Voices from the Federal Theater

Voices from the Federal Theater

by Bonnie Nelson Schwartz
     
 

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    The Federal Theatre Project, a 1930s relief project of the Roosevelt administration, brought more theater to more people in every corner of America that at any time in U.S. history. The Project had units in every region of the country, including groundbreaking African American troupes, and staged productions from daring dramas like The

Overview

    The Federal Theatre Project, a 1930s relief project of the Roosevelt administration, brought more theater to more people in every corner of America that at any time in U.S. history. The Project had units in every region of the country, including groundbreaking African American troupes, and staged productions from daring dramas like The Voodoo Macbeth, Waiting for Lefty, and The Cradle Will Rock to musicals, vaudeville, and puppet shows. It was canceled in a firestorm of controversy that gave birth to the damning question: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?"
    This book documents that vibrant, colorful, politically explosive time, which gave rise to bitter debates about the role of government in American art and culture. It includes interviews with such Federal Theatre actors, playwrights, directors, designers, producers, and dancers as Arthur Miller, Studs Terkel, Jules Dassin, Katherine Dunham, Rosetta Lenoire, John Houseman, and many others.
    Voices from the Federal Theatre is a tie-in with the public televison special Who Killed the Federal Theatre? hosted by Judd Hirsch and coproduced by Schwartz with the Educational Film Center.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Chicago had a big Republic Steel plant on the Southside. Memorial Day in 1937, the strikers had a picnic on those grounds. There was fried chicken, potato salad, women, kids, songs, baseball, and there was some cops there. . . . Someone threw a stone, and you know cops started shooting, shot ten guys in the back, and they killed those ten guys….
Here’s where the Federal Theatre came in. Cradle Will Rock was about a steel strike. Cradle Will Rock was metaphorical, a pro-union play and was considered evolutionary and outrageous. So that’s the kind of stuff we used to do."—Studs Terkel

"I was in Macbeth. I played one of the witches. I also remember so many fights in the lobby about having people of black skin play Shakespearean shows. If it was a maid’s role go ahead, but if it was something like that from the classics. . . . Mr. Welles would raise hell if anybody was in the least nasty to me or tried to ignore me or tried to confuse me. Orson Welles was something else I’m telling you."—Rosetta LeNoire

"The Federal Theatre was a part of a movement in America to put people to work.  Among the unemployed people, as well as mechanics and metal workers, were actors and artists.  And this wonderful idea to put them to work in the cultural field was such a big moment for America—for education . . . for culture—that we still mourn the loss."—Jules Dassin

"In the Depression, it was all but impossible for a Left writer not to think of the act of writing as a fulcrum for social change."—Arthur Miller

"The miracle of the Federal Theatre lies precisely in this—that from a drab and painful relief project there sprang the liveliest, most innovative, and most original theatre of its era."—John Houseman

Library Journal
Spawned by the Works Progress Administration as a means of employing more than 20,000 theater artists during the Great Depression, the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), alive for only four short years, 1935-39, irrevocably changed our ideas about theater and the role of government in art. In collaboration with the Educational Film Center, Schwartz produced the PBS special Who Killed the Federal Theatre?: An Investigation, which airs this fall; this is the print tie-in. The five-part text is made up of oral history-like interviews with 18 individuals who worked in the FTP, including actors, producers, writers, variety artists, and others. There are wonderful reminiscences, insights, and anecdotes from luminaries such as Arthur Miller, John Houseman, Studs Terkel, and Clinton Turner Davis. Introduced by eminent theater scholar and critic Robert Brustein, this book also features delightful production stills, and the hardcover edition will come with the program DVD (not seen). The FTP was the first theater experience to be officially funded and sanctioned by the government, a radical experiment that did for theater what the printing press did for education-it brought people together. As a seminal (and readable!) work on the FTP, this is highly recommended for all performing arts collections.-Barry X. Miller, Austin P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780299183202
Publisher:
University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date:
09/01/2003
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Bonnie Nelson Schwartz is a producer for the Broadway stage, film and television. She has worked on more than 100 plays, films, television programs, and concert specials worldwide.

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