Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Power" in Portland, Oregon

  The legacy for American theatre itself is wide-ranging. These productions led to innovations in lighting and other technical capabilities, as well as educational and outreach aspects of theatre productions. Its legacy is also found in theatre we take for granted now—Shakespeare in the Park, historical pageants, street theatre.

But the Federal Theatre did more than produce shows.  It encouraged community drama and dramatic training.  It established a National Service Bureau which sent synopses, scripts, bibliographies and translations to theatres around the country.  For particular productions--especially Living Newspaper shows--meticulous research was done to back every assertion with fact.  It conducted research into theatre and theatre history, leaving a rich legacy for scholars.  It began applying theatre to "psycho-drama" experiments as therapy in hospitals. It published a theatre magazine, and ran playwriting contests in CCC camps and colleges.

So this legacy lives in aspects of theatre education, communication, play translation and even the use of theatre for psychological and physical therapy. In all these ways, the Federal Theatre pioneered aspects of how community theatres operate, how theatres conduct and use research. In the relationship of some theatre units to their communities, they provide insights and experience in locally based theatre and theatre of place.

"Altars of Steel" in Miami
 Apart from keeping theatres alive and inspiring new ones through a dark time, this legacy is embedded in new generations of regional and community theatre artists and audiences. Above all, it lives in the unbroken chain of astonishment produced by the artistry, commitment, skill development and mentoring that the Federal Theatre continued and enhanced in those dark days when so much in America stopped.

The Federal Theatre provided a legacy of possibility, including evidence that a theatre of meaning is possible in America, and that it can reach through the fourth wall to engage and enrapture a popular audience. That’s one reason that the production of It Can’t Happen Here remains worthy of celebration.

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