Collection of plays, playbills, and photographs from the Vassar Experimental Theatre

FLANAGAN, Hallie. Collection of plays, playbills, and photographs from the Vassar Experimental Theatre.

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FLANAGAN, Hallie. Collection of plays, playbills, and photographs from the Vassar Experimental Theatre. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar Experimental Theatre, 1929-1931.

Eleven pieces, varying sizes and formats: two 8vo paperbound books, three bifolium playbills, and six vintage black-and-white photographs, measuring 260 x 155 mm.
Before she was tapped to lead the Federal Theatre Project for the WPA as a part of the New Deal, Hallie Flanagan directed the Vassar Experimental Theatre program and established herself as a great innovator of the modern stage. This collection comprises: Can You Hear Their Voices? A Play of Our Time by Hallie Flanagan and Margaret Ellen Clifford, Based on a story by Whittaker Chambers published in "The New Masses" (1931), 70pp in wrappers, with ownership signature and pencil notes of a Vassar student involved in the production; Groceries & Notions: A Drama Carelessly Interspersed Throughout with Songs, by K.K. Doughtie (1931), 103pp: Playbills from VET productions directed by Flanagan and Howard Wicks of Molly Day Thacher and Joy Mays, Endurance Flight presented together with John Drinkwater's X=O (October 26, 1929); Luigi Pirandello's Each in His Own Way (December 14, 1929); and Ernst Toller's Man and the Masses (May 2, 1930). The six excellent photographs are from several productions. We are unable to determine just how they relate to the plays represented in this grouping, but at least two are clearly from Toller's political drama. Each photograph has the photographer's stamp on the rear: Margaret DeM. Brown, a noted Hudson Valley photographer who took portraits of Franklin D. Roosevelt at his Hyde Park estate. Roosevelt himself, who had been a trustee of Vassar College, was aware of the innovative work of the theatrical program and Eleanor Roosevelt personally interviewed Flanagan to recruit her for the WPA Federal Theatre project. The present small collection nicely represents Flanagan's range and ambition, whether producing a searing contemporary social drama, a historical satire, or a lighthearted musical comedy by one of her students. Some wear to the two books, one more than the other, with the more worn volume also containing extensive pencil annotations; playbills lightly creased; photographs are fine.
The African-American Hallie Flanagan, teaching at Vassar College 'became the first woman awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed her to travel around Europe for fourteen months studying the modern theater. She took a leave from her teaching duties during the 1926-1927 school year. While traveling in Europe, she met and befriended many of the greatest playwrights of the age, including Lady Gregory, Konstantin Stanislavsky, and Luigi Pirandello. Flanagan was most impressed with the Russian theater, and the Russians were equally impressed with her, claiming that she “understood them” and was one of their own. Her friendship with Russia would later cause her trouble' (Vassar Encyclopedia, online). Flanagan had run the Experimental Theatre program at Vassar where she established herself as a great innovator of the modern stage, before setting up the Federal Theatre Project, a progressive theatre for all citizens of the USA, supported by the Roosevelts and other proponents of the New Deal.

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