Skip to main content

Federal Theatre Project



It was, in its time, a formidable creative enterprise. The Federal Theater, part of the Works Progress Administration's Art Project, began its life in October of 1935, after the realization came that playwrights and actors, stagehands and costume designers were no less hungry and out of work in the Great Depression than other Americans. Under the direction of a feisty, strong-willed woman named Hallie Flanagan, they were put to work in their own fields. By mid-1936, 153 producing theaters were operating in 28 of the 48 states, playing to 359,000 people weekly, many of whom had never seen live theater before. There were productions in Spanish and Yiddish and Italian and French, there were special all-black units, and units for children's theater and for marionettes, and for blind theatergoers. At its peak, the Federal Theatre employed more than 12,700 persons. Theater critics raved about its efforts, but reviews from some of its congressional producers, who provided the appropriations, were less favorable. The House Un-American Activities Committee, under Texas Rep. Martin Dies, accused it of operating under Communist influence. Rural legislators worried about the coming of urban theater to the backwoods. An Illinois Congressman, Everett McKinley Dirksen, railed that some of the original WPA plays, like New Deal For Mary and The Mayor and the Manicurist, were salacious tripe, without any 'real cultural values.' By 1939, the appropriations for the Federal Theater had been cut regularly, and in June of that year, it passed out of existence entirely. -Taken from Weintraub, Boris. Depression Born Drama. The Washington Star Portfolio, May 15, 1976.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Federal Theatre Project Collection

Identifier: MsC0314

Complete working scripts of 19 produced and 5 unproduced plays. Includes Eugene O'Neill (One-Act Plays of the Sea) and George Bernard Shaw (On the Rocks).

Dates: 1936-1939