Pop’s FTP: The Federal Theatre Project

Cincinnati WPA production, 1937

Cincinnati WPA production, 1937

In Radio Girl, being a sound effects expert gets Cecelia’s father a job traveling for the FTP, the Federal Theater Project, in 1937-38. What’s that all about?

One way President Roosevelt tried to put people back to work during the Depression was to start up government funded programs. This was called the WPA, the Works Progress Administration and was known as Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Cool slide show of New Deal projects. Under this heading came the Federal Theatre Project, designed to put actors and theater people to work around the country and “to dramatize and expose social issues.” source

Doctor Faustus, poster from the New Orleans production, 1937. (source: LOC)

Doctor Faustus, poster from the New Orleans production, 1937. (source: memory.LOC.gov)

See way more photos here!

Show business tech theater people like Jack Maloney went all over the country, reviving local playhouses by updating their sound and lighting systems.

Did it work? Was the FTP a success? That’s still a matter of debate. But it did produce some amazing works of drama. Take, for example, this portion of the 1936 FTP production of MacBeth, directed by none other than Orson Welles. The entire cast is made up of African Americans from Harlem, a cast of both professional actors and everyday people. Nothing like it had ever been staged before:

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Photo of CarolCarol Brendler is the author of the young adult novel RADIO GIRL (Holiday House) September 5, 2013.
Coming 2014: A picture book, NOT VERY SCARY, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, from FSG.
Also by Carol Brendler: WINNIE FINN, WORM FARMER (FSG, 2009) a picture book illustrated by Ard Hoyt.

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3 thoughts on “Pop’s FTP: The Federal Theatre Project

  1. Gail P-D says:

    Isn’t it interesting that Roosevelt included the arts in the WPA? “Arts” is a four letter word today in some political circles.

  2. Carol Brendler says:

    Yes, it’s truly astounding what they did for actors, dancers, writers, and visual artists. They could have easily been told to go stand in a bread line until they find a “real” job.

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