‘Living Newspaper’ Performances Take on Today’s Social Issues

Mar 26, 2021

Students in the Department of Theatre, Film, & Dance at Humboldt State will knit together past and present for a pair of live online shows this April. The original production will be performed in the style of the “living newspaper” dramas of the 1930s.

With the intention to both entertain and instruct, living newspaper plays pulled newspaper headlines of the day as rough scripts and represent a unique era in the history of American theater.

Funded by President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, these performances were produced by the Federal Theatre Project in American cities from 1935 to 1939. With government subsidies directly supporting actors, directors, writers, and costume designers, the public theater performances were popular, and often political, events.

“‘Living Newspapers’ were a theatrical form that presented factual information on current events to a popular audience,” explains production manager and Theatre instructor Michael Thomas.

The Federal Theatre Project took on themes like poverty in urban slums, government housing, and the mismanagement of public utilities. Critics of living newspapers said the call-to-action nature of the performances were akin to propaganda. The Federal Theatre Project was canceled by 1939.

“Never before or since has the government funded the arts so directly,” says Thomas.

For their production, titled “The Living Newspaper,” HSU students will hone their journalistic skills to research and perform today’s trending topics. Content will include the unexpected effects of gender-reveal parties and relationships with virtual friends and robots during the time of COVID-19.

To solicit diverse points of view, three guest directors from the Dell’Arte Company in Blue Lake will partner with Theatre faculty for “The Living Newspaper”. Michael Fields is the Director of the California State Summer School for the Arts and a founding member of the Dell’Arte performing ensemble. Elizabeth Colón Nelson is a graduate of the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre certificate program who is interested in identity and colonization in Puerto Rican cuisine. Carlos Gallegos is an actor, teacher, playwright, and theater director who has performed and taught on five continents.

“The concept of the living newspaper is intriguing and important because students need to have a space to talk about what’s happening in our society,” says Gallegos.

The free performances will be live streamed on Friday, April 2 and Friday, April 16 at 8:00 p.m. Watch via Zoom here..

“The Living Newspaper” is not recommended for young children. The performances will be recorded and later available online at “theatre.humboldt.edu“https://theatre.humboldt.edu/.