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Promoting Theater for Children

From its very beginning, the Federal Theatre Project created theater productions for children that were both entertaining and educational. Every major city across the U.S. employed a Children’s Unit, which performed classics such as A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio. The unit even employed educators and psychologists responsible for selecting plays and for determining their educational value. The plays were performed by live actors, marionettes, and puppets in colorful costumes, with many scene changes, special effects, and music and were often colorful and loud.

Children in line for an Alice in Wonderland matinee in San Diego, California, between 1935 and 1939. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (083.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0083

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Alice in Wonderland

From its very beginning, the Federal Theatre Project created theater productions for children that were both entertaining and educational. Every major city across the U.S. employed a Children’s Unit, which performed classics such as A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio. The unit even employed educators and psychologists responsible for selecting plays and for determining their educational value. The plays were performed by live actors, marionettes, and puppets in colorful costumes, with many scene changes, special effects, and music and were often colorful and loud.

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland," 1937. Silkscreen poster. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (094.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0094

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/federal-theatre-project/childrens-theater.html#obj1

Marionettes Tweedledee and Tweedledum

From its very beginning, the Federal Theatre Project created theater productions for children that were both entertaining and educational. Every major city across the U.S. employed a Children’s Unit, which performed classics such as A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio. The unit even employed educators and psychologists responsible for selecting plays and for determining their educational value. The plays were performed by live actors, marionettes, and puppets in colorful costumes, with many scene changes, special effects, and music and were often colorful and loud.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Alice in Wonderland, between 1935 and 1939. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (097.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0097

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The Emperor's New Clothes

The Emperor’s New Clothes was adapted from a Hans Christian Andersen tale by Charlotte Chorpenning (1873–1955), one of the pioneers of children’s theater. As with many FTP plays for children, the play had a moral and championed common sense, while mocking the vanity and insecurities of some authority figures. Central characters in the colorful and extravagant production were tailors Zar and Zan, shown here, who convinced the emperor that the nonexistent robe they “created” for him could be seen only by intelligent individuals. More than 250,000 children and adults saw the play, which opened in New York and was followed by productions in 7 additional cities. Many of the units provided instructions and materials to teachers so that students could have the opportunity to perform the play in their schools.

Maxine L. Borowsky. Costume design for Zar and Zan in The Emperor’s New Clothes, 1936. Ink, watercolor, and pastel. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (088.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0088

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Maidens Costume Design

The Emperor’s New Clothes was adapted from a Hans Christian Andersen tale by Charlotte Chorpenning (1873–1955), one of the pioneers of children’s theater. As with many FTP plays for children, the play had a moral and championed common sense, while mocking the vanity and insecurities of some authority figures. Central characters in the colorful and extravagant production were tailors Zar and Zan, shown here, who convinced the emperor that the nonexistent robe they “created” for him could be seen only by intelligent individuals. More than 250,000 children and adults saw the play, which opened in New York and was followed by productions in 7 additional cities. Many of the units provided instructions and materials to teachers so that students could have the opportunity to perform the play in their schools.

Maxine L. Borowsky. Costume design for maidens in The Emperor’s New Clothes, 1936. Ink watercolor, and pastel. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (087.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0087

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/federal-theatre-project/childrens-theater.html#obj4

Androcles and the Lion

George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), like Eugene O’Neill, gave the Federal Theatre Project permission to produce his plays at a very minimal fee. One of those staged with considerable success was Androcles and the Lion, the story of the recently converted Christian slave who removed a thorn from a lion’s paw. He was then spared by the lion when both later find themselves in front of a blood-thirsty crowd at the Colosseum in Rome. Although not strictly presented through FTP as children’s theater, Androcles and the Lion was frequently performed for children. It was staged in five very different locations—Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, New York City, and Atlanta—with dramatically different productions. For example, the productions in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Denver featured African American casts. The Androcles that was staged in Los Angeles featured the first collaboration of the Federal Theatre Project and the Federal Music Project, with a prelude that was entirely choral, performed by a fifty-member African American chorale. The Denver production featured an avant-garde set design, which included a series of eighteen abstract suspended cubes and many experimental staging techniques.

George Bernard Shaw’s “Androcles and the Lion,” 1937. Silkscreen poster. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (091.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0091

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Performance of Androcles and the Lion

George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), like Eugene O’Neill, gave the Federal Theatre Project permission to produce his plays at a very minimal fee. One of those staged with considerable success was Androcles and the Lion, the story of the recently converted Christian slave who removed a thorn from a lion’s paw. He was then spared by the lion when both later find themselves in front of a blood-thirsty crowd at the Colosseum in Rome. Although not strictly presented through FTP as children’s theater, Androcles and the Lion was frequently performed for children. It was staged in five very different locations—Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, New York City, and Atlanta—with dramatically different productions. For example, the productions in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Denver featured African American casts. The Androcles that was staged in Los Angeles featured the first collaboration of the Federal Theatre Project and the Federal Music Project, with a prelude that was entirely choral, performed by a fifty-member African American chorale. The Denver production featured an avant-garde set design, which included a series of eighteen abstract suspended cubes and many experimental staging techniques.

Androcles and the Lion, full stage set with actors, 1937. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (093.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0093

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Marionette Theater

The Federal Theatre Project was responsible for creating an audience for marionette theater with its 22 Units presenting an average of 100 show each week. Venues for the popular performances included theaters, schools, and hospitals, as well as major city parks, which drew vast crowds of the young accompanied by adults who very likely enjoyed the performances as much as their young charges. Production workshops were set up in several cities, including Washington, D.C., where skilled craftsmen created a vast array of sophisticated marionettes. Young audiences were often treated to view behind-the-scenes activities, and classes were given in handling and building of marionettes and puppets. While children’s classics, such as Alice in Wonderland, were a major genre for puppet theater, some shows were targeted at adult audiences, such as actor and puppeteer Ralph Chesse’s (1900–1991) marionette production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones.

Marionette performance in Central Park, between 1935 and 1939. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (084.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0084

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Washington, D.C., Marionette Shop

The Federal Theatre Project was responsible for creating an audience for marionette theater with its 22 Units presenting an average of 100 show each week. Venues for the popular performances included theaters, schools, and hospitals, as well as major city parks, which drew vast crowds of the young accompanied by adults who very likely enjoyed the performances as much as their young charges. Production workshops were set up in several cities, including Washington, D.C., where skilled craftsmen created a vast array of sophisticated marionettes. Young audiences were often treated to view behind-the-scenes activities, and classes were given in handling and building of marionettes and puppets. While children’s classics, such as Alice in Wonderland, were a major genre for puppet theater, some shows were targeted at adult audiences, such as actor and puppeteer Ralph Chesse’s (1900–1991) marionette production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones.

Marionette makers in Washington, D.C., between 1935 and 1939. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (085.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0085

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/federal-theatre-project/childrens-theater.html#obj8

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