WPA Radio Scripts, 1936-1940
Works Progress Administration. Federal Theatre
30 linear feet ; 73 boxes
The New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts.
Billy Rose Theatre Division.New York, New York
Radio scripts from WPA's Federal Theatre
of the Air.
Collection is open to the public. Photocopying prohibited. Advance notice may be
Restrictions on Use
For permission to publish, contact the Curator, Billy Rose Theatre Division.
WPA Radio Scripts, *T-Mss 2000-005. Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York
Public Library for the Performing Arts.
The Federal Theatre Project was a special program of the Works Progress
Administration, itself a government program designed to counter the deleterious
impact of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Created in 1935 by executive order of
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal Theatre Project was headed by Hallie
Flanagan, a former Professor of English from Vassar College. In its four years of
existence the F.T.P. employed some 12,700 theater professionals in 31 states, and
presented more than 1,000 performances each month, free of charge.
The Federal Theatre Project produced over 1,200 plays in its four-year history,
introducing 100 new playwrights. Artists established or aided in their careers by
the Federal Theatre Project in include Orson Welles, John Houseman, Arthur Miller,
Elmer Rice, Marc Blitzstein, Joseph Losey, Paul Green, Will Geer and Canada Lee.
Playwrights whose works were staged by the Federal Theatre Project include T. S.
Eliot, Sinclair Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O'Neill and William Shakespeare,
whose Macbeth was staged by Welles and Houseman in
Harlem with an All African-American cast, to considerable acclaim
In addition to its stage production units, the F.T.P. reached an estimated 10 million
listeners with its Federal Theatre of the Air radio
programs, broadcast over all the major networks. Congress, however, concerned about
the Federal Theatre Project's leftist tilt, abolished the program in 1939.
The WPA Radio Scripts consist of final drafts of radio plays and other texts produced
by the Federal Theatre of the Air. Most scripts are from either the New York or Los
Angeles offices of the Federal Theatre Project. In some instances copies of scripts
for the same program but from different jurisdictions are included in the same
series. Notable programs represented in the collection include adaptations of the
plays of Henrik Ibsen and Oscar Wilde, operettas by Gilbert & Sullivan, a
series called A Capella in Bronze featuring the WPA
Negro Radio Chorus and focusing on stories of particular interest to
African-Americans, adaptations of books such as Dickens' Pickwick Papers and plays such as Tolstoy's Redemption, Goldsmith's She Stoops to
Conquer and Moliére's Tartuffe. A
1939 series celebrating Jazz entitled The Story of
Swing devotes episodes to Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and the Dorsey
Brothers. Turning Points in Famous Lives dramatizes
key moments in the lives of John Paul Jones, Sarah Bernhardt, Louis Pasteur, Isaac
Newton, Billy the Kid, Joseph Stalin, and others. The Living
Newspaper, adapted from a concurrent Federal Theatre Project stage
production, dramatizes contemporary problems facing listeners in daily life.