After reading about the New York arts’ shutdown, and how more than half the jobs in the fine and performing arts in the city disappeared between April and July (153,000 out of 280,000 gone), I Tweeted:
We need a new Federal Theater Project, as Roosevelt set up during the Great Depression, which provided jobs for unemployed theater artists & presented live theater across the country at low cost or free to some 25 million Americans — 1/5th of the country at the time.
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) September 25, 2020
This is an appealing idea in the theater community, judging by the hundreds who responded online.
Yes, a thousand times YES!
— dfrobbins1 (@dfrobbins1) September 26, 2020
— Stage the Change (@stagethechange) September 26, 2020
I am ready to take over where Hallie Flanagan left off.
— Suzanne Delle (@SuzanneDelle) September 26, 2020
This would be so inspiring to see. https://t.co/2Ij8nnTBPL
— Joanne Puchalik Tompkins (@tessajop) September 26, 2020
Agreed! We all must Vote Blue if we expect to have any chance at that kind of intervention for American theatre.
— Dr. Lisa B. Thompson (@DrLisaBThompson) September 25, 2020
It’s not a new idea.
Until her dying day, Faith Dane — the original former schlepper who became a Miss Mazeppa — perennially campaigned for Mayor of D.C. with reviving all the WPA programs, including FTP, as a plank in her platform, under the name “arts around the clock.” I stand by it with pride.
— Gibson DelGiudice 🌺 BLM (@twiliteisntlit) September 25, 2020
(He’s talking about the actress who played the bugle-tooting burlesque stripper Mazeppa (“Once I was a schlepper, now I’m Miss Mazeppa”) in both the original Broadway and film versions of Gypsy.)
Shortly after the theater shutdown in March of this year, Corinna Schulenburg of the Theatre Communications Group called for the same thing while speaking to New York Magazine’s theater critic Helen Shaw:
“One of the things we’re talking about internally has been the way in which the scale of this catastrophe — a wholesale shutting down of the field — is only really comparable is the Great Depression. We’re looking at 20 percent or higher unemployment! So what lessons can we find in the Federal Theater Project? Under the New Deal, the government’s super-spending effort that put America back to work in the ’30s, the Federal Theater Project only accounted for 0.5 percent of the Works Progress Administration spending, which, if you applied that to the current bailout, would come to $10 billion. And oh, oh, oh — a new New Deal is a heady thought. We’re still surrounded by the structures the WPA gave us, including dams, bridges, airports, roads — and, yes, our regional theater system. Maybe a new one could bring it back.”
A brief history of the Federal Theatre Project by Paula Becker (focused on Seattle)
Also check out: Rallying to Save The Arts, current efforts by theater activists.
The fascination with the unprecedented four-year experiment in federal subsidy of theater in the United States — a practice that is common and current throughout Europe and Asia — is indicated by the many books on the subject, including one soon to be published. A sample:
Voices from the Federal Theatre includes interviews with such Federal Theatre actors, playwrights, directors, designers, producers, and dancers as Arthur Miller, Studs Terkel, Jules Dassin, Katherine Dunham, Rosetta Lenoire, John Houseman
Arena: The Story of the Federal Theatre written by Hallie Flanagan, the producer, director, playwright and professor who was appointed national director of the FTP, and shaped the program.