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Collection Federal Theatre Project, 1935 to 1939

About this Collection

This online presentation includes items selected from the Federal Theatre Project Collection at the Library of Congress. Featured here are stage and costume designs, photographs, posters, playbills, programs, and playscripts, including productions of Macbeth and The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus as staged by Orson Welles, and Power, a topical drama of the period.  Selected administrative documents from the project are also available.

The Library of Congress received its collection of the records of the Federal Theatre Project by transfer and gift over the years 1939-46, with the largest segment transferred from the Washington office of the U.S. Work Projects Administration (WPA) in 1940 . The collection was placed on loan at George Mason University by the Library in 1974, with additions in subsequent years through 1984. In 1994, the collection was returned to the Library of Congress and is now housed in the Library's Music Division.

The Federal Theatre Project Collection contains documentation for stage productions mounted by the Federal Theatre Project in the period 1935-39. These include a wide variety of materials: billboards, cast lists, correspondence, costume designs, ground plans, lighting cue sheets, lighting plots, music, photographs, playbills, playscripts and playscript "sides" (a "side" is an individual role or part), posters, production notebooks, programs, property lists, publicity reports and clippings, radio scripts, research reports, reviews, scenarios, set designs, study guides, and technical reports. There are approximately 5,000 playscripts and 2,500 titles ranging from vaudeville to classic theater. The finding aid for the collection is available at

The Federal Theatre Project was the largest and most ambitious effort mounted by the Federal Government to organize and produce theater events. It was an effort of the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide work for unemployed professionals in the theater during the Great Depression which followed the stock market crash of October 1929. The Federal Theatre Project was one of four (subsequently five) arts-related projects called Federal Project Number One, established under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during Roosevelt's first term. The WPA was created through Executive Order No. 7034 issued on May 6, 1935.

The FTP was administered from Washington, D. C., but its many companies stretched the full breadth of the Nation. It functioned from 1935 to 1939 when its funding was terminated. In that brief period, it was responsible for some of the most innovative staging of its time.

While the primary aim of the FTP was the reemployment of theater workers on public relief rolls, including actors, directors, playwrights, designers, vaudeville artists, and stage technicians, it was also hoped that the project would result in the establishment of theater so vital to community life that it would continue to function after the FTP program was completed.