Friday, June 16, 2017

New Deal Fairy Tale, Nursery Rhyme, and Story Art (9/10): WPA posters, WPA theatre

Unless otherwise noted, the images below are from the George Mason University Library, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes. The production information comes from the 1940 book Arena, by WPA Theatre Director Hallie Flanagan.

Above: A WPA poster for Treasure Island. The WPA performed Treasure Island in New Jersey from November 11 through December 30, 1937; put on a puppet show in Miami on March 10, 1939; and another puppet show in New York City from July 12, 1935 through March 26, 1936.

 Above: A WPA poster for Jack and the Beanstalk. This WPA performance ran from August 17, 1937 through March 10, 1938.

Above: A costume design for the WPA production of Aladdin. The WPA performed Aladdin in Los Angeles, from March 11 through July 22, 1938.

Above: A WPA poster for Robin Hood. This WPA musical played at the Emery Theatre in Cincinnati from December 27, 1937 through January 8, 1938.

Above: A WPA poster for Pinocchio. In addition to this production in Boston, the WPA performed Pinocchio in Los Angeles from June 3, 1937 through December 3, 1938.

Above: A set design for the WPA production of Robinson Crusoe. The WPA performed Robinson Crusoe in Gary, Indiana, from May 22 through August 18, 1937.

Above: A WPA poster for Alice in Wonderland. The WPA performed this puppet show from April 9 through April 20, 1938. Also, WPA actors performed Alice in Wonderland in Portland, Oregon, from December 26, 1938 through January 14, 1939, and in New Haven, Connecticut from March 16 through April 28, 1936.

Above: A WPA poster for Revolt of the Beavers. The WPA performed Revolt of the Beavers in New York City from May 20 through June 17, 1937. Revolt of the Beavers was written in 1936 by Oscar Saul and Louis Lantz and caused a controversy when it was performed by the WPA in 1937 (see next caption).

Above: A scene from the WPA production Revolt of the Beavers. In her 2008 book, Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times, writer Susan Quinn explained how the play created a brouhaha: "Revolt was a fairy tale with a message: It told the story of a cruel beaver chief who keeps the underling beavers busy turning bark into products but shares none of the proceeds from their labor. A hero beaver named Oakleaf organizes the beavers and leads them in a revolt. They shoot down the company's police, using revolvers and machine guns concealed in their lunch boxes, then gleefully send their oppressors into exile" (p. 160). Children loved the play, especially the parts where the actors moved around on roller skates. However, political conservatives were less-than-happy. Revolt of the Beavers added to their suspicion that the WPA Theatre was spreading subversive communist thought, and was a dangerous challenge to plutocracy, economic hoarding, and institutionalized oppression. (Also see, Brooks Atkinson, "'The Revolt of the Beavers,' or Mother Goose Marx,  Under WPA Auspices," New York Times, May 21, 1937). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


In addition to the stories above, the WPA Theatre also performed drama or puppet shows of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Tom Sawyer, Beauty and the Beast, Cricket on the Hearth, The Emperor's New Clothes, Rip Van Winkle, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and more.

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