A New Deal for Live Theater?

By Ben Miles

As the theater writer for the Beachcomber newspaper, I find it spiritually and artistically deadening that theater is no longer live.

The skill, the commitment, the vitality so evident in a living, breathing theatrical production is a compilation of so many arts and crafts that to behold a live performance is an inspiration, if not an epiphany.

With the challenges facing the multitude of theater artists in this age of pandemic, perhaps it’s time to transform live performance into a call for political action.

In the years 1935-39 there was the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), which was one of five Federal Project Number One projects sponsored by the Works Progress administration (WPA); it was developed as a relief measure to give employment to artist, writers, directors and other theater workers.

What’s more, luminaries such as Arthur Miller, Orson Wells, John Houseman, Elia Kazan and Burt Lancaster were products of the Federal Theater Project, which as a part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was implemented as an economic stimulus program but also resulted in a cadre of artists and artistic endeavors that changed American culture immeasurably.

Though it may be some time before we are safe from the coronavirus, it’s not unreasonable, nor is it unprecedented, to seek the support of our U.S. government in sustaining live theater and the artists and craftspeople who are devoted to this ancient art form.



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