played a significant part in the theatre for this period.

    Poster: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200216094/
    This poster by Sinclair shows Adolf Hitler carrying a rifle while standing behind a map of the USA.
    The poster represents that, what Adolf Hitler did to the millions of Jewish people cannot happen here in the USA to the African American Community. That it seems that it could happen at any moment which shows in the poster as 19??, as if it’s impending, but the poster says “It Can’t Happen Here”.

  4. Group: Jonathan Vasquez
    George Esquea

    Summary: A Localized National Theater

    When reading this you have a complete understanding of exactly what the federal theater project enticed. We have understood that the federal theater project was an end to the country’s time of need to provide them with entertainment. This project was organized by the national service Bureau. They helped by translating plays, spreading research, and resources for small performances/projects. They helped do nationwide exchanges of plays. Plays like Swing Mikado, Haiti, and It can’t happen here. The largest play was it cannot happen here with over 22 nationwide performances. This also gave the opportunity to small vendors and regional hubs and have traveling caravan theaters. By the late 1930s, the federal theater project was nationwide and was helping the public and the theater industry be more aware of each other.

    Poster: https://www.loc.gov/resource/ihas.200216094.0?r=-1.106,0.028,3.212,1.443,0

    Description: In the image, we can see how a man is holding a gun while trying to protect a country. If we start thinking about it, the man in the picture looks exactly as Hitler (Nazi leader). The author created this poster to represent how the Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip is following the same path as Hitler by fomenting fear and trying to make the United States go back to their ‘traditional’ values to have control over slaves.

  5. Jasmine Mason
    Brian Anner

    Summary of Show Must Go On

    One of the units the FTP focused on was children’s plays and they encouraged teachers to perform them in a classroom. the plays included puppet shows due to the lack of funds and limited resources that they had during this time. When these plays began to bring up societal issues in the play “revolt of the beavers” that was about overthrowing wealthy oppressors.

    Summary of FTP, “It Can’t Happen Here”
    The poster of It Can’t Happen Here”, I noticed immediately the statue of liberty with the chalice she holds and its letting out a red flame. I read the premise and it immediately made me think about what is going on right now. In terms of a leader who rises to power, claiming populist views and making promises of creating a greater future only to become an authoritarian and oppressive leader as the days in office go on. As well as the rising movements on the left and right definitely echo today.

  6. Group name:
    Marcelo Fernandez
    Luke Hans

    The plays: Children’s Theater
    Summary: As far as the federal theater project the children’s theater was established in every major city. These theaters reinforced education in a entertainment way. However, there budget was limited so they turned to puppet shows. Even though it was meant for children’s it still managed to stir up controversy with its portrayal of social issues and attract a older audience.
    In the poster we have Hitler walking towards America. We determined it was Hitler because of his mustache. Along with that we have a hand reaching over America symbolizing fascisms. Within the poster we have the test “19??” symbolizing the year that it could possibly happen.

  7. Jacky Leung
    Elizabeth Chantes

    Federal Theater Project Passage:

    This project was part of the Roosevelts New Deal. The purpose of this is to put theater actors back to work by funding the performances. The goal of this is to show people the importance of theater and how valuable it is for education, and engaging in social issues.

    This poster is presenting Shakespeare’s play: Hamlet. In the poster, you can see Hamlet thinking and looking down at a skull that represents death. Possibly talking about the powerless and death of African Americans.

  8. Sheriff Safie
    Antonios Vandoulakis

    The Federal Theatre project was founded in 1935 as a method to improve the unemployment situation that existed because of the Great Depression. The project established itself as a national theatre program. The initial goal was to create new ideas for performing theatre however, this would later be the main reason for the decline of the project.

    Based on the reading, we believe that the men on the poster are supporters of a fascist government. The cover image and the title both represent ideas that are opposing views towards the normal American perspective on government roles.

  9. Group 8

    Nick Mallios
    Emilia Ilarda

    Summary of children’s theater:

    A component of the federal theatre project was the introduction of children’s theatre. These shows, targeted for a young audience, incorporated both educational and and entertainment elements. Because of its limited budgets, many of these performances showcased puppets shows because it was a cost efficient and easier way to bring performances to remote communities rather than a full set and cast members. These “marionette” performances or puppet shows were performed in schools, hospitals, theaters and parks across the country and included programs where children were able to learn how to create their own puppet show. Although these shows were an effective way to incorporate theatre into the child education system, these performances presented much controversy because it introduced contemporary social issues to the children of the country. Because the federal theatre project is a government aided program, the government didn’t appreciate the fact that many of these shows highlighted governmental flaws.

    Image Interpretation: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200216110

    The image for the Sinclair Lewis play “It Can’t Happen Here” depicts three soldiers with fists in the air with a close up of another fist. Their play deals a lot with the issues if Fascism in Europe. The image can be compared to pictures found in Nazi Germany with soldiers and citizens saluting with their arms in the air. With this image and the title sprawled across the page clearly shows how that depiction cannot happen here in the US.

  10. Garcelle Matthew
    Ngawang Tseten

    Started in 1935, the federal theater project served as a solution to help the post world war I, and post depression that left the arts community unemployed. The Federal Theatre Project was funded under the Publics Works Program. Under the leadership of Hallie Flanagan, a Vassar College theater, the theater served as the source of entertainment for the country until 1939.

    We chose the following poster(cited below) because of its eye catching reference.

    The poster was playing on the context of World War II and Hilter. To be specific the Hitler mustache and the idea that the Axes power would take over USA.

    Lewis, Sinclair. It Can’t Happen Here. Detroit, 1936. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, .

  11. Panagiotis Vandoulakis
    Zhen Deng

    Summary: Impact on African American Theatre
    In this section of the exhibition, we can see the pictures that shows African Americans get together to work on the Federal Theatre Project. The unit sites spread over the whole country, especially the north-east. The New York unit – Lafayette Theatre, where white playwriters work together with African Americans to produce shows that reflecting the life of America. We also see the play Voodoo Macbath, in the pictures, we amazed at how high quality the background settings were, and the costume that they used were also influenced by Haitian culture.

    The poster that we chose from” It Can’t Happen Here” shows a women pointing a rifle towards a man who seems to be scared of her. This part of the scene is taking place in a United States Immigration office. The little boy seems to be frightened as well, it looks like as if he is trying to leave the room. This poster describes the title ” It Can’t Happen Here ” because it looks like she is telling him exactly that while pointing a gun at him.

  12. Elijah Rickman

    Summary: Theater before the crash
    In the years after World War I, a new generation of creative theatrical talent emerged. The high costs of supplies and labor lead the young designers to develop a more economic design aesthetic. Edward Gordon Craig, ( a leader in the early twentieth-century movement against stark realism in theatre design), emphasized artistic fantasy while promoting production design that would reflect and convey a story. Lots of new arguments appeared over what could still be considered “art” in theatre. Shows that presented black life in a more realistic, sympathetic manner began to emerge, where previously black roles were performed by white actors in blackface and black performers were only seen in revues and vaudeville.

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