Congress developed the federal Theatre project in 1935 to carry out work for theatre professionals during the good Depression. The project was funded under the functions Progress administration (WPA) and also directed ~ above the national level through Vassar college drama professor Hallie Flanagan (1890-1969). Seattle initially sponsored three Units: the commonwealth Players (a white unit), the negro Repertory firm (an African-American unit), and Variety/Vaudeville. In 1937 a children’s Theatre unit to be created. Prominently associated in the leadership were university of Washington Drama professor valley Hughes (1894-1964) and also Burton James (1888-1951) and also Florence James (1892-1988) that the Seattle Repertory Playhouse. The United states Congress abruptly disbanded the federal Theatre task on June 30, 1939, between cries that censorship indigenous performers and accusations that communist infiltration native both within and without the organization.

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Live Theater across America

The federal Theatre job was the brainchild of WPA manager Harry Hopkins, and at its height employed part 13,000 world in 31 states. In the Pacific Northwest, drama professor glen Hughes offered as the initial regional Advisor, guy Williams together Washington State Director, and George T. Hood as Washington State Supervisor. Washington state’s commonwealth Theatre job employed about 100 people, whose job-related in turn impacted thousands the Washington audience members.

National manager Hallie Flanagan envisioned the FTP not just as work-aid come technicians and performers, but additionally as an chance to seeds the nation with a huge network of theaters and also to expose countless Americans to live theatre for the very first time. Performances to be free, or virtually so. Dram (vaudeville, puppetry, children’s theater and dramatic productions) were regularly laced v social commentary. The FTP created Living Newspapers, an easy but an effective dramatizations of current events. Seattle, along with other significant cities, sponsored racially segregated african American troops recognized as black Units. Productions were not confined to metropolitan centers yet opened in plenty of towns, occasionally simultaneously. Lock were created locally and also employed regional actors, directors, and technicians.

In order because that a city to host a federal Theatre project unit, a sponsor had actually to volunteer to organize and oversee the unit. In many cities, currently theaters served as sponsors. In Seattle Florence James and also Burton James, director of the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, funded the black Repertory Company. Local Representative glenn Hughes funded Seattle’s (white) dramatic and vaudeville units.

In stimulate to qualify for federal Theatre job employment, a person had actually to display previous employed staff in the theatrical field and be top top relief (out of work and also receiving government assistance). A 10 percent leeway come this policy permitted units to be professionally directed and supervised, and it was hence that the Jameses and Glenn Hughes to be able to serve as organizers for Washington state. Hughes’s work at the college of Washington and also the James’s occupational at the Seattle Repertory Playhouse had currently created one interested Seattle audience that would assistance Theatre task productions.

Directors discovered that administering a project on the government dole expected cooperating with the state WPA offices and also coping with the omnipresent government red tape. Every Theatre task paperwork had to be filed in triplicate. In this age prior to the Xerox machine, records were typed ~ above a typewriter. To make copies additional sheets be separate by carbon paper were put behind the sheet being typed on. One copy the every file went to the nationwide office in Washington, D.C. All project proposals for any type of production of any type of kind had actually to be submitted in sextuplicate.

Glenn Hughes’s most enduring donation to the federal Theatre project was the development of a series of 12 wood models of historic theaters. Sculpted by experienced woodcarvers, they to be accurately scaled models the the theater at Delphi, the theatre of Dionysus in Athens, a Japanese Noh theater, a Japanese Kabuki theater, and also a roman inn Lyric theater, amongst others. Together the models were nearing completion over there was talk of shipping them come Washington D.C. For screen in the Library the Congress. Hughes had intended castle to stay at the college of Washington and also responded angrily, stating that they were not constructed in together a means that they might be shipped without damage. The models stay at the university of Washington. They were refurbished in the at an early stage 1980s under the direction the UW Drama professor Jack Wolcott, and were on screen in the lobby of Meany hall for a variety of years thereafter. They are right now (2002) in a college of Washington storage facility.

African American Theater

The black Repertory firm was the most energetic unit the Seattle’s federal Theatre Project and produced few of the many innovative and controversial theater. Historian Rena Fraden says that Seattle’s black unit placed “some the the most experimental of productions of any type of Negro unit,” (Fraden, 177), and was thought about by many to it is in the most interesting part of Seattle’s commonwealth Theatre Project. The NRC’s very first production to be Noah, a whimsical gospel chorus music which opened up on April 28, 1936. This was adhered to by Stevedore, a Marxist-themed piece of society realism concerning a black union organizer unjustly accused the raping a white woman. The cast was interracial. Audiences comment strongly, also spontaneously rising up and also surging on stage to sign up with the cast for the climactic finale at among the performances.

In June 1937, Burton and also Florence James resigned from the federal Theatre project in protest end the outcry in the press concerning their manufacturing of Power. Power to be a living Newspaper advocating public property of utilities, a controversial idea at the time. The show sold out to vast audiences, yet both Seattle papers denounced it. The furor end Power was the turning point for Seattle’s FTP. It marked a adjust from colorful social realism come safer, much less volatile subject matter.

