The Living Newspaper was a specific production style developed for the Federal Theatre Project, which in turn was a sub-project of the Work Projects Administration (or W.P.A.) created by FDR's New Deal. Living Newspapers provided a theatrical forum for presenting and dealing with important issues of the times in a way that was funny, impactful and emotionally moving to people of all social strata, though most especially the lower and lower middle classes.

Living Newspapers sprang to life in cities around the country, including New York, Chicago and Seattle. The scripts were developed independently, often by local journalists, but ultimately had to be cleared by the national office in New York. The unbreakable first rule was that the content had to be 100% factually accurate. Often the writers used this to their dramatic advantage and the power-elite's embarrassment, i.e. by staging comments made by a Congressman that reflected poorly in the eyes of the common people. A Senator might try to silence such a show, but it was impossible to argue he had be misquoted when the text was lifted directly and unaltered from the Congressional Record.

Stylistically the Living Newspapers were that rare happy blend of avant garde and accessibility. Gags and bits— not to mention performers— were blithely stolen from vaudeville, but other unconventional techniques were developed as well, including masks, puppetry, loudspeakers, ramps joining the house to the proscenium, characters in the audience and the liberal use of projections, just to name a few. Projections, which have now become the hackneyed fall-back of fringe theatres everywhere, were a new thing back then. They were handy for displaying key dates and statistics, charts, maps, actual newspaper headlines, photos and sometimes even animated cartoons and short film sequences. Generally speaking, actors did not play strongly individualized parts, but more often moved and spoke in groups, like a Classical Greek chorus. Usually several story lines all dealing with the main subject would be related episodically throughout the course of the performance.

Living Newspapers fell under the same cloud of rampant anti-communist fervor as most of the good works of the W.P.A., but fragments of the style live on, most recently and notably in the "Big Cheap Theatre" and RAT movements that groundswelled in the 90's in cities like Seattle (at Annex and AHA! Theatres) and Los Angeles (at Circle X Theatre and Sacred Fools)— stressing cheap sets, big props, abstract stagings, and ingenuity over budget. Now we just need another FDR to give this sort of live performance the funding it deserves.

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