Art and politics share the spotlight in a lively history of workers' theater and culture
Workers' Theatre and the American Labor Movement
Search the full text of this book
Collette A. Hyman
In the thirties, those on the political left, Socialists, Communists, artists and writers, educators, and labor movement activists, shared the belief that leisure activities should reflect and promote the interests of working people. Cultural activities should be used to educate workers in bringing about radical social and political changes and to draw people together around shared interests. Workers' theater became a successful vehicle for political education and for involving the audience in the labor movement.
Such plays as "Let Freedom Ring" and "Waiting for Lefty" depicted experiences that paralleled the audiences' own, that entertained and absorbed them, and that showed them the personal, social, economic, and political changes that could be achieved through the struggles of the labor movement.
In clear and moving prose, Hyman traces the history of workers' theater from its grassroots origins to the Federal Theater Project of the WPA under Roosevelt and into unions' recreational programs. Even today, the tradition of workers' theater endures in local and regional productions that reflect current worker concerns or revive significant workers' plays of the Depression period. Hyman shows that the significance of workers' theater lies not only in the plays produced but also in the audiences' experience, in coming together out of common concerns to achieve a solidarity that emphasizes the effectiveness of collective action.
In the series
Critical Perspectives on the Past, edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, is concerned with the traditional and nontraditional ways in which historical ideas are formed. In its attentiveness to issues of race, class, and gender and to the role of human agency in shaping events, the series is as critical of traditional historical method as content. Emphasizing that history is itself an interpretation of material events, the series demonstrates that the historian's choices of subject, narrative technique, and documentation are politically as well as intellectually constructed.