Federal Theater Project (OL76)

From the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, theatre artists for the first time staged plays that addressed social concerns. Writers, directors, designers, actors, and choreographers understood that through the powerful communication mode of live theatre they might instigate change, and so they staged scenes revealing the causes of social inequality and suppression of basic freedoms.

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 about contemporary issues, such as labor, housing,  free speech, and voting rights. Working with your a partner, read all sections and view images from this exhibit: The Show Must Go On.  Once you have completed your tour, choose one section from the exhibit and summarize the contents in your own words (3 sentences). Quickly read the Wikipedia entry on Sinclair Lewis’ book and play “It Can’t Happen Here” in order to understand the premise. From here, view the Library of Congress’ exhibition on the Federal Theatre Project: FTP. Locate a poster a production 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? Write 2-4 sentences describing and interpreting the image in detail. 

Federal Theatre Project (OL75)

From the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, theatre artists for the first time staged plays that addressed social concerns. Writers, directors, designers, actors, and choreographers understood that through the powerful communication mode of live theatre they might instigate change, and so they staged scenes revealing the causes of social inequality and suppression of basic freedoms.

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 about contemporary issues, such as labor, housing,  free speech, and voting rights. Working with your research partner, read all sections and view images from this exhibit: The Show Must Go On.  Once you have completed your tour, choose one section from the exhibit and summarize the contents in your own words (3 sentences). Quickly read the Wikipedia entry on Sinclair Lewis’ book and play “It Can’t Happen Here” in order to understand the premise. From here, view the Library of Congress’ exhibition on the Federal Theatre Project: FTP. Locate a poster a production 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? Write 2-4 sentences describing and interpreting the image in detail. 

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NYPL Digital Collection: Harlem Theatre (OL76)

In groups of three, locate the following in the NYPL Digital Collection:

  • Any material related to WEB Dubois or Zora Neal Hurston
  • Any image related to the Harlem Suitcase Theatre, Harlem Experimental Theatre or Krigwa Players.

Insert link to images. Provide a citation for each in MLA format.

Then, determine how many images in the Federal Theatre Project sub-collection are dedicated to Harlem theatre? Explain how you arrived at this number.

NYPL: Harlem Renaissance (OL75)

In groups of three, locate the following in the collection:

  • Any material related to WEB Dubois or Zora Neal Hurston
  • Any image related to the Harlem Suitcase Theatre, Harlem Experimental Theatre or Krigwa Players.

Insert link to images. Provide a citation for each in MLA format.

Then, determine how many images in the Federal Theatre Project sub-collection are dedicated to Harlem theatre? Explain how you arrived at this number.

Naturalism (OL76, 10am class)

At the start of class, watch the first 10 minutes of Doll’s House on Digital Theatre + (the production directed by Carrie Cracknell at the Young Vic). Then answer this question:

In the reading, Naturalism is defined as a movement in the arts that was focused on environment (physical, material, economic, social) as a determining factor in explaining human action.  Zola described theater as a place where characters exist “under the sovereign dominion of their nerves and their blood, devoid of free will and drawn into every act of their lives by the inescapable promptings of their flesh,” meaning that human behavior, like the behavior of animals, can be explained entirely by needs and material circumstances. 

Many Naturalistic plays, like Ibsen’s Doll’s House, examine social issues and the ways characters’ choices and actions are determined by their circumstances. In the first 10 minutes of the production of Doll’s House, Ibsen establishes the main circumstance of the play that will determine the actions of every character. What is that factor? How do you think this material circumstance is connected to another social problem of the time? Remember, this is the late 19th century. Gender roles and expectations were vastly different than they are today. 

Important terms from today’s lesson: 

  • Little Theatre Movement
  • Moscow Arts Theatre: Stanislavsky and Chekhov
  • Naturalism and Zola
  • Realism (the movement)
  • Social Realism and Henrik Ibsen

Naturalism (Section OL75, 8:30am)

At the start of class, watch the first 10 minutes of Doll’s House on Digital Theatre + (the production directed by Carrie Cracknell at the Young Vic). Then answer this question:

In the reading, Naturalism is defined as a movement in the arts that was focused on environment (physical, material, economic, social) as a determining factor in explaining human action.  Zola described theater as a place where characters exist “under the sovereign dominion of their nerves and their blood, devoid of free will and drawn into every act of their lives by the inescapable promptings of their flesh,” meaning that human behavior, like the behavior of animals, can be explained entirely by needs and material circumstances. 

Many Naturalistic plays, like Ibsen’s Doll’s House, examine social issues and the ways characters’ choices and actions are determined by their circumstances. In the first 10 minutes of the production of Doll’s House, Ibsen establishes the main circumstance of the play that will determine the actions of every character. What is that factor? How do you think this material circumstance is connected to another social problem of the time? Remember, this is the late 19th century. Gender roles and expectations were vastly different than they are today. 

Important terms from today’s lesson: 

  • Little Theatre Movement
  • Moscow Arts Theatre: Stanislavsky and Chekhov
  • Naturalism and Zola
  • Realism (the movement)
  • Social Realism and Henrik Ibsen

Reforming, re-performing (OL76)

In this clip (beginning around 3:00 to the end) we see a stage performance at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem during the Jazz Age. The music is composed and performed by one of the most important jazz artists of all time, Duke Ellington. There is quite a lot to discuss about the dancing and character representations on stage. The line dancing and styles of footwork and rhythms are adaptations of the minstrel show — the “cakewalk” or “walk around” and “shuffle”. Out of the complex history of minstrelsy — a fraught combination of white masquerade and African American (and African) culture — emerged a popular form of entertainment: the American Musical. The “line dance” that is such a basic component of musical theater choreography can be traced, in fact, back to minstrelsy. 

You have read this article about the history of minstrelsy in the United States. Williams argues that by “blackening their faces and ‘performing color,’ African American minstrels were able to conceal their true identities while honing their craft as artists and serving their communities by becoming cultural ambassadors and building charitable organizations.” She also cites Overton Walker, who agrees that although African Americans were performing stereotypical acts that demeaned and mocked black Americans, when “a large audience leaves the theatre after a creditable two and a half hour performance by Negroes, I am sure the Negro race is raised in the estimation of the people….” In other words, although African American entertainers were performing stereotypes that reinforced racist attitudes towards blacks in America, there were also positive outcomes for African American performers and perhaps society as a whole.

Without agreeing or disagreeing with this particular historical analysis, I want you to think of an art form in the contemporary world that reworks or repossesses a discriminatory social practice or text (racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc.) in a new way in order to change its meaning. How does this act, song, work of art, or text reorganize, rework, reframe, or reuse the form of discrimination in order to create something more positive? What is the positive outcome? Support your response by using specific examples, descriptions and quotes.  

Once you have posted in your own thread, reply to other thread posts as they come in. Ideally, try to get into a conversation with one other person so that the discussion moves in a new direction. For full credit, post two replies minimum. Grading is based on originality and honesty. Back up your opinions with examples. Everyone’s response should be very unique.