Bread and Circuses: A Study of Federal Theatre

By Willson Whitman | Go to book overview

IX. THEY DON'T LIKE IT

'IT might have been expected,' said a midwest paper in the first year, 'that the Federal Theatre, a branch of the WPA, would come in for some vicious heckling.'

It is true that, instead of a censorship imposed by the government, the Federal Theatre has functioned under a continual barrage of criticism from people who, from the first, didn't want any part of it and wouldn't like it if it was good. The odd thing was that unlike opposition to the child labor amendment on the part of newspaper publishers, the fight of popular magazines against a pure food and drugs act, or attacks on the TVA made by the power corporations, early opposition to the Federal Theatre was not directed by the special interests involved.

Theatrical producers did not put up any show of resistance. Miss Eva LeGallienne, who had been running a popular-price theatre of her own, regarded the government venture with disfavor; she said 'Frankly, I'm terrified,' and the remark was remembered because by a happy misprint the New York Herald-Tribune made the first word Franklin. Mr. Channing Pollock , author of 'The Fool,' was 'terribly skeptical' at a Drama League dinner. Mr. Brock Pemberton, who had gone to college with the Republican candidate and rashly undertook to raise the G.O.P. banner over Broadway, was outspoken in thinking that the Federal Theatre should be abolished. Other producers who had offered in Washington, and failed to sell, a plan for government subsidy of private theatrical enterprise were naturally opposed to the project. But at the end of the first year Mr. Lee Shubert uttered a charmingly naïve summary of the commercial attitude: 'So far the Federal Theatre project has not been competition. The prices have been low. They have not been able to afford high-priced actors.'

At the start some professed to fear that the project might involve a 'lowering of standards,' because of its relief basis; but it was always possible to ask 'What standards? ' and to suggest that those of the commercial theatre were those of

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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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