Contact: Jill Brett (202) 707-2905
August 8, 1994
Federal Theatre Project Archives Available for Research at Library of Congress in September
The Federal Theatre Project archives, consisting of 1,150 linear feet of material from the government-sponsored theater program that was part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1935 to 1939, will be accessible to researchers at the Library of Congress beginning September 12.
The collection will be kept together as an integral unit and will be served to researchers and readers through the Library's Performing Arts Reading Room in the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Avenue S.E.
The Federal Theatre Project collection originally came to the Library of Congress over a period of years, from 1939 to 1946; the largest segment was transferred from the Washington office of the WPA in 1940. It was loaned temporarily to George Mason University in 1974 with the understanding that the collection would be organized and described. During those intervening years, the staff at George Mason University has done a fine job of carrying out this responsibility.
In the last few years, the Library of Congress has been recalling all outstanding loans of the Library's collections, of which the Federal Theatre Project archives is one, in order to ensure their preservation, security, and easy access. This collection, full of very fragile materials, such as the production bulletins, which have suffered measurable deterioration, will receive the special conservation treatment that the Library's experts can uniquely provide.
The opening of the James Madison Building in 1980 allowed the development of a multipurpose Performing Arts Reading Room, where music, dance, theater and recorded sound collections can be served in a central location on Capitol Hill. Students and scholars will be able to study the Federal Theatre Project materials in conjunction with the many complementary collections from that era here at the Library, such as the Federal Writers' Project, the WPA, the Farm Security Administration photographic archives, and the Historic American Buildings Survey. In addition, the Library's collections of copyright drama scripts, musical theater materials, and the papers of many directors, producers, actors, and writers will assist the scholar doing research in this field.
The Federal Theatre Project was one of four federal arts projects established in 1935 as part of the Roosevelt Administration's Works Progress Administration. The programs were intended to provide meaningful employment for professional artists who were affected by the Great Depression. Although it existed for only five brief years, 1935 to 1939, the organized talents and abilities of these artists were responsible for some of the most exciting and interesting theater in the nation during that time. Stage productions included plays, musical revues, vaudeville, dance, children's theater, and puppetry -- and in many cases gave now well-known artists their first break in the world of the theater.
The archives includes a tremendous variety of materials that document the Federal Theatre Project's years of operation: billboards, cast lists, correspondence, costume designs, financial records, lighting cue sheets, music, playbills, production bulletins, programs, reviews and press clippings, radio scripts, property lists, set designs, and scrapbooks. There are 5,000 playscripts and 2,500 titles, ranging from vaudev ille to the classics; 23 large drawers of approximately 1,000 posters, done by silk screen, offset, letterpress, and by hand; and 31 file drawers of some 23,000 black-and-white photographs.
As part of its continuing efforts to make special collections from the Library widely accessible electronically, the Library will digitize several hundred documents from the collection as a special demonstration project. If successful, the demonstration will provide the basis for further digitization efforts.
Ruth Kerns, a former reference librarian at George Mason University who worked with this collection for many years, will serve as a consultant to the Library. In addition to ensuring continuity of service to researchers working with the materials, she will advise the Library on the transfer of the archives, and their arrangement, conservation, and duplication.
The collection will be available in the Performing Arts Reading Room (LM-113) beginning September 12. It is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; the telephone number is (202) 707-5507.
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