WPA Federal Theatre Project

▪ United States history
 national theatre project sponsored and funded by the U.S. government as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Founded in 1935, it was the first federally supported theatre in the United States. Its purpose was to create jobs for unemployed theatrical people during the Great Depression, and its director was the educator and playwright Hallie Flanagan.

      The Federal Theatre Project employed some 10,000 professionals in all facets of the theatre, and Flanagan oversaw the organization of about 1,000 productions that were mounted in four years in 40 states, often presented free to the public. These productions included classical and modern drama, children's plays, puppet shows, musical comedies, and documentary theatre known as Living Newspaper. Other projects included producing plays by young, unknown American playwrights, establishing black American theatre, and presenting radio broadcasts of dramatic works. The early careers of Orson Welles (Welles, Orson), John Houseman (Houseman, John), and Elmer Rice (Rice, Elmer) were all associated with the Federal Theatre Project. Following a series of controversial investigations by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Subcommittee on Appropriations regarding the Federal Theatre's outspoken leftist commentary on social and economic issues, the Federal Theatre Project was terminated in 1939 by congressional action.

Additional Reading
Studies of the WPA Federal Theatre Project include The Federal Theatre Project: A Catalog-Calendar of Productions (1986), compiled by the staff of George Mason University's Fenwick Library; Glenda E. Gill, White Grease Paint on Black Performers: A Study of the Federal Theatre of 1935–1939 (1988); George Kazacoff, Dangerous Theatre: The Federal Theatre Project as a Forum for New Plays (1989); Barbara Melosh, Engendering Culture: Manhood and Womanhood in New Deal Public Art and Theatre (1991); Rena Fraden, Blueprints for a Black Federal Theatre, 1935–1939 (1994); and Paul Sporn, Against Itself: The Federal Theater and Writers' Projects in the Midwest (1995).

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Universalium. 2010.

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