|Contextual Notes||"With sixteen million workers out of a job during the worst years of the Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took drastic measures: he embarked on a public works program that built 650,000 miles of roads, 125,000 public buildings, 75,000 bridges, and 8,000 parks. One of the controversial ventures of the Works Progress Administration was the Federal Theatre Project, which put nearly 30,000 people back to work, only to gutter out four years later.|
The Federal Theatre Project produced twelve hundred plays and brought theater to an audience of more than twenty-five million--many of whom were experiencing live theater for the first time. At its peak, the project employed thirteen thousand people in thirty-one states. It fostered the growth of black theater as well as the early careers of stars such as John Houseman and Orson Welles. Its productions tackled serious themes, from Mussolini's war on Ethiopia to the tragedy of the Dust Bowl. What began as a product of necessity blossomed into a period of creativity. Houseman once wrote, 'The miracle of the Federal Theatre lies precisely in this--that from the drab and painful relief project there sprang the liveliest, most innovative, and most original theatre of its era.'" (Source: Ponce, Pedro. "An hour upon the stage." Humanities 1 July 2003.)
Glenn Hughes, head of the UW Drama Department, was also instrumental in establishing the WPA Seattle Federal Theater Project (FTP) in 1935. He volunteered as the regional representative for the dramatic and vaudeville projects. Florence and Burton James, proprietors of Seattle Repertory Company, volunteered to spearhead the FTP Negro Repertory Company. Hughes and the James had been associates as producers and directors for a number of years. By the end of 1937, the Jameses had left the FTP over the criticism they received for producing shows that revealed social realism. Hughes also left in 1937, as the National FTP Director Hallie Flanagan found him too preoccupied by his duties at UW to give needed attention to his FTP productions. The Federal Theater Project was dismantled by Congress in 1939.