The Federal Theatre Project in Kansas City, Missouri, 1936


The Federal Theatre Project (FTP), a sub-program of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), created in 1935, included large and small cities all over the United States. In 1936, from January 8 to October 15, the little-known Kansas City unit employed thirty-one workers, six women and twenty-five men, of whom twenty-seven were on relief. Positions included two supervisory, twenty professional and technical, four skilled, five intermediate, and two unskilled. Four workers were returned to private employment. Contrary to The Federal Theatre Project: Catalog-Calendar of Productions, that lists five productions, evidence from Kansas City FTP reports indicates that the unit only produced and toured Ladies of the Jury for seventy-two performances and Whistling in the Dark for thirteen performances for a total of eighty-five performances. The unit may have rehearsed but never actually performed The Mayor and the Manicure, The Royal Family, and It Can’t Happen Here; and St. Louis Vaudeville, from its FTP unit, may not have performed in Kansas City. In sum, forty-five performances were offered in urban areas with an attendance of 21,705, thirty-five performances were offered to rural areas with an attendance of 40, 515, and four performances were staged in institutions with an attendance of 600 for a total attendance of 62,190. The project expenses totaled $25,139.91, with $18,947.29 used toward Project 1261 and $6,192.62 for Project 2407. Although the unit was well-received, the Kansas City unit faced organizational power struggles between WPA State Director, Matthew Murray, who had been hand-picked by Kansas City’s “big boss,” Tom Pendergast, and State Director for Women’s and Professional Projects, Anita Hynes. These state and local factors proved to be too much for the small unit and led to the demise of the Kansas City FTP ten months after its inauguration.


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