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Federal Theatre Project

(1935–9), Works Progress Administration, Arena, the Story of the Federal Theatre

Founded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of the most productive of Roosevelt's New Deal agencies, it was established to provide work for thousands of theatre workers made idle by the Depression. According to WPA director Harry Hopkins, its secondary aim was to provide ‘free, adult, uncensored theatre’, but censorship in the form of the House Un-American Activities Committee caused its early demise. The national director of the FTP was Hallie Flanagan, formerly director of the Vassar Experimental Theatre, and her book Arena, the Story of the Federal Theatre (1940) is a lively insider's account of its aims and accomplishments. A national organization of theatre groups which provided a wide variety of inexpensive and good theatre across the nation, its major impact was in New York City, where it drew huge audiences to its productions. FTP companies staged the classical and modern repertoire of plays, and encouraged new writing. Under its broad ethnic approach, black, Catholic, and Jewish projects flourished in New York, but its most successful and controversial achievement was in the Living Theatre project, which derived from the models of revolutionary workers' theatre in Europe. Much of this work was politically radical, as in Arthur Arent's critique of housing provision One Third of a Nation (1938), Marc Blitzein's left-wing musical The Cradle Will Rock (1938), and Sinclair Lewis and John Moffit's play about the risks of American fascism, It Can't Happen Here (1936). The extremism of these and other productions led powerful conservative forces to oppose it and Congress abolished the FTP in 1939.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Sebastian Faulks Biography to Football Milieu