Bread and Circuses: A Study of Federal Theatre

By Willson Whitman | Go to book overview

VII. THUMBS DOWN

IN any ordinary government theatrical enterprise, the question of censorship would come before play choice, and it is significant that in the case of the Federal Theatre this was not so. So far censorship has not been an issue; indeed it has hardly existed, although it has been demanded by groups outside the government.

At the very beginning the Federal Theatre had, in New York, its one national case. The first Living Newspaper production, 'Ethiopia,' was ruled out by national headquarters and this ruling resulted in the resignation of Mr. Elmer Rice as New York director. Federal Theatre people are unanimous in regretting the loss of Mr. Rice but they feel that his protest was useful in establishing for the project the greatest possible allowance of freedom.

To an outside observer it appears that eliminating 'Ethiopia' was on the whole a fortunate thing. It was an interesting play, no doubt, as published excerpts indicated and as those who saw the rehearsals reported. Nevertheless that ruling against representation of heads of foreign powers which stopped its production was a wise one, considering the uneasiness of heads which do not wear crowns but are attached as yet to the shoulders of dictators. It is difficult enough to make Nazi or Fascist powers understand that a free country assumes no responsibility for the remarks of mayors or of the press. It would be almost impossible to explain an insult attributable to a government-supported theatre.

If, then, the play had gone on, protests -- forthcoming no doubt in spite of the fact that following the usual Living Newspaper technique, speeches throughout were straight quotations -- must have caused some embarrassment to the State Department. The result would perhaps have been a close censorship over all Federal Theatre productions thereafter.

As it is, no such surveillance is apparent, and the note on Federal Theatre programs --

-94-

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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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