Bread and Circuses: A Study of Federal Theatre

By Willson Whitman | Go to book overview

VIII. MERELY PLAYERS

ON a gray day in January, 1937, a strange parade formed in Madison Square and marched uptown to Madison Square Garden in New York.

In spite of three bands and the contagion of marching it was not a military parade. Under different circumstances it might have been, for its basis was one of those 'armies of the unemployed' which are so readily turned into other armies.

Nor was it one of those desperate straggling processions of workless people that marched on Washington to ask for a bonus, or on London to tell Parliament they were hungry. These people -- some 25,000 of them by police estimate, coming ten abreast up Eighth Avenue through traffic that had not been halted for them -- had skill and spirit. The banners they carried and the floats they had made were proof of that.

It was in fact a parade of workers, WPA workers, organized to protest a post-election threat to curtail WPA activities. The paraders carried banners reminding Washington of pre-election promises. But they did not stop with asking that something be done to save their own jobs; more banners said 'Expand WPA!' to take care of 350,000 potential workers, 'employables' as the government calls them, on home relief rolls. Heartfelt applause along the sidewalks came from 'home reliefers' who fervently hoped this plea would win.

'But where's the money coming from?' asked a man at the corner of 50th Street. 'I'm for Roosevelt myself, but --'

As he spoke a group of WPA musicians were passing. Then came a Federal Theatre float with a reminder of 'Macbeth,' and a cheer rippled through the crowd.

'Of course,' the man on the curb continued, 'these theatre people have given some good shows. You have to give 'em credit for that.'

There were other parades; in Cleveland, Ohio, more banners were pleading that 'Artists Must Eat!' These parades, with picket lines and other protests, call attention to one big flaw,

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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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