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Photographic Print from New York production of Macbeth, 1936

[Detail] Photographic Print from New York production of Macbeth, 1936

Newspaper Reviews

Reviews of FTP plays provide an opportunity to examine how theatre critics assessed these productions and how these assessments were used for promotional purposes. Production notebooks contain excerpts and complete reviews such as the "Critic’s Opinion" page featuring a review of Dr. Faustus in the New Orleans production notebook: “So superior was the production and so ideally suited to the uses of the legitimate theatre is the playhouse that it appears rather to be regretted that this Faust will run only through Saturday.”

Quotes from publications such as The Herald Tribune and The New Yorker appear on the "Newspaper Criticisms" page of the New York production notebook for Dr. Faustus. A quote from the New York Evening Telegram proclaiming, “This has been a wonderful season to study the development of the Theatre and we are largely indebted to the Federal Theatre for it” follows on the "Remarks" page. The quote serves as an introduction to a publicity piece describing the delivery of “new life” to Dr. Faustus through “the original treatment of its brilliant director . . . and the light expert.” Assessments of other performances and their use in publicity materials are part of this collection’s administrative documents.

  • What are the tone and focus of these reviews? What aspects of productions do the critics discuss? What do they say about them and why?
  • How do theatre critics discuss the relationship between individual productions and the Federal Theatre Project? Do they make fair comparisons given that there are five different regions in the FTP?
  • How do quotes from critics add to advertisements for films and plays?
  • Write your own review of a play or movie.

Persuasive Writing

As the national director of the Federal Theatre Project, Hallie Flanagan worked on behalf of the administration to promote its programs and ensure their success. The administrative documents in this collection contain speeches Flanagan made to her colleagues and supervisors. A review of these addresses provides insight into how Flanagan argued for the creation and continuation of government-supported theatre.

Flanagan first spoke to her regional directors in an October 1935 address at the McLean Mansion entitled, “Is This the Time and Place?” Before calling for the creation of resources to assist the nation’s unemployed theatre workers, Flanagan noted the irony of giving such a speech in the luxurious estate:

The hideousness of the chandelier in the great ballroom, the busts and statues in the court, the gold faucets on the gigantic bathtub, are only equaled by their excessive cost. In short, the McLean Mansion, like many similar edifices throughout America, is a monument to the period of American culture in which the value of a work of art was measured in terms of its cost and the distance from which it was imported.

In a February 8, 1939 address to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Patents, Flanagan framed the Federal Theatre Project in terms of world history: “Four centuries before Christ, Athens believed that plays were worth paying for out of public money; today France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Italy and practically all other civilized countries appropriate money for the theatre.”

  • Why do you think Flanagan made these comparisons?
  • How do these comparisons reflect upon the FTP?
  • How might these examples help to elicit support for the FTP?
  • How does Flanagan use these examples to establish a tone and direction for her speeches?