#HistoryHumpday: The Federal Theatre Project
During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to give unemployed Americans jobs. One of the projects, Federal Project Number One (1935-1939) provided work opportunities for artists, writers, musicians, and theater performers.
In some instances, performers were able to be part of federally sponsored circuses, like this one advertised for May 2, 1939 in Long Island. Or this undated one called “The World’s Greatest Circus.”
There were a variety of theatre units created from the Federal Theatre Project across the country. In New York we had a main theatre unit along with units that focused on minority groups, such as the Jewish unit (called the Yiddish unit at the time) and the African American unit (called the Negro unit at the time).
The Tailor Becomes A Storekeeper (1938) by David Pinski, was performed at Daly’s Theatre on 63rd Street in NYC. This play focused on a Jewish tailor who left his job to follow his dream of being a businessman and opening a delicatessen. Through various financial struggles, and conflicts with others, he ended up back into a tailor position but within a newly created union.
The Lafayette Theatre in NYC was home to numerous plays from the African American unit, including Haiti (1938) and Androcles and the Lion (1939). Haiti was written by William Du Bois, and mixed real historical figures along with fictional characters to depict the last few months of the Haitian Revolution. Androcles, written by George Bernard Shaw, was a reinterpretation of the religious folktale with the same title. Androcles, a Christian who speaks to animals, rescues a lion and ends up being captured by the Romans. His sacrifices pay off for the better by the end the play.
#NYSM #NewYorkStateHistory #Museumathome #WPA #FederalTheatreProject