FINDING A COLLECTIVE SOLUTION The Living Newspaper Experiment
Josephine Herbst opened up the radical novel to include women as subjects and even offered a model for turning readers into writers and activists, but she faced a problem common to Dos Passos, Farrell, and all the other radical novelists of the thirties. No matter how radicalizing a novel might be, it was designed to be consumed in private. It would take the Living Newspapers of the Federal Theatre Project to offer radical culture in a collective setting--and to enable those audience members to interact not only with one another but with the action taking place onstage.
In the late thirties, Josephine Herbst had two very different experiences working on the Living Newspapers that were the hallmark of the Federal Theatre Project. Although she was not working under the auspices of the government, she used the form that had become familiar to millions of theatergoers, basing her scripts on news events of the day and incorporating documentary sources such as newspapers and the Congressional Record. The first such attempt, which was successful, was written to be performed not in a theater but in an auto plant. The second Living Newspaper, written for the League of American Writers, would, for political reasons, never be produced. Both efforts exemplify the attractions and pitfalls of working in one of the most radical literary forms of the Depression decade. The most successful Living Newspapers were not, as might be expected, produced by Communist groups like the New Theatre League or workers' theater groups like the Blue Blouses, or by the Group Theatre, the Stanislavskian company headed by