After Florence and also Burton James resigned, the black Repertory Theatre to be housed in addition to other Seattle Theatre task units in the previous Royal Theatre movie house at 1319-23 Rainier Avenue. (In 2002 the place is one underpass of I-90.)

The Variety/Vaudeville unit toured generally throughout the state of Washington. Making use of a vaudeville-type style featuring a series of specialty acts and also comedians, the job performed the CCC Review at numerous of Washington’s 48 Civilian conservation Corps camps.

Touring come CCC camps was complex by CCC regulations the prohibited females from sleeping at CCC camps under any circumstances. (The Civilian conservation Corps made up men in your late teens, under the supervision of the U.S. Army and with the military exercising quasi-parental manage over the boys’ morals.) Touring masculine actors can bunk in ~ the CCC camps, yet the ladies in the company had to it is in housed with various families, sometimes at an inconvenient distance from your colleagues, because CCC camps to be in countryside areas. Regardless of the logistical headaches, the tours boosted CCC camp morale and also furthered the score of exposing a broad audience come live theater.

In the loss of 1937, Hallie Flanagan saw Seattle and was dismayed to find the Project’s tasks greatly reduced in the wake up of the james resignation. She likewise felt that Glenn Hughes, whose association v the Project had been the strongest in its initial stages, was as well preoccupied v his duties at the university of Washington to emphasis on the commonwealth Theatre Project. George Hood, former manager that the urban Theatre, to be serving together FTP Washington State Director. Flanagan carried Edwin O’Connor up from the Los Angeles unit and imported her Vassar College girlfriend Esther Porter roadway to produce a children’s theater unit.

Lane’s arrival increased morale. Follow to biographer joanne Bentley, “Using the vaudeville group, she started a theatre for kids that was well received. One vaudevillian she rehabilitated had actually been a skilled roper. ‘He had only perform in burlesque halls,’ she recalled, ‘so every he knew besides rope tricks was how to tell filthy jokes.’ Esther taught him to instead of nursery rhymes for the jokes. ‘It took ages to teach him, yet he did learn. The recited while that roped’” (Bentley, 282). The mother Goose/Vaudeville piece was referred to as Mother Goose Goes come Town. That was followed by Mother Goose on the Loose this productions toured Seattle area parks. Children came, literally, by the truckload.

One third of a Nation

On might 23, 1938, Seattle staged what is currently remembered as the commonwealth Theatre Project’s best-known drama, One 3rd of a Nation. The title describes Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 2nd inaugural address, ceded on January 20, 1937, in i m sorry he proclaimed “I see one-third that a country ill-housed, ill-clad and also ill-nourished.” written by Arthur Arent, the play check the history of slum conditions in huge cities and also spotlighted the need for housing reform. In Seattle, as elsewhere, the manufacturing was customized to be site-specific.

Wary of the vitriol evoked by Power, however, director Esther Porter lane treaded cautiously. “We uncovered what so plenty of projects found. You go and photograph (slum) properties in the community and also then you discover that the most an effective church in city owns that … every these dirty, unsightly rubbish dumps space owned by human being whose surname you can not mention” (quoted in Bentley, 272). The display ended through an onstage conflagration that the towering tenement set. The pat ran because that nine weeks at the recently christened federal Theatre in ~ Rainier Avenue and also Atlantic Street. “Seldom has any type of play so captured the windy fancy,” declared the review in The Seattle Times (quoted in Flanagan, 309).

On February 13, 1939, the Seattle FTP opened up Arthur Sundgaarde’s Spirochete, a life Newspaper about the background of syphilis. Spirochete Treponema pallidum is the surname of the corkscrew-shaped bacteria that reasons the sexually sent condition syphilis. The manufacturing ran for 2 months, and was sponsored by the Washington State board of Health, the Washington clinical Association, the King County medical Association, the Seattle and also King County wellness Departments, and also the Federated Women’s Clubs. At the moment syphilis was incurable. “Approximately 35,000 handbills were distributed throughout the city -- countless through doctors’ offices and hospitals -- i m sorry stressed that this was not a display for ‘the prurient nor the prude’” (Witham, 89). The disease was so substantially feared and taboo-laden that many audience members had actually never heard words "syphilis" talked in public. Spirochete to be the Seattle FTP’s greatest financial and attendance success.

The Anti-Art Un-American activities Committee

In might 1938, conference convened the house Committee top top Un-American Activities. The committee targeted for investigation first the functions Progress management (WPA) overall, and soon the commonwealth Theatre job specifically. Texas conservative Democrat Martin die (1900-1972) spearheaded the committee. Hallie Flanagan’s character and also motives were attacked both by the dies committee and also by disgruntled task members called as witnesses. Federal Theatre project productions to be branded together propaganda for Communism. Flanagan responded that they were in fact propaganda because that democracy since they utilized constitutional free to allude out America’s most pressing problems (Bentley). Versus a lift of Hitler’s march on Europe, congress slashed relief funding as America’s emphasis turned towards war.

As Seattle task members joined numerous citizens of Vancouver, Washington, on the banks of the Columbia flow to existing Flotilla of Faith, a historic reenactment that the first crossing by white skin - man of the good river, Congress was sounding the federal Theatre Project’s death knell.

The Seattle Unit spent at an early stage June prepare a brand-new Northwest-specific life Newspaper production referred to as Timber. The piece, composed by Seattle job members Burke Ormsby and Mary Myrtle, speak the story of the rapid decline of America’s wood acreage and the pioneers that “grabbed every they can get and also the devil take the hindmost” (Flanagan, 310). The public never saw this play: ~ above June 30, 1939, all commonwealth Theatre job workers nationwide were issued pink slips. The task was officially and abruptly disbanded.

In Washington state, together elsewhere, actors, technicians, directors, designers, costumers, ticket sellers, and also vaudevillians all melted earlier into the towel of society, each seeking a living without federal assistance. When the commonwealth Theatre task closed, 8,000 people throughout the nation lost your paycheck, 87 of castle in the state that Washington. Seattle’s FTP systems had mounted 51 complete productions for a complete of 885 performances, and touring vaudeville and puppet shows.

Theater specialists from around the country protested the demise of the federal Theatre Project. Regardless of the furor over Communist infiltration, in the end it was no anticommunism the felled the Project, but the watch in Congress the the average American witnessed no worth in spending tax dollars to assist performers and encourage the arts. Federal resources for the arts was controversial, although the budget for the project amounted to less than 1 percent of the WPA’s full allocation. Hallie Flanagan’s stepdaughter, jone Bentley, estimates an unnamed congressman at the moment the project was shut down: “Culture! What the Hell---Let ‘em have actually a pick and shovel” (Bentley, 340).

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Androcles and The Lion, November 1937 Courtesy Free, Adult, Uncensored">

Poster for commonwealth Theatre Project production of Androcles and also The Lion, November 1937

Courtesy Free, Adult, Uncensored


Hallie Flanagan, 1937-1939, ca. 1935

Courtesy Library of conference (ppmsca.03004)


Glenn Hughes (1894-1964)

Courtesy UW institution of Drama

Puget Sounds: A Nostalgic review of Radio and also TV in the an excellent Northwest">

Burton James (1888-1951), ca. 1925

Photo through Wayne Albee, Courtesy Puget Sounds: A Nostalgic testimonial of Radio and also TV in the good Northwest


Florence James leaping to her feet during the Canwell hearings, calling witness George Hewitt a liar and a perjurer, Seattle, 1948

Courtesy MOHAI

One third Of A Nation, might 1938 Courtesy Free, Adult, Uncensored">

Poster for Seattle commonwealth Theatre Project production of One 3rd Of A Nation, might 1938

Courtesy Free, Adult, Uncensored

One third of a Nation, Seattle, 1938 Courtesy Martin-Zambito fine Art, Seattle">

Blanche Morgan Losey, initial stage set design for WPA commonwealth Theatre Project manufacturing of One 3rd of a Nation, Seattle, 1938

Courtesy Martin-Zambito fine Art, Seattle


Hallie Flanagan, Arena (NewYork: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1940); jone Bentley, Hallie Flanagan: A Life in the American Theatre (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988); jane DeHart Matthews, The commonwealth Theatre: Circa 1935-1939: Plays, Relief, and Politics (New York: Octagon Books, 1980); Free, Adult, Uncensored: The Living history of the commonwealth Theatre Project ed. By man O’Connor and also Lorraine Brown (Washington, D.C.: brand-new Republic Books, 1978); Milton Meltzer, Violins and Shovels: the WPA art Projects, a brand-new Deal for America"s Hungry artists of the 1930s (New York: Delacorte Press, 1976); George Kazacoff, Dangerous Theatre: The federal Theatre task As A Forum For new Plays (New York: Peter Lang, 1989); Rena Fraden, Blueprint because that A black Federal Theatre 1935-1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge university Press, 1994); "WPA Posters" Library of conference American Memory site (;;; Dale Carter. “Showplace: Theatres the Puget Sound -- Seattle, Tacoma and also Everett,” Marquee, The newspaper of the Theatre Historical society of America, Vol. 33, No. 2 (2001); Quintard Taylor, The Forging the A black color Community: Seattle’s central District native 1870 through The Civil legal rights Era (Seattle: university of Washington Press, 1994); employee of the Fenwick Library, George Mason University, The federal Theatre Project: A Catalog-Calander of Productions (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1986); (; Nancy Wick, “Playing through History: The resurgence of a 1936 black color Drama ... Fulfills the Dream that One figured out UW Director,” Columns(; Kathryn Hamilton-Wang and Shirley Dallas in ~ the Washington State Library (for information regarding WPA Washington State Administrators); Evamarii Alexandria Johnson, A Production background Of The Seattle commonwealth Theatre job Negro Repertory Company, 1935-1939 Seattle: college of Washington Ph.D. Thesis, 1981; Paula Becker interview through Seattle FTP scholar Barry Witham, October 1, 2002; Barry B. Witham, “Pandemic and also Popular Opinion: Spirochete in Seattle,” Journal that American Drama and also Theatre Vol. 5, No. 2 (Spring, 1993), pp. 86-95.