In its four short years the FTP presented an extraordinarily varied fare. Performances ranged from productions of sacred plays of the Middle Ages to classic plays by William Shakespeare and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and modern works by George Bernard Shaw, Gerhard Hauptmann, Lillian Hellman, Eugene O’Neill, and Anita Loos. The FTP also premiered the work of writers who later achieved fame, such as Arthur Miller and Mary Chase, later author of the comedy classic Harvey. The FTP fostered the careers of lighting and set designers now important in American theater history and actors and directors, among them the legendary Orson Welles, John Houseman, Joseph Cotton, Arlene Francis, and Burt Lancaster.
National Director Hallie Flanagan had a strong interest in theater that kept abreast of social change. She fostered the genre known as “Living Newspapers,” highly innovative stage productions inspired by headlines of the daily newspapers. These performances addressed social issues of significance such as housing (One-Third of a Nation), electrical power availability (Power), and public health (Spirochete).
The FTP managed numerous highly successful sub-projects, the most successful perhaps being its Negro Theatre Units, which employed African American actors, playwrights, directors, and craftspeople. In addition to performances that focused on social issues, these units produced novel creations of classic plays, such as an Orson Welles production of Macbeth—known as the “Voodoo” Macbeth—and a “swing” version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado. The Children’s Theatre Units mounted highly popular productions, often with marionettes. The FTP production of Pinocchio was seen numerous times by Walt Disney and was the inspiration for his 1940 Academy Award-winning animated film classic. Many FTP units presented plays in languages other than English, including productions in Yiddish, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, and German.