The Federal Theatre Project or FTP was one of five public works programs created for writers and artists in 1935
's New Deal Works Progress Administration
. This marked the first time that the federal government subsidized the arts on such a large scale. The FTP had two purposes, first to provide relief work for theatrical artists that utilized their abilities and second to make their body of work widely available to the "common" or ordinary American. By fulfilling these goals, the FTP hoped to democratize what was then termed "high culture".
The FTP was probably the most controversial and definitely the most short-lived of the WPA's arts projects. Headed up by one Hallie Flanagan, the former head of Vassar College's Experimental Theater, the FTP became a forum for experimental theater and was committed to creating a public awareness of the issues of the day. They produced plays that ranged from,Shakespeare to Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here along with T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. They also formed sixteen black theater units. The most notable of these, staged in Harlem, was an all black version of Macbeth that was set in Haiti. The FTP also produced something that was called the "Living Newspaper". These were in fact dramatizations that combined newsreel, radio, and stage techniques that focused on contemporary social issues, such as standards of living, slums and public utilities. The FTP employed actors, playwrights, directors, producers, composers, and technicians. Some of the more notable members were Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, John Huston, E.G. Marshall and John Houseman.
The FTP gave many Americans their first opportunity to attend live theater. It sent its companies on tour to smaller cities throughout America where they staged children's plays, puppet shows, radio dramas and circuses. In all, its estimated that about 30 million Americans attended these productions within a four year period.
Sadly, as often happens with creative endeavors, the FTP soon came under attack. The House Un-American Activities Committee targeted the FTP in its investigation on propaganda. It accused the FTP of communist leanings and of providing a forum for further New Deal propaganda. Congress wound up abolishing the FTP in 1939 because of the surrounding controversy and as part of a general abandonment of the New Deal.