A Localized National Theater

Courtesy of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. 

Although it operated as a national initiative, the Federal Theatre Project established regional administrations throughout the country. These regional centers adapted themselves to the needs of their local communities addressing issues of both national and local significance. Within each region, production was divided between different units, each one tackling different themes and genres. Vital to the success of this decentralized organization was the work of the National Service Bureau. It helped coordinate efforts across the country by writing and translating plays, sharing research and resources and providing a crucial support structure, especially to smaller projects.

These regional centers established a nationwide exchange of plays as productions began touring the country. Swing Mikado left Chicago for New York. Haiti traveled to Boston from New York. The 1936 adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ anti-fascist play, It Can’t Happen Here, went even further, opening with twenty-two simultaneous productions, each one catering to a particular local community. Alongside these exchanges between regional hubs, traveling caravan theaters brought performances to remote areas, which would not otherwise have opportunity to see live performances. By the late 1930s the Federal Theatre Project had established itself as a national theater both of and for the people.