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Federal Theater Project

The entire world felt the effects of the stock market crash in October 1929, which ushered in the Great Depression.  The effects were no different for those in the theater industry, which was already facing difficulty with increased competition  from the motion picture industry with the advent of talking pictures in 1927.  Theaters were closing in cities across the country and tens of thousands of theater workers were unemployed.  

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created in 1935 as part of an effort to create useful jobs for the unemployed in their areas of expertise.  The arts were just one of the areas of employment that the WPA focused on.  The Federal Theater Project (FTP) was one of four arts programs developed by the WPA. Although the four areas combined used less than three-fourths of one percent of the entire WPA budget, the FTP was highly controversial and widely criticized as being wasteful, non-essential and undemocratic. There were also concerns about censorship and propaganda due to the theater being government run. The program only lasted four years, but produced over a thousand plays, in twenty-two cities for an audience of 25 million people, and was able to help employ more than 30,000 theatrical workers.

Many playwrights benefited from the Federal Theater Project, including Barrie Stavis, Jane Bowles and Arthur Miller.

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