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Now in Our Lobby: The Federal Theatre Project

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Burt Lancaster and an unkown circus performer. Federal Theater Project Collection.

The Music Division is proud to announce Coast to Coast: The Federal Theatre Project 1935-1939, a new on-site exhibition that presents materials from one of our most popular collections.  The Federal Theatre Project was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt under the Works Progress Administration, and marked the  only time that the United States federal government made a large scale effort to produce theatre events. The FTP provided work to theatre professionals who found themselves unemployed during the Great Depression, and brought remarkable productions to cities both large and small across the United States.

The project was short-lived, from 1935-1939, but that brief span resulted in productions that run the gamut of theatrical experience from opera, the classics, modern drama, puppet theatre, vaudeville, dance, and even the circus. Among the circus performers is a gentleman you may recognize – Burt Lancaster, who early in his career was an acrobat, and one of thousands of performers employed by the Federal Theatre Project. The Project also held among its ranks such past and future luminaries as Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.

Materials from this vast collection can currently be viewed in American Memory.  Later this year the Performing Arts Encyclopedia will feature high-quality scans from the thousands of photographic negatives in this fascinating collection. In the meantime, visit the Performing Arts Reading Room, where FTP materials, including scripts, posters, and photographs, will be on view until July 16th, 2011. The exhibit will soon be available online,  and a sister exhibition will travel to Los Angeles, where it can be seen at the Walt Disney Concert Hall from May 7, 2011 – February 18, 2012.

Comments (2)

  1. The “unknown” circus performer with Burt Lancaster is Nick Cucchia or, his circus and, later, movie name: Nick Cravat. He grew up with Lancaster in East Harlem; the two young men joined a circus as acrobats in the 1930s and spend most of the decade crossing the country with various circus troupes. See my biography, BURT LANCASTER: AN AMERICAN LIFE (Knopf 2000) for more details.

    • Kate – thank you for the identification!

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