The Plays

Courtesy of George Mason University Libraries Special Collections & Archives.

The variety of units operating in each region stands as testament to the breadth and variety of productions offered by the Federal Theatre Project. From circus to classical theater, experimental theater to musicals, there was something for everyone, young and old alike. The project’s administrators repeatedly stressed the importance of fusing entertainment with education, and encouraged innovative approaches to confronting some of the major issues affecting communities across the country.

One of the Federal Theatre Project’s most enduring innovations was the development of the Living Newspaper genre. Using headlines clipped from newspapers as inspiration, these plays dramatized contemporary social issues. Part-journalism, part-activism, and part-experimental multimedia performances, Living Newspapers directly engaged audiences with social issues of the moment. Exemplifying the genre, One-Third of a Nation takes its title from President Roosevelt’s 1937 inaugural address. Through a series of vignettes, it tackles the appalling housing conditions found in the growing inner-city slums and advocates for robust public housing legislation to deal with this crisis.