Washington State Thespian Theatre for Social Action


The Depression hammered creative artists of all kinds—painters and sculptors, musicians, writers, and actors. Two-thirds of the American Federation of Musicians lost their jobs. Performance venues suffered a steep decline. Half of Broadway theaters went dark. Prices paid for paintings plummeted 66 percent. A majority of graphic artists hired by magazines were thrown out of work. Newspaper and book sales plunged. Does this sound familiar to our current world with the coming of the Covid19?

Washington State Thespians know that many of you had to cancel Opening Night performances, Spring Musicals, Young Director’s Festivals, Spring Productions and more. We also understand that without income from those performances your production budgets have been hit hard. So we aretaking a lesson from Federal Project Number One. This was a government program that funded and put artists back to work during the great depression.

Federal Project Number One included the Federal Writers Project, Federal Art Project, Federal Music Project, and Federal Theatre Project—we have looked at what they can teach us about our new normal and we’ve found an idea YOU can we possibly use and put to into action next school year to put your programs back into production, regain some financial ground while also looking at the social issues our communities and our nation are facing. Let’s put our student artists back to work!

We encourage you to create a Living Newspaper with your students OR produce one of the original Federal Theatre Project Living Newspaper scripts archived at George Mason University. These scripts are ROYALTY FREE. You can produce them with flash and flare or you can produce them as Reader’s Theatre – the choice is up to you. There are also original scripts and scores for musicals produced by the Federal Theatre Project on this site. They are also ROYALTY FREE.

Our Theatre for Social Action coordinator has gathered information and a few resources to get you started. If you need more ideas or further assistance please feel free to contact Gretchen Nordleaf-Nelson.

Living Newspapers

The term “Living Newspaper” refers to the use of live performance as a means of presenting audiences with factual information surrounding current events. Historically Living Newspaper performances have been intended as a form of political theatre with the purpose of inciting social action. Living Newspaper performances typically reject traditional theatre conventions (i.e. the idea of a fourth wall) in favor of more direct, experimental techniques, and often employ multimedia devices in the telling of a story.

The Living Newspapers are most commonly associated with those produced by the Federal Theatre Project in the 1930s.  Funded by the Works Progress Administration, the FTP produced several Living Newspapers that touched on social and political issues of the time.  These controversial theatre pieces ultimately contributed to the fall
of the FTP in 1939.

Living Newspapers continue to be created today around the country, and around the world and have become especially popular with high school theatre troupes.  Drawing from information in newspaper articles, and more recently, social media, students create original works that tell a storry that both educates and serves as a call to action on important political issues.

…the [Living Newspaper] seeks to dramatize a new struggle – the search of the average American today for knowledge about his country and his world; to dramatize his struggle to turn the great natural and economic forces of our time toward a better life for more people”  – Hallie Flanagan, National Director of the Federal Theatre Project

Links of Interest and Resources

“The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.”-Arthur Miller