$87 Billion Worth of Art

Just got done watching The Cradle Will Rock, a movie about the WPA Project that created the Federal Theatre. The movie is a great treat because every other actor is someone you either know by name or recognize outright: John Tuturro, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Cherry Jones, Angus McFadden, Vanessa Redgrave… and the characters they play are a fascinating slice of the time period from Diego Rivera to Nelson Rockefeller. The United States remains one of the only first-world countries without a national theatre. I’ve always found that so dis-heartening. We also do not have a national ballet or symphony. Not since the Kennedys has there been any effort at all to grace the White House with anything but the safest talent and reputations. The movie chronicles the theatre project as part of the effort to put America back on it’s feet. Basically, pay people what they do best. It employed thousands of actors all over the country. It was dismantled after charges came up that there were Communists in the ranks of the artists and funding was pulled. The influence of the WPA project was felt long after as the artists that trained and collaborated during it spread out across the country to help create the regional theatre movement – decentralizing the NYC-centricity of theatre.

I’ve probably been to three or four plays this entire year. I don’t blame people for not going. I wonder what it would take today to have the government shut down your play? Not with nudity or violence but with some kind of idea? What idea is so dangerous to voice that you would have bomb threats called into your theatre and armed guards in the streets.

A quick search on Google reveals a project to build a national theatre at Ground Zero. But would a federally funded arts program have the balls to produce Shakespeare as well as Karen Findley? Funny, a lot of my tax dollars go to things that I think are controversial – like pre-emptive military strikes and bankrupting developing countries. Yet, that doesn’t stop.

I haven’t written or produced a play in over three years. I guess I sometimes feel like it’s just totally worthless. After being out in the streets and seeing the anti-war protests as well as witness the world reaction to this country and seeing it do absolutely nothing to stop the violence that happened and continues to happen… it just seems so utterly hopeless.

In other news…