Federal Theatre Project (OL76)

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. 

11 thoughts on “Federal Theatre Project (OL76)”

  1. Group 12
    Dariel Rodriguez
    Daniela Tomaino

    In the “Children’s Theatre” slide it discussed how the Federal Theatre Project has a section that establish plays for children that emphasized on education and entertainment. This section, however, had limited funds so it was often low-budget plays such as puppets shows, it also showed kids how to build/perform their own shows. Even with its success, it was considered to be spreading Marxist ideas to the younger generations arguing that it taught kids how to over throw the government.

    One poster for “It Cant Happen Here” shows the three solider saluting a fist in a Marxist fashion, imagery relating heavily to the propaganda spread in Fascist Europe. The message here is using imagery that would captivate the attention of the audience since at the time, the war was being fought.

    Lewis, Sinclair. It Can’t Happen Here. Des Moines, IA, 1937. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, .

  2. Kevin Martinez
    Nathaniel Maldonado

    The Plays Summary
    The Federal Theater project had many genres and created one called the Living Newspaper Genre. The Living Newspaper genre was created to display social issues that were taking place in different parts of the country. This lead to the downfall of the Federal Theater Project because congress did not agree with the productions they were putting together. For example there was a play called One-Third of a Nation when the nation was in a crisis and one-third was unemployed.

    The image that we selected was the link above. This image has a photo of a book with the title “It Can’t Happen Here”. This is symbolic because not many people were offered the opportunity to read a book but they were able to gather a 25 to 55 cents to see the show at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles.

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

  3. Cristian Reyes
    Kimberly Mora bello

    Theater before the crash :
    After world war 1 the styling of the costume and theatre production began to sway more toward a true to story artistic fantasy rather than the heavy handed decorative design. It because of cost due to the great depression. Edward Gordon Craig emphasize the realism in theatre design.

    Lewis, Sinclair. It Can’t Happen Here. Detroit, 1936. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, .
    The title “it cant happen here” may be derived from the American ideology of democracy where people get to say who is in power. However this play poster resembles a Hitler figure that come to the US and makes it a dictatorship.

  4. Group:
    Daniella Abramova
    Cinthia Gallardo

    In the reading of “A New Social Order” the image shows us an African American man sitting on a stage. African Americans were primary entertainers in Broadway. They performed to many different audiences. This was considered “art” during the time of the Great Depression. In theater it was a big deal to have an African American actor preforming but over time things have changed and they started to play their own roles rather than a white person doing it for them. Charles Gilpin was one of the actors that has done the most during that time.

    Out of 157 images we decided to go with image #39. This image spoke to us because it’s very compelling. It also shows us how there were different ethnic groups in one play. This image seems to show us how the men are having a serious conversation and the solders are in uniform holding a gun. This shows us how solders are important in show play.

  5. Amar Santhosh and Rich Guerra
    The Federal Theatre Project was founded in 1935 under the act of the Works Progress Administration, written as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
 At its peak, it employed over 12,000 workers nationwide in the US.

    In the poster we have chosen, it depicts a soldier with a rifle above the United States along with an open hand over the United States. It is interesting to note that the soldier has a mustache and haircut that are very Hitler-esque. This makes sense as the play is anti-facist in premise and putting a recognizable symbol of a public enemy on your poster allows it to convey some of the plot. In the play, a character rises to power by funding federal relief programs and then creates a totalitarian regime enforced by the military. This is what Hitler did in Germany after the depression caused by WWI and the Play argues that the same thing could happen in the United States.

  6. Chase James, Nicholas Cabrera

    The federal theatre project was known to support a wide range of theatre types like modern drama and children’s play. For modern drama the project saw this way to establish high equality production values and to make dramatic theatre more popular. As for children’s theater the project used as a way to educate and entertain, but to help it focus on education, and the Administration encourage teachers to perform plays in classrooms. https://tile.loc.gov/image-services/iiif/service:music:vaultscan.15:200216094:0001/45,90,5773,9018/386,/0/default.jpg
    For the description:There is a man with a gun and a uniform so we can view him as a soldier. With that in mind the play may take place during a time of war.

  7. Group Members:
    Ronald Perla
    Kenneth Wu

    The Show Must Go On Response:
    Section: The Plays ( Introduction ).
    The purpose behind the federal theater project was to come up with new ways of portraying major issues affecting communities across the country. The plays consisted of many different types of productions, and each play varied from circus to classical theater. It was experimental to an extent and the government funding the program wanted to fuse entertainment with education. In the end, the federal theater project innovated on how to approach major issues that were seen across the country.

    Sinclair Lewis’ Productions Poster of “It Can’t Happen Here:
    ( link to poster ) https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200215824/

    Title: The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
    Contributor Names: Lyndon, Barre (author)
    Created / Published: San Francisco, 1938.
    Genre: poster
    Description: The design of the poster at the time was very intuitive; it portrayed slogans and imagery that invited the audience to be a part of it and give their thoughts about it. For example the text on the poster was “ Was he a Thief? Answer that for yourself after you have seen “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” By Barre Lyndon Stars Feb. 28th Alcazar Federal Theater Production Div. of W.P.A. (Content)”.

  8. Federal Theatre Project- Jaskinderpal Sunda and Shaina Williams
    President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Federal Theatre Project during the time of the Great Depression, it was another way for the government to provide funds to the actors and theaters who became out of business at this time. Under this act, about 12,000 workers around the entire nation were able to employed. The entire point of this act was to help bring the theatre economy back on its feet and to ” bring relevant art in the form of theatre to all Americans”. Surprisingly that is what truly happened, we found many new and innovative ways to approach theater production. We are going currently going through another Great Depression, theaters in NYC have been closed for more than 7 months. How will the government help to bring theater back? , I hope they come out with another program similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt

    The poster we chose couldn’t, unfortunately, open on Open lab therefore, we just inputted the link.
    Link- https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200216094

    The message conveyed by this poster is the audience holding onto the United States and away from fascism (ironic; isn’t it) however, with Hilter brandishing a firearm in the background, it seems as if its inevitable that it could happen here.

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