Introduction

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7 Stages Theatre (Atlanta, Ga.) Records. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library, via the Digital Library of Georgia.

The Federal Theatre Project ended in 1939 when Congress suspended its federal aid funding. Because of the varying quality of productions, audience attendance at shows diminished, which in turn prompted low-ticket sales and the early cancellation of shows. Since majority of the FTP plays were based on economic and social justice themes, there were speculations about the plays being influenced by Communist ideologies.

The Federal Theatre Project was an arts and cultural movement, which served as both a professional and cultural platform that created many career opportunities to up and coming actors, directors, costumes designers, technicians among other theater and arts professionals during the Great Depression.  Although the project was formally cancelled, it had a broad impact on the careers of many of these professionals and shed light on the educational and community purposes to which theatre could be put.  While the Federal Theatre Project created a Depression-era platform for established playwrights like Eugene O’Neill, it also provided a starting point for the careers of new ones like Arthur Miller. Its programs paved the way for predecessor organizations like the American Negro Theatre, which grew out of the disbanded Negro Theatre Project. This group would train a new generation of actors like Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee, who would become fixtures on American stage and screen in later decades and would be known particularly for their investment in exploring race and inequality. The tensions between FTP theatre professionals and Congress around social issues in art foreshadowed the intrusions of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings into the lives and works of playwrights and other artists in the 1950s. As its impact demonstrates, the Federal Theatre Project was a powerful and influential movement that altered the landscape of post-Depression-era American theater through its innovative productions and ideas about how theatre can engage national and local audiences.