Making a Federal Case

American Theatre, May-June 2011 | Go to article overview

Making a Federal Case


WASHINGTON, D.C: For four years the U.S. federal government directly funded theatre productions of all sizes and types across the benighted land--and American theatremakers have been marveling incredulously at that remarkable period, and citing it aspirationally, ever since.

"It was possibly the largest so-called theatre company that ever functioned in the U.S.," says Walter Zvonchenko, a theatre specialist in the music division of the Library of Congress, who curated the Library's exhibition "Coast to Coast: Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939," on display there through July 16, and showing separately May 7 through February of 2012 at Los Angeles's Walt Disney Concert Hall. "Part of the problem of putting together an exhibit like this is the arduous business of picking and choosing," Zvonchenko confesses. "What we tried to do was to show the huge breadth and scope, both geographical and generic, of the Federal Theatre Project. We did our best to be as exemplary as we could. We were talking about thousands of items, of which we put on display 300, max."

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Represented in the library's sampling are some of the usual suspects: Orson Welles's "voodoo Macbeth" at Harlem's Lafayette Theatre, the "Living Newspaper" that offered a searing documentary indictment of Depression-era poverty, One-Third of a Nation; Marc Blitz-stein's almost-shut-down The Cradle Will Rock. …

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