Originating in Russia and Germany at the turn of the 20th century, Living Newspapers are fact-based dramatizations of current events that gained prominence in the United States in the 1930s with the federally-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA), a cornerstone of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. The WPA employed millions of job seekers during the Great Depression, on infrastructure projects such as Ithaca’s Southside Community Center and Cascadilla Creek, and on arts and cultural initiatives.
The Living Newspaper Unit of the Federal Theater Project (FTP) employed out-of-work artists and journalists to create and stage plays on controversial issues of the day, ranging from corporate monopolies and sex education to race relations and the urban housing crisis. In an effort to educate the public and counter disinformation campaigns, Living Newspapers eschewed conventions of commercial theater in favor of experimental agit-prop techniques designed to promote critical thinking and prompt political action.
Enormously popular with audiences across the country, the FTP became a target of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) for its alleged anti-government stance and Communist sympathies. Despite Director Hallie Flanagan’s insistence that Living Newspapers presented “propaganda for democracy,” not against it, Congress disbanded the FTP in 1939. As The Next Storm considers the viability of a Green New Deal, we thought it fitting to revive this politically-charged mode of performance.