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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
The Great Depression witnessed masses of people struggling to survive. Whilst most historians record the dire need of general laborers, what is often overlooked is the dire need of struggling artists, particularly those who worked in live theatre. When Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA), providing jobs for the unemployed, a subsidiary group under the guidance of producer and playwright Hallie Flanagan established the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), with the intent of providing work for unemployed entertainers and writers. It was a short-lived venture, 1935-1939, as the group was accused of promoting Socialist and Communist propaganda. But, in the short duration of its existence, the project assisted thousands of theatre workers and it had branches all across the United States. It was an intense project which met with multiple obstacles but its impact on American theatre cannot be ignored.
George Kazacoff’s book, Dangerous Theatre: The Federal Theatre Project as a Forum for New Plays, takes an intense look at the history of this short-lived program and the impact it had on American theatre. The author provides a conclusive look behind the scenes of the works produced under this project and the magnitude of its productions across the country. He analyses and argues the merits of the project’s intentions and what it actually accomplished, explaining in great detail how effective, or ineffective, the project was in promoting new plays. In spite of the fact that the FTP did not result in any great theatrical productions, it remains one of the most overlooked theatre projects anywhere. The author presents a thorough discourse on the overall influence the FTP has had in theatre arts, and the other arts as well, making this book a fascinating as well as a thoroughly detailed look at an important part of American history, as a whole, but particularly American theatrical and artistic history.