Thursday, January 14, 2016

11,000 theater performances by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration

(A theater performance in New York City, ca. 1934-1935, funded by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Photo from a FERA report.)

Before the WPA's Federal Theatre Project, the Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration had its own impressive drama program. Between 1934 and 1935, 395 acting companies across the country gave 11,000 performances to over 5 million audience members. It was a win-win situation, where unemployed theater workers were given jobs and more Americans were able to experience the theater. There were performances for CCC camps, a Portable Theatre group in New York City, puppet shows for children, vaudeville in San Francisco, "stunt nights" & dramatic contests in New Jersey, and an African American theater group in Massachusetts. There were even acting companies in places not widely known for theater; for example, Wyoming had five acting companies. (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the FERA, 1934-1935, 1935, pp. 108-111.)
The New Deal offered opportunities for the unemployed, and improved the quality of life for the entire nation through improved infrastructure, assistance with food & clothing, greater access to the arts, and much more. Compare that to today's public policy, where the unemployed are largely ignored, infrastructure is allowed to age and crumble, social services are demonized, and art... well, art isn't even on the agenda.

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