Theatre History - Loudoun County Public Schools

Theatre History - Loudoun County Public Schools

ENG-LANG THEATRE IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY (THEATRE AND DRAMA IN THE U.S. 1917-1941) The Great Depression motivated the creation of a unique experiment in American theatre: the Federal Theatre Project (1935-1939). This was a unit of the government funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was established to combat unemployment. Headed by Hallie Flanagan Davis, at its peak it employed 10,000 people in 40 states. About 1000 productions of all types were mounted. 65% of these were free! It is now mostly remembered for developing the Living Newspaper, which integrated factual data with dramatic vignettes. 1 A poster for a Federal Theatre production focused on slum housing. Image: http://jewishcurrents.org/august-27-the-federaltheatre-project/ ENG-LANG THEATRE IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY

(THEATRE AND DRAMA IN THE U.S. 1917-1941) The Living Newspapers each centered around a problem of the times, such as agriculture, rural electricfication, or slum housing. Most of the plays had a central character representing the little man who asked questions about the problem and was led through its background, human consequences, and possible solutions. Much of the dialogue was taken from speeches, newspaper stories, or other documents. The political tone of these works eventually alienated Congress, who in 1939 refused to continue funding the Federal Theatre Project. 2 A poster for one of the Federal Theatre Projects productions. This one was produced in 1936. Image: http://www.clker.com/clipart-44553.html ENG-LANG THEATRE IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY (THEATRE AND DRAMA IN THE U.S. 1917-1941) During this time period, European trends (called the

new stagecraft) began to take hold in the U.S. This was primarily a visual movement. It could be best described as simplified realism. The new stagecraft was popularized and brought into full acceptance by Arthur Hopkins, who was considered the most adventurous of New Yorks commercial producers. He presented plays by Tolstoy, Ibsen, Gorky, Shakespeare, ONeill, and others the repertoire ran the gamut! 3 His production of Hamlet in 1922, starring John Barrymore (yes, related to Drew Barrymore), was declared one of the best productions of the century. John Barrymore Drew Barrymores grandfather! ENG-LANG THEATRE IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY (THEATRE AND DRAMA IN THE U.S. 1917-1941) The Federal Theatre also promoted African

American theatre. It established African American troupes in several cities, which presented over 75 plays in four years. The Lafayette Players, established in 1915 by Anita Bush, performed weekly in Harlem and gave African American actors their longest continuous employment in regular drama to that time. By 1928 the company had a theatre in Chicago and two touring groups. However, it could not withstand the Depression and closed in 1932. 4 The Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, home to the Lafayette Players. Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lafayette_Theatre_(Harlem) ENG-LANG THEATRE IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY (THEATRE AND DRAMA IN THE U.S. 1917-1941) The American Negro Theatre (ANT) formed in 1940. This group provided important opportunities to

African American actors who later went on to become major stars of the time. It inspired the formation of the Committee on the Negro in the Arts, which was dedicated to integrating African American artists into all forms of American culture on a dignified basis of merit and equality. The first serious plays for African American actors on Broadway were Three Plays for a Negro Theatre by Ridgely Torrence. This was a major turning away from the stereotyped treatment of African Americans. 5 It was also the first time African Americans were welcomed into Broadway audiences. From the ANT production of Macbeth. Image: http://www.orsonwelles.org/search/label/Negro %20Theatre%20Project

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