Between 1936 and 1939, the FTP presented some 1,200 productions at a cost of approximately $46 million. More than 30 million Americans saw these shows, which took in about $2 million in admissions. The popularity of big-spending New Deal programs had waned by 1939, and although closing the FTP saved not one cent - its budget was simply distributed among other projects - it gave congressmen who had always disliked the idea of the government funding show business an opportunity to make a political point. Almost all the witnesses invited to testify before the House Committee on Appropriations were opponents of the FTP; the WPA foolishly decided not to permit Flanagan to reply to their charges until it was too late. By then, hostile congressmen had succeeded in depicting the FTP as a hotbed of communism (which it was not) and as a tax-subsidized organization disseminating New Deal propaganda (which it more or less was). The WPA appropriations bill for 1939 specifically stated that none of its funds "shall be available...for the operation of any Theatre Project." On June 30, 1939, the Federal Theatre Project was shut down by an act of Congress.

Independent African-American companies did not spring up to take the place of the Negro units, and without such institutional support serious black playwrights floundered until galvanized by the civil-rights movement. After 1939, black actors were once again relegated to stereotyped roles in mainstream white shows, and the black technicians trained by the FTP were excluded from every theatrical union in the United States. It would be two decades before the actors and technicians who had gained employment and artistic self-respect on Macbeth and the other Federal Theater Project productions would again find sustained work in the theater.

Back | Home