There are only two weeks left in our annual fundraiser! If you are in a position to, please consider donating to our 2022 campaign. You’ll be helping us put on a season of Cold Readings, produce one cabaret this Spring, and stage a workshop of a new play this summer. You’ll also be fueling our community exploration and long-term research extravaganza into the life and legacy of Hallie Flanagan, director of the Federal Theatre Project. We’ve long been obsessed with her and hope you’ll find her story as compelling, and energizing, as we do.
Thank you, thank you, thank you,
Paul, Katie, and Kathryn
Theater in Asylum
So who is Hallie Flanagan?
Director, playwright, producer, arts leader, author, traveler, educator, administrator, mother, newspaper enthusiast, hero!
Before her legendary tenure as the first and only director of the Federal Theatre Project, Hallie was a playwright and director working primarily at Vassar College. Originally the “Director of English Speech,” Hallie developed and led their experimental theater, eventually prompting the school to create a major in theater for the first time.
Her 1931 play, Can You Hear Their Voices?, adapted from the Whittaker Chambers story “Can you Make Out Their Voices” was a smash hit, captivating audiences with its unique, informative style that would eventually go on to become the “Newspaper Play” that the Federal Theatre Project championed. The piece, following a farmer uprising calling for food during the Dust Bowl, notably predated more well known stories like Grapes of Wrath and Waiting for Lefty.
In 1935, in the midst of the the Great Depression, Hallie’s childhood friend (and head of the Works Progress Administration) Harry Hopkins turned to Hallie to create and lead The Federal Theatre Project.
And what’s this “Federal” Theatre Project?
From 1935-1939, the Federal Theatre Project (FTP) was a taxpayer-funded government program, part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), tasked with putting tens of thousands of theater artists back to work during the Great Depression.
“The primary aim of the Federal Theatre Project is the reemployment of theatre workers now on public relief rolls: actors, directors, playwrights, designers, vaudeville artists, stage technicians, and other workers in the theatre field. The far reaching purpose is the establishment of theatres so vital to community life that they will continue to function after the program of this Federal Project is completed.” - Hallie Flanagan, 1935
In the program’s brief four years of operation, the project employed over ten thousand theater artists, put over one thousand productions around the country, and had its work seen by over 16 million Americans in 30 states.
While exceedingly popular with artists and audience, the project was not without controversy. Accusations of communist organizing within the project led to increasing budget cuts and eventually the termination of the project after just four years.
And why does it matter?
A fundamental reevaluation of America’s priorities is actively under way. Crisis after crisis has shaken old assumptions and the balance of power. The theater industry, too, has had its foundations shaken. What does it mean to be an artist, or an arts worker, today? How should our work get made, and which work should get made? Who is our work for? How is it funded?
We’re obviously in favor of more theater available to more people, everywhere, all the time. AND that artists should be both respected and payed. We believe Hallie Flanagan when she asserted that:
“Neither should the theater in our country be regarded as a luxury. It is a necessity because in order to make democracy work the people must increasingly participate; they can't participate unless they understand; and the theater is one of the great mediums of understanding.”
So what’s next for Theater in Asylum?
We’re spending the next year developing a show to tell the story of Hallie Flanagan and the Federal Theatre Project. We believe this story must be told so that its legacy and value won’t be lost in the ongoing discussion over our country’s future. Some questions we have:
Beginning early 2022 we begin a massive research, devising, and performance process. We’ve already begun a reading group to read Susan Quinn’s excellent history Furious Improvisation. This spring we will produce a cabaret of short pieces made by our community exploring the FTP. Later in the year we’ll commence an intensive workshop to script the show we aim to premiere in 2023.
Let’s make it happen!
If you’re in a position to, please make a donation to our annual campaign before it ends in a few weeks. We have huge ambitions to commission dozens of artists this year as we craft this new show.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Paul, Katie, and Kathryn
Theater in Asylum
Ps. There’s a new perk for donors to our fundraiser! A custom cover song by Ali Dineen! Check it out!
Theater in Asylum (TIA) is a New York-based theater company founded in 2010 to challenge and empower our community. TIA joyfully pursues a rigorous research and an ensemble-driven approach to theater-making. We create performances to investigate our past, interpret our present, and imagine our future. We prize space to process, space to question—asylum—for ourselves and our community.