Children's Theater

Courtesy of George Mason University Libraries Special Collections & Archives.

The Federal Theatre Project was committed to children’s theater from the beginning, establishing a children’s unit in every major city across the country. The result was a wide range of productions with an emphasis on both education and entertainment. In order to reinforce this educational dimension, the administration provided local schools with materials to encourage teachers to discuss and perform plays in the classroom.

Faced with limited budgets, these children’s units favored puppet shows as a low-cost, efficient way to bring performances to remote communities. In any given week during this period, around one hundred marionette performances could be seen in schools, hospitals, theaters and parks across the country. On top of this, dozens of workshops were set up that allowed children to learn how to build and perform their own marionette performances.

Despite its success, children’s theater was not without controversy, primarily due to its engagement of youth audiences with contemporary social issues. The most prominent example was the 1937 production of The Revolt of the Beavers in New York. Focusing on a community of downtrodden beavers, the story follows their attempts to organize a union and overthrow their wealthy oppressor. Described by New York Times drama critic Brooks Atkinson as “[Mother Goose] studying Marx,” the production attracted large audiences as well as the unwelcome gaze of the House Un-American Activities Committee.