Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No Regrets

In 1935, FDR endeavored to provide jobs for the 20,000 - 30,000 unemployed actors, directors, writers, stagehands, and designers left idle in the Great Depression. The Federal Theatre Project ran from 1935-1939, and was overseen by Hallie Flangan (above) a drama professor from Vassar. FDR personally chose Flanagan to run the national program that eventually employed 13,000 people in various theatres in thirty-one states.

Eventually, this very successful program ran afoul of the political redbaiting of the time and Hallie Flanigan (having had visited Russia at one point in her life, and therefore obviously being a Communist) had to testify to a government committee as to exactly what the theatres were up to. Need I say that the Representative who saw a Communist behind every theatre curtain was Republican?

A brief excerpt from Arena, The History of the Federal Theatre Project:

"Just as it sometimes happens that a drop of water in a certain light mirrors a landscape, so the Federal Theatre was a microcosm reflecting changes in American attitudes. The Federal Theatre cost money; it represented labor unions, old and new; it did not bar aliens or members of minority parties. It was perhaps the triumph as well as the tragedy of our actors that they became indeed the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.

"Thus the Federal Theatre ended as it had begun, with fearless presentation of problems touching American life. But I do not believe that anyone who worked on it regrets that it stood from first to last against reaction, against prejudice, against racial, religious and political intolerance.

"Anyone who thinks that those things do not need fighting for today is out of touch with reality."

Arena, The History of the Federal Theatre Project,by Hallie Flanagan, 1980 printing,
Offered for sale by Chewybooks, as of October 20,2009

1 comment:

Linda Armstrong said...

On one hand, one of the most beautiful things about that time - putting people to work using their special talents to help themselves and buoy up other people by entertaining them.

On the other hand, one of the most shameful times in our history. So many people’s lives were permanently destroyed upon the flimsiest of "proof" of wrong-doing.