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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


In 1935 Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to provide work relief for unemployed Americans. Under WPA auspices, the administration initiated Federal One, which included the Federal Art, Music, Theater, and Writers' Projects, cultural programs to provide work relief for unemployed artists, musicians, dramatists, and writers. Hallie Flanagan, National Director of the Federal Theatre, selected University of Oklahoma drama professor John Dunn as director of the Oklahoma Federal Theatre Project. Dunn developed the theater project into seven projects under four theater units.

The WPA Little Theaters Unit had four projects in Oklahoma City and one each in Tulsa, Muskogee, and Okmulgee. The Little Theaters employed former drama teachers as teacher-directors to assist in forming acting groups. Each project developed drama groups among underprivileged school children and adults. The project was designed to reach as many people as possible. Oklahoma City project personnel estimated that their performances reached five hundred people in the first two months of operation.

The second unit was the Research Unit. The goal of this component was to stimulate a greater interest in the theater by researching theater history in Oklahoma, collecting material suitable for play adaptations, and searching for individuals with an interest in playwriting, play production, and promotion of regional theater. The third section consisted of Unit Shows, which offered entertainment to the Civil Conservation Corps camps. The Unit Shows employed thirty-three people who were divided into two groups: a minstrel and vaudeville group, and a burlesque-musical comedy group. The fourth unit, the Production Unit, consisted of the Vagabond Puppeteers, a marionette troupe.

Under investigation by members of the House Un-American Activities Committee, or Dies Committee, the National Federal Theatre Project received negative publicity because communists worked on the project. In 1939 the Dies Committee closed the National Federal Theatre and each state branch.

Suzanne H. Schrems

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Hallie Flanagan, Arena: The History of the Federal Theatre (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1940).

Suzanne H. Schrems, "White Collar Relief: Oklahoma Federal Theatre Project" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1987).

Stephen W. Simpson, "Red Dirt and Radio: An Oklahoma Perspective on the Federal Theatre Project" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 2001).

Thirteen – Fifteen Minute – Plays, Including Folk Stories From Which the Plays Are Dramatized ([Oklahoma City, Okla.]: Works Progress Administration, 1939).

Vagabond Puppeteers Federal Theatre of Oklahoma Repertoire: From the Beginning to May, 1939 (N.p.: Works Progress Administration for Oklahoma, 1939).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Suzanne H. Schrems, “Federal Theater Project,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=FE004.

Published January 15, 2010

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