Bread and Circuses: A Study of Federal Theatre

By Willson Whitman | Go to book overview

I. UNCLE SAM PRESENTS

IN New York, in the spring of 1937, the newly-organized American Theatre Council held a convention. Famous producers, playwrights, actors and critics discussed what must be done to save the American theatre, with a general admission by those present that it stood in need of salvation. Many suggestions were made as to what should be done in the future, but with one exception the speakers were unable to illustrate their remarks by reference to work actually in progress.

The exception was a woman who spoke mildly on the last day. This speaker made modest mention of five plays under one management then running in Manhattan, and neglected to say that five more summer companies sponsored by the same producer were, that week, beginning a season in the suburbs. She also refrained from boasting that the organization she represented had, at that moment, more than thirty major productions playing over the country -- three in Chicago, five in Los Angeles, and other offerings ranging from Molière in North Carolina to Paul Green in Seattle, Noel Coward in Georgia, Ernst Toller in Indiana and Gilbert and Sullivan in Ohio. 'Wings Over Europe' was playing in Des Moines, Iowa, 'Let Freedom Ring' in Detroit, Michigan, and 'The Old Homestead' in Jacksonville, Florida, under the red, white and blue signs of the Federal Theatre.

The Federal Theatre is a project of the Works Progress Administration, which is an enterprise of the United States government. Less than two years ago the people of the United States, through their Washington representatives, took the first steps leading to employment of 13,162 actors, musicians, carpenters, electricians and other stage folk in the most ambitious dramatic undertaking the world has ever seen.

That the United States government actually has done this thing is a major event in theatrical history. It is also an event of some importance in the history of the United States.

It was early in 1936 that New Yorkers heard for the first time

-3-

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Bread and Circuses: A Study of Federal Theatre
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • I. Uncle Sam Presents 3
  • Ii. Singing for Supper 10
  • Iii. Behind the Scenes 24
  • Iv. Curtains Rising 39
  • V. Down in Front 53
  • Vii. Thumbs Down 94
  • Viii. Merely Players 106
  • Ix. They Don't like It 121
  • X. Aims and Trends 134
  • Xi. Foreign Translations 146
  • Xii. What Will We Do with It? 158
  • Bibliography 173
  • Appendix Representative Productions of Federal Theatre 175
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