A living newspaper is a theatrical form in which social issues and current events are dramatised in order to prompt action. Living newspapers typically have elements of social activism, documentary theatre, left-wing political theatre, verbatim theatre and agitated propaganda (agitprop). Living newspapers were first used in the Russian Cvil War, where pro-Soviet daily newspapers were read aloud to illiterate factory workers and soldiers in the Red Army. Soon, teams of workers performed stories from the newspapers to other workers as propaganda. Today the term is most commonly associated with the Federal Theatre Project, part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal era Works Progress Administration where thousands of theatre workers across America were employed in government funded productions between 1935 and 1939.
Excellent analysis of the Federal Theatre Project from all angles covering mass unemployment, politics and the subject matter of productions.
Wikipedia entry that includes a useful definition for the term and the form’s origins in both Russia and America.
Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on the Federal Theatre Project’s origins and purpose in America.
Summary of the living newspaper Power.
Federal Theatre Project
Opened: 23 Feb. 1937. A living newspaper focusing on energy from the consumer’s perspective. The drama provoked a debate about public versus private ownership of power utilities. Was access to power a privilege or a right?
Triple A Plowed Under
Opened 14 Mar. 1936. A play consisting of 26 vignettes about the plight of the American farmer and surplus crops post-WWI. The play criticised the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (the “triple A” in the title).
One Third of a Nation
Opened 17 Jan. 1938. Drama portraying the failure of the Housing Act of 1937 and increased slums in New York City. The title refers to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech where he said one third of the nation remained ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished.
Opened 20 February 1939. Public health living newspaper portraying the history of syphilis and the spread of the sexually transmitted infection across America. The play supported the U.S. Surgeon General’s “war on syphilis”.
Opened 24 July 1936. Drama about the history of labour relations in the United States, championing the cause of the workers’ unions. The title refers to court orders that permitted employers to break strikes and stop workers from picketing.
Example of a living newspaper project created at the University of Texas on the topic of human rights – useful for adapting in the classroom.
The Living Newspaper is a dramatization of a problem – composed in greater or lesser extent of many news events, all bearing on the one subject and interlarded with typical but non-factual representations of the effect of these news events on the people to whom the problem is of great importance.– Arthur Arent, Living Newspaper author, Federal Theatre Project.
Original newspaper article and creative credits for a production of One-Third of a Nation, adapted for Philadelphia at America’s oldest theatre, the Walnut St Theatre, in October 1938.
Comprehensive overview of the depth and breadth of various Federal Theatre Project initiatives between 1935 and 1939.
The Soviet living newspaper, or zhivaia gazeta, began during the Russian Civil War as a method to act out a pro-Soviet version of the news for mainly illiterate Red Army soldiers. During the 1920s, it evolved into an experimental form of agitprop theater that attracted the interest of foreigners, who hoped to develop new methods of political theater in their own countries. In the United States, the living newspaper format was first adopted by American communist circles.– Lynn Mally, The Americanization of the Soviet Living Newspaper, February 2008, p.1
Academic essay on the history of the Federal Theatre Project in America, Federal Theatre, Melodrama, Social Protest, and Genius, from the Library of Congress.
Article about the form’s origins in the USSR before its adoption in America, with artefacts from the British Library.
Wikipedia summary of the play One-Third of a Nation.
Although living newspapers changed significantly once they migrated to America, they shared crucial elements with their Soviet predecessors: they addressed vital contemporary events; they integrated filmic techniques, including slide shows, music, and sometimes film clips; and they employed a disjointed, episodic style of presentation. In addition, they avoided the conventions of the traditional proscenium stage and made use of stereotyped characters instead of figures with psychological depth.– Lynn Mally, The Americanization of the Soviet Living Newspaper, 2008, p.2.
Overview of the Federal Theatre Project, it’s background, operations and various well-known productions.
Outstanding academic paper The Americanization of the Soviet Living Newspaper covering the living newspapers in Russia and America and the similarities and differences between the two forms.
Brief explanation of the concept of a living newspaper and its uptake in the USSR, Germany and America in the early 20th century.