Saturday, August 22, 2009

Remembering the Federal Theatre Project

"The Federal Theatre of the Works Progress Administration, which, within two years, was to be described by a leading critic as 'the chief producer of works of art in the American theatre' and which came to play such a vital part in so many of our lives, was not primarily a cultural activity. It was a relief measure conceived in a time of national misery and despair. The only artistic policy it ever had was the assumption that thousands of indigent theatre people were eager to work and that millions of Americans would enjoy the results of this work if it could be offered at a price they could afford to pay.

"Within a year of its formation, the Federal Theatre had more than fifteen thousand men and women on its payroll at an average wage of approximately twenty dollars a week. During the four years of its existence its productions played to more than thirty million people in more than two hundred theatres as well as portable stages, school auditoriums and public parks the country over."

These are the words of John Housman in one of his volumes of memoirs, Run-Through (which when it was first published in 1972, was one of the first books I reviewed for a Boston weekly newspaper.) As a producer and administrator, Houseman and his collaborator, the young Orson Welles, were part of two of the most famous Federal Theatre productions during the Great Depression of the 1930s--one at the beginning of the Project, and another that has become the emblem of its end.

More on the Federal Theatre project on posts below, following photos.

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