Saturday, August 20, 2011

It Will Happen Here

1936 Cleveland Production, Carter Theatre

Last week the good folks at Cleveland Public Theatre were appraised of a special event with Cleveland historical significance -- theaters around the nation are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Federal Theatre Project’s nationwide opening of It Can’t Happen Here, the stage adaptation of the 1935 best-selling novel by Sinclair Lewis.

Brief background: The prove the scope of the Federal Theatre was capable of, and of its organizational abilities, it was suggested that a large number of participating theater across the nation open the exact same play on the exact same night. Why this particular play?
“Because it is a play about American life today, based on a passionate
belief in American democracy.”
- Hallie Flanagan, Federal Theatre Director
Enough said. The synopsis is simple enough; the good people of the United States, in dire economic straits, elect an attractive, populist senator as
President of the United States, who immediately begins a number of social programs which we might recognize as Fascist (see: Mussolini, Hitler.) Newspaper are closed, unions are centralized by the federal government. The entire story is told from the perspective of a small town in Vermont, and how these changes affect the citizens there.

In presenting the work is 21 different theaters in 18 cities across the nation, each theater was encouraged to adapt the work to their locale, so long as the design did not strain to emulate specific persons or political parties.
“Avoid all controversial issues … Our business is wholly a job of theatre.” - Federal Theatre Policy Statement
Good luck with that.

It Can’t Happen Here opened on October 27, 1936 in Cleveland at the Carter Theatre (redubbed “Federal Theatre”) at East 9th and Prospect in downtown Cleveland, kitty-corner from the Gateway, exactly where Marvel/Disney has been blowing up cars and buildings just this past week. The run was so successful it was sold out for three weeks and only closed because a children’s puppet show was scheduled to take its place in December.

Last week Cleveland Public Theatre contacted me to direct the staged reading scheduled for Monday, October 24, 2011 to celebrate this anniversary, and I was only too happy to get involved. I will provide details of the event as it develops.

This reading will be free and open to the public.

Photo from the Cleveland production.

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