March, 1937 Excerpts: Dual Theatre and the WPA

As I said yesterday, the dramatic tension of March was how Babu was going to manage being cast in two plays at once.  The first was the WPA play:


Monday, March 1st, 1937
Surprise?  I’ve got a part in the WPA play “Correspondence Courtship.”  That of Bessie the dumb shop girl.  Oh!  If only I could put it over.  I told Michael I wouldn’t be home over the weekend and Ernie says if the weather is good we’ll go to Grafton for “sugaring.”



Wednesday, March 17th, 1937
A Bay Path graduate of ’33 spoke of the social security act at assembly this afternoon and he was rather good.  Mass (we) played against Maine and N.H. and we lost- 44-12.  Rehearsal again tonight.  There was hardly anyone there.  Frank and Ladue took most of the parts and did them to be funny and we just about bawled.  Drobe walked home with us but said nary a word.  Frank June sang over the radio last night.  He and Rodger Wilson are sailing to France in June.

I can tell when rehearsals aren’t going well, and they seem a little…behind.

Before we bring up play #2, Let’s talk about the WPA.  This excerpt is from the PBS website:

Of all of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) is the most famous, because it affected so many people’s lives. Roosevelt’s vision of a work-relief program employed more than 8.5 million people. For an average salary of $41.57 a month, WPA employees built bridges, roads, public buildings, public parks and airports.

This was FDR’s way of helping the employed of the country during a time (The Great Depression) when unemployment was so high.  Instead of simply giving a check to people out of work, he created jobs and payed them for their work.  Some of those jobs were in the arts, a choice that had to be justified.

When federal support of artists was questioned, Hopkins answered, “Hell! They’ve got to eat just like other people.” The WPA supported tens of thousands of artists, by funding creation of 2,566 murals and 17,744 pieces of sculpture that decorate public buildings nationwide. The federal art, theater, music, and writing programs, while not changing American culture as much as their adherents had hoped, did bring more art to more Americans than ever before or since. The WPA program in the arts led to the creation of the National Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

(Also from the PBS website.)

Artists work so hard to bring their expressions to life and theatre, especially, brings many people together to create and experience a performance.  Collaboration skills, and literacy skills!, easily transfer to other employment situations and to a better lived life.  The art division of the WPA not only employed and payed and fed artists, but exposed both making art and experiencing art to people who had never been exposed to much of it before.  This is so important.  Art should be considered a civil liberty and should be viewed and experienced and learned about and done by people of all walks of life.  This is food for our soul!

And in March of 1937, Babu is experiencing art in droves.


Monday, March 22nd, 1937
The Annual Play.  I’m in it.  Ernie is Jane Bennet and I’m Lydia, the youngest daughter.  Didn’t tell mother and didn’t tell Frank cause they’d have fits.  Frank said to be sure to come Wednesday and we have rehearsal that night.  Rode home with Robert Bean.  He’s Darcy.  Natalie Cronin is Charlotte.  Botiggi is Collins.  Rehearsal tomorrow.

What she means is:  She doesn’t want to tell Frank because he is her other director and that she is scheduled to rehearse both plays on Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 23rd, 1937
Every day I fall farther back in my accounting because of new things cropping up or old ones that haven’t been recorded.  Rehearsal again tonight.  Jamie gave me a ride down.  Rode home again with Robert Bean.  Mr. Dudley seems pleased with the way we’ve taken hold.  I’m afraid of tomorrow cause I won’t show up and Frank may show me the door.

The theatre teacher and director in me can’t help but admonish Babu in my imagination.  Why would you miss rehearsal and not even tell your director that you can’t make it?!?!


Thursday, March 25th, 1937
Got out at 11:45 and went down to the station to see Ernie and her brother Frank off for home.  Frank had his fare home and then lost it gambling on something at a party and sold his guitar for more.  Went to rehearsal at high school and Bessie was dead.  No spark to her dullness.  I think Frank and Helene have and idea why I don’t come to rehearsals.  I told them I’m in the annual.

There is no indication as to how they took the news.


Wednesday, March 31st, 1937
Got my books to balance with not a very great deal of difficulty.  Yesterday noon we went to the costumer and Miss or Mrs. Donnelly, to be measured.  Andy got a telegram today saying his sister is ill.  Went to rehearsal.  Didn’t get a ride so was late and Mr. Dudley told me so too.  Sunday I meant to go to Frank’s house for rehearsal and now Mr. Dudlley has called one.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find gray hair on my head.


Well, at least she is getting grey hair along with her other director, Frank!  If I am going to be fair, I sympathize.  She has both of the opportunities and she is trying to do the both because she doesn’t want to give up either.  What will she do?  We will have to wait and see.


So it seems like her college play is going to be more successful than the WPA play.  Now, we don’t know that for sure yet, and we certainly can’t apply that lack of success to all WPA productions.  Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen collaborated on one of many plays to come from the African American community thanks to this funding and Orson Wells collaborated on the (much controversial) play The Cradle Will Rock.  Many very successful plays, performances, and even a new theatre style, came from this era.  It also deserves to be said that the act of theatre making should not only be available to the college crowd, but accessible to everyone.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Many beautiful monuments and buildings and public infrastructure came out of the WPA. I believe dams and bridges also. The Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mt. Hood is one shining example of the WPA accomplishments. You might recognize it as the exterior of the hotel in the moving The Shining. And it’s a crying shame what the President elect is doing…slashing the National Endowment for the Arts and funding of public television. I guess we will all be reduced to watching reality TV. UGH.

    Liked by 1 person

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