For May Day: WPA Vaudeville


Well, it’s May the first, May Day, International Workers Day, so here’s a post for all you goddamn rotten, stinkin’ commies.

Today we acknowledge the vaudeville shows that were produced under the supervision of the Variety Unit of the Federal Theatre Project (1935-1939), which was a branch of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was a program of FDR’s New Deal. H’m…five separate levels of bureaucracy…sounds efficient!

Still, the program was instituted in the DEPTHS of the Great Depression, and several years after the vaudeville circuits had really died. Some entertainers who really needed a job badly got one, and lots of suffering Americans got free entertainment at parks, schools, hospitals, local halls and theatres etc. Rather than a proper vaudeville circuit with ever changing bills, the Variety Unit sent around vaudeville revues of the type Weber and Fields had organized (for profit) over 30 years earlier. It was a make-work program, but it served its (temporary) purpose.

But one can’t help observing that the original vaudeville was a 100% capitalist enterprise from stem to stern. Without freedom for its managers to operate, in every conceivable direction (including the exploitation and harsh treatment of its workers) it never could have, and never would have, existed. And then, that same capitalism went and killed vaudeville, made it obsolete. But then replaced it with movies, radio, television, and the thing you’re staring into right now. The lesson? Capitalism: sometimes good, sometimes bad. Socialism? Sometimes bad, sometimes less obviously bad.

Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing too lose but your brains!

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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