Theater for the People: Federal Theatre Project playbills

All done! Launched January 11, 2022 and completed March 11, 2022.

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The Federal Theatre Project began in 1935 as one of four arts-related organizations founded under Federal Project One within the newly formed Works Progress Administration (WPA). Within a year, the FTP had employed 11,000 performers, directors, playwrights, designers and stage technicians. By the time it was canceled in 1939, FTP productions had been seen by 16 million people in 30 states. For many, it was their first opportunity to see live theatrical performance.

The Federal Theatre Project collection at the Library of Congress holds thousands of playbills, fliers, and broadsides covering a wide range of productions from vaudeville sketches to full-length dramas, circus, puppetry, dance works, and musicals. The collection documents emerging forms--like the living newspaper which performed stories taken directly from current headlines. It also includes ephemera from different units of FTP that featured all-African American casts, performances in German, Italian, Spanish, and Yiddish, or plays geared toward children. Capturing the information in these playbills provides a window into the past, uncovering the stories we told during the Great Depression, what we valued, and who we were.

Content Advisory: Minstrel shows and the use of blackface make-up were very popular in the United States during the 1930s, and the FTP supported productions that depicted harmful stereotypes. Some playbills feature racist and offensive images and descriptions. Please see Related links for further information and context.