Bread and Circuses: A Study of Federal Theatre

By Willson Whitman | Go to book overview

X. AIMS AND TRENDS

A capitalistically-conditioned country condones the shortcomings of private enterprise but expects government to do better. Also it expects the government to do more, and is tireless in suggesting new governmental duties once any sort of government service is begun.

The Federal Theatre was founded with two related purposes; to provide work relief for unemployed actors, and through this re-employment to revive the theatrical industry. Another object on the part of those entrusted with the project was provision of low-priced theatrical entertainment. There were also those both inside and outside the organization who wished to see provided, along with popular entertainment, a certain amount of education in drama appreciation and even in government. Achievement of all these ends has been hampered by the fact that some of them conflict.

There was potential division even in the first objective, emergency employment and, as WPA put it, conservation of skills. If you conserve the skill of young folk it is apt to develop. This means adding, eventually, to the amount of skill to be employed.

Federal Theatre as a 'pump priming process' or a 'shot in the arm' to revive a dying industry was another anomaly. The theatrical industry was too gravely ill to be helped by a hypodermic, and the priming process was dependent on the functioning of the whole economic machine. The Federal Theatre could and did bring together new audiences, but it did so by producing plays at prices the audiences could afford. So far, as a Theatre Guild director recently remarked, Broadway has still to find some way to hold these audiences. It can do so only if it manages to produce plays below any cost figures yet discovered, or if the economic condition of the new playgoers is so improved as to enable them to pay higher charges.

Abandonment of the Managers' Tryout project in New York, a first-year attempt at cooperation, indicated that the

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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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