Six Plays for Young People from the Federal Theatre Project (1936-1939): An Introductory Analysis and Six Representative Plays

By Lowell Swortzell | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

When the Federal Theatre Project (FTP) came to an end on the night of June 30, 1939, the Children's Theatre unit revised the final curtain of its production of Pinocchio, a Broadway hit which had been playing to capacity houses since the preceding December. Instead of ending with the customary scene of a birthday party celebrating Pinocchio's transformation from a marionette into a human boy, the new conclusion, hurriedly arranged by director/author Yasha Frank, contained a surprise calculated to stun the audience. In the midst of the happy anticipation of Pinocchio's last heroic entrance there suddenly came the sound of an offstage gun explosion, followed by a booming voice solemnly announcing, "Pinocchio is dead!" "Shivers just went up and down everybody's spine," an actress onstage at that moment later remembered. "You could hear the silence, it was so dramatic."1 Then voices cried out from associates Frank had planted in the audience: "Who killed Pinocchio? Who killed Pinocchio?" The mysterious offstage voice spoke again, "I will tell you who killed Pinocchio," and began to list by name each Congressman who had voted against the appropriation to continue the FTP. 2

Summoned to record these last moments, Life photographed the cast assembled in mourning, with old Gepetto and his cat kneeling in prayer in front of Pinocchio's bier, all weeping over the dead figure who only minutes before had been cheered by children and adults alike. Lifting his coffin, the cast and audience together marched out of the theatre and proceeded to Times Square chanting, "Save the Federal Theatrel" The next day, newspaper headlines repeated: "PINOCCHIO IS DEAD. WHO KILLED PINOCCHIO?"Life printed a second photograph showing the abandoned puppet stretched out lifeless on the floor of the empty stage, accompanied by the caption: "Left behind was the image of Pinocchio, limp and alone beside the stagehand's working light." 3 So a dead Pinocchio became the public symbol for the demise of the FTP and its nearly 8,000 actors and employees across the country who that same night lost their jobs. The next

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