Reimagining theatre 75 years later
6, 2010 -- A never-completed living newspaper outline, thought to be too radical in the Depression-era, is now inspiring creativity in a group of students at SF State.
While studying the history of theatre in Professor Joel Schechter's master's seminar, a group of graduate students came across "Money," an unfinished one-page outline for a living newspaper written for the Federal Theatre Project, a Depression-era unemployment relief effort that was part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA began in 1935 as a government unemployment relief agency that created 8.5 million new jobs. The Federal Theatre Project helped thousands of artists get back to work.
Schechter's students wrote essays about the outline, then began writing scenes for a play. Their work on the play coincides with the 75th anniversary of the founding of the WPA on April 8. "We had discussions of today's economic turbulence, and the play itself, as it has been constructed, makes parallels, and recurrent problems with financial institutions," Schechter said.
Creating the script for a 75-year-old outline presented challenges for the students. They researched the economic and social climate of the 1930s, while also reflecting on parallels with current financial difficulties and unemployment.
The plot follows the relationship between an American banker and "the Utopian," who meet in a store in Brazil. The Utopian speaks Elizabethan English, but has no concept of money because he was shipwrecked and raised by an Amazonian tribe. The banker takes the Utopian to America where a host of characters attempt to teach the Utopian about capitalism.
Once in America, the story unfolds with cabaret songs and financial chaos while using puppetry, film clips and news headlines as production elements to explore ideas about capitalism, supply and demand, and what truly makes happiness. Schechter's class hopes to perform staged readings of their finished product in the fall.
"In some ways we are still benefitting from the WPA, 75 years later," said Schechter, a professor of theatre arts. "Public buildings built during that time are still in use, parks, and bridges are still used. In terms of cultural benefits, we have this wonderful artistic heritage created by the Federal Theatre Project.
"Of course, those who work in the theatre, we'd like to see more funding, and the WPA shows how a program can be very beneficial to the artists and public."
